During the past year, our ministry in Mexico organized the first soccer tournament in which young people between the ages of 12 and 15 played on teams representing their child development centers. Participating church partners organized their teams and started training, and the children were given professional uniforms and soccer shoes.
Across central Mexico, as the tournament progressed, development center staff, pastors, children and youth all talked eagerly about the same subject: soccer. The teams, the uniforms, the shoes, the games, the points, who won the local and divisional matches, who scored — all were easy conversation topics whenever people got together.
Preparation for the tournament helped instill the discipline of training and practicing on a regular basis. Children learned how to keep their bodies in good shape by eating well and exercising. Attendance at the child development centers increased because youth were not allowed to play soccer or participate as cheerleaders if they missed center activities.
The youngsters also learned about teamwork and the discipline of playing by tournament rules. They were continually reminded to play clean and to maintain a good attitude of fellowship among themselves and between teams.
Youth from nearly 40 child development centers in central Mexico participated in the tournament. Church members attended the games and cheered for their teams. Many parents became more involved at their child development centers in order to support their children during their training and their games.
To select division champions, each team first played against neighboring development centers. Division champions then challenged other divisions for their state championship and, once at the state level, the state-champion teams traveled to play against winners from other states. Traveling to represent their child development centers became one of our young people’s most-cherished experiences.
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Strong Tower Wins
Strong Tower is a very disciplined team from the community of San Antonio. They trained twice a week on their community field with a very strict coach: the church pastor. Along with their physical training, the pastor taught the boys about teamwork and sportsmanship and encouraged them with scripture. This was evident in their behavior both during the games and off the field.
For many of the registered children on the Strong Tower team, traveling to tournament games was their first time outside their community.
In the last game of the tournament, they represented the state of Toluca against the winning team from the coastal state of Veracruz. The climate and altitude were different from what they were accustomed to, and they were significantly smaller than their opponents. Although they lost the final game, their cumulative scores and their second-game goals gave Strong Tower first place for the tournament.
Each teammate received a gold medal and the team was awarded a beautiful championship trophy.
After the game, the players were able to stand at the ocean and contemplate the expansiveness and sound of the sea. Most of them were overwhelmed. Soon after enjoying their first impression, they started playing in the water.
As a reminder of their fun at the beach, they packed some sand in their backpacks to show their families and to remember the beautiful creation of God. Several teammates reflected,
“It was a dream come true.”
For Pastor Pablo, pastor and coach of the winning team, the soccer tournament was a deeply rewarding experience. He enjoys the sport and was delighted when he first heard about the initiative. Pastor Pablo says,
“It has been a great satisfaction. God helped us because when the tournament started we were going through a very difficult situation in the church. But when we started to get results with the teenagers, the church began taking the children seriously.”
The results of the soccer league varied from program to program, but overall it brought encouragement, nurture and character to the teenagers. It also created a sense of belonging, which at that age is very important to ensure that young people stay close to the church and their child development center.
One of the best outcomes from their months of work was the new level of unity and trust among the youth.
“I know if the teens have a problem, or if they find themselves in a difficult situation, they will come to me and I will point them to the Lord and help them walk through it.”
Winning the championship will always stand out in the memories of these San Antonio children, along with the good memories of training, teammates, games and victories. Each team member has a gold medal and a small bag of sand as a reminder that dreams are worth dreaming.