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Fussball ohne Abseits
The project, called “Fussball ohne abseits,” targets areas with large immigrant communities - the name is a pun on the word “abseits” it is the German for the football term “offside”, but also means standing apart or outside a community. Ten of the 14 girls at the soccer club come from immigrant families, reflecting the diverse population in Altenessen, a district of the western city of Essen. “I play because I need to lose some weight, because I enjoy it and because we’re part of a group,” says Zeliha Cakan, a nine year old with Turkish parents, who has been playing soccer for two years. Project leaders say they provide children with a prime opportunity to develop social skills. “We want to integrate girls, especially girls with an immigrant background, into our society with soccer,” says Katharina Althoff from the University of Duisburg-Essen, one of the coordinators of the nationwide initiative. “In this way, they can learn as part of a community what it’s like to win and lose together,” Althoff adds. The project is being held in close cooperation with surrounding soccer clubs so the girls can get to know other teams and have the opportunity to take part in tournaments.
A new program is finding success using soccer to help integrate girls from immigrant families into German society. “Football Without Offsides” is already running in 40 locations and is also helping grow the women’s game.
Girls take as much enjoyment from soccer as boys
The sports hall at a primary school in the city of Essen is alive with energy and a sense of fun as a ball is kicked around. But this time, perhaps unexpectedly, it’s not a group of boys playing soccer, but over a dozen young girls. Fourteen school girls - to be exact - in green jerseys are running through the hall, dribbling and passing almost like professionals. The third graders have been coming to the soccer club for two years now to enjoy their weekly training.
Strengthening social skills
And the earlier the girls start playing soccer the better, says club director Inga Jürgen. This is why the project is aimed at primary school kids, adds the 23-year-old sports student from the University of Duisburg-Essen. Jürgen used to play in the Women’s Bundesliga with SG Essen Schönebeck, and knows what it takes to reach the top of the women’s game. “This opportunity is really important for children with an immigrant background, because they often don’t get the opportunity at home to be part of a club,” says Jürgen, adding that this could be because of financial constraints or parents’ unwillingness to let their daughters play with boys. “When it’s part of school life, it’s more accepted by the parents, and they even want their children to play sports,” says Jürgen. The Altenessen primary school is one of 40 locations where the project takes place, and it is also supported scientifically by the universities of Osnabrück, Oldenburg and Duisburg-Essen and financed by the various state governments in which programs are run. All participating clubs are fully subscribed because there’s so much interest from young girls, as the headmaster of Essen Primary School, Thomas Kriesten, confirms: “At first, parents were very cautious - ‘soccer for girls?’ But now I see how excited the girls are to come. Other girls, who were quite skeptical at the start, often also ask whether they can take part in the soccer club.”
A bridge to clubs
Winning a football tournament gives girls a boost in everyday life Training methods used in the project and participation at soccer tournaments also carry other positive effects: The girls become more self-confident as their achievements are recognized at school, in their surroundings and, increasingly, by their families. Nine-year-old Iman Achakaui is a prime example of this: “I wanted to learn some soccer skills because my brother sometimes hits me. And now I want to beat him in soccer,” says the third grader who is of Moroccan decent. Joining a soccer club is just the beginning and often leads to lasting changes in the young girls’ lives. Coordinators with the project continue to hear encouraging examples of girls joining the club whose parents had previously banned them from taking part. “When the family sees their daughter in a tournament for the first time, if the girl shoots a goal and the whole family cheers, then most reservations have gone,” says project coordinator Katharina Althoff.