Following their visit to the UAE, Zahrah from Manchester, Mindy from Kuala Lumpur and Michel from Mexico City reflected on their incredible journey, in what was truly an international celebration of community football. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: This year’s Cityzens Giving Youth Leadership experience, in partnership with Etihad Airways, saw six of the initiative’s inspiring Young Leaders head to the United Arab Emirates for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, with the Young Leaders engaging with the local communities in the UAE in an enriching, leadership experience.

The Young Leaders, each selected for their dedication and commitment as leaders in their respective communities through the game of football, travelled to Abu Dhabi for a unique Youth Leadership Experience, in which they received specialised leadership training at Etihad HQ and a personal tour across Emirates Palace and EXPO 2020 Dubai in a whirlwind experience.

Following their visit to the UAE, Zahrah from Manchester, Mindy from Kuala Lumpur and Michel from Mexico City reflected on their incredible journey, in what was truly an international celebration of community football.

Zahrah, one of the Young Leaders within the club’s City in the Community (CITC) charity said: “I think everything is just breath-taking. We were fortunate to go to Emirates Palace, EXPO 2020 Dubai and Grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque on this trip and meet some incredible people. For instance, the way we’ve been treated everywhere you go, everyone is very respectful and they are really interested to learn about different cultures.”

Same goals

“Everything you see blends together so well and everyone comes together as one. Even the Young Leaders here this week, we all come from different backgrounds but importantly we are all speaking about the same goals, and the fact that we can take this experience back to our communities in amazing.”

Mindy, a key leader with Cityzens Giving’s charity partner, Dignity for Children, in Kuala Lumpur added: “This is my first trip overseas, so that was an incredible experience to have, and I got to go stargazing which has always been on my bucket list! Getting to see EXPO 2020 Dubai was eye-opening too, just to see and experience so many different cultures and countries in one place.

“I learned so much from this trip, not only through physical skills but also the soft skills such as communication, teamwork and making decisions. In our community project, we use football as a means to connect with people. Everyone has the right to play in a safe space, and so football can really transform someone’s life.”

The Cityzens Giving initiative from City Football Group features a global project network, with more than 1,000 young leaders taking local football sessions in their communities. Currently active in more than 25 cities across the world, this year’s challenge under the Cityzens Giving Young Leaders programme saw a three-judge panel select the Young Leaders to attend the trip following their remarkable leadership skills in giving back to their local communities.

Michel, who leads the Cityzens Giving project in Mexico City with the club’s local charity partner, love.fútbol, expressed how the Young Leaders’ passion for football goes beyond the beautiful game. She added: “Football has been the key thing in my life since I was little, my whole family are football fanatics. Being involved in the game and a part of Cityzens Giving has taught me how much football can changes people’s lives, especially from a young age. Seeing kids just playing with the ball or scoring a goal and being happy is what fills me with joy.”

“It’s an incredible way to connect too, as when I had attended the Young Leaders summit previously, it was the first time I had ever left home. I actually feared having to deliver sessions to the kids as I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing, but the coaches are all so supportive and all your doubts leave you. I realised that football isn’t something that really changes at all, despite everyone speaking different languages. The leadership and empathy that the City coaches have shown us is what we’ll take back to our communities and this has been an unforgettable experience.”

Local youth

During their visit to Abu Dhabi, the Young Leaders also delivered City Football Schools sessions to local youth in the community, bringing their acquired knowledge from their journeys and cultural experiences across the UAE to the pitch.

It was a memorable moment for the Young Leaders alongside with local stars of the City Football Schools, with young Mohammad, 8, thrilled to meet their new football coaches from across the world. He said: “It was so cool to have Michel, Mindy and Zahrah take our training sessions today. We got to learn so much about how they coach in their communities and learn about their cultures. Hopefully we can go and train with the players in their home cities one day too!”

With lots of insightful, life lessons gained from their trip, Michel, Mindy and Zahrah shared they can’t forget how they successfully navigated the language barriers amidst a week full of learning.

Mindy said: “When we visited CFS, I loved the level of high energy amongst the coaches and players. There was such a positive vibe out on the pitch, and it’s amazing how football was able to help us to connect to each other. I’ll definitely take those memories back into my sessions back home.”

Michel added: “The way the coaches run the sessions here has had a big impact on me; everything is so well structured and the sessions are well prepped so you can put everything into a really good session. Having good control of your session is the key to carrying out a great coaching session. Even with the language barrier, we found ways to communicate – whether it was through signals and even laughing with each other, we found ways to communicate and achieve the aim of our session.”

Zahrah remarked that the “on and off pitch” leadership was an important factor that she took away from the trip. She said: “We were fortunate enough to visit the City Football Schools for some great sessions, and later Etihad HQ for an amazing leadership workshop. We got to see how we can be leaders, through the things that we can do for the future generations but also what football can do to actually inspire.

“It’s not only on the pitches, as there’s all the social aspects of playing and the mental health side of the game. Football can bring great awareness for communication and overall life skills, and that’s definitely something for us as Young Leaders to take into our work to inspire the next generation.”