Every Saturday afternoon, you’ll see the SMU Men’s Soccer Team on the pitch. With them will be a bunch of energetic, playful and often mischievous bunch of young boys and a few girls too. This is Free Kicks, a programme for children and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, that inculcates life skills and values such as teamwork, responsibility and commitment through sports.

Spearheaded by the SMU Soccer Team, there are now 50-and-growing Free Kicks programmes at various locations islandwide. Every weekend, rain or shine, you’ll see the team training with the kids.

We catch up with Keith Chionh and Joel Yee, the President and Vice-president of the SMU Soccer Team, for a quick chat after a Saturday soccer practice.

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What has your involvement with Free Kicks taught you?

Joel: The one thing I’ve learned most from this programme is commitment. Just like we expect the kids to be committed to coming down weekly for training, we the student coaches have to be just as committed, if not more. It’s not easy for us because we have our own studies and other matters as well. We might not feel like we are giving much back to the kids, but it actually means a lot to them that we make time every week to be there for them and to coach them. We have to be fully committed ourselves.

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Keith: Patience. For a start, I never really saw eye-to-eye with some of these boys because they can be quite a handful. Many of them were wary and apprehensive of who they can get close to, who they can trust. They’ll be very mischievous and won’t listen to your coaching — they’re measuring you up first before they come to respect you. But over time, if you hang out with them long enough, they’re really quite sweet. Some of the young ones especially. They’ll come and stick with you. You’ve got to be patient with them.

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Keith goofing around with one of the boys during a break.

How was it like coaching young children?

Joel: We’ve learned a lot from Coach Siva, the external coach we’re working with, about coaching young kids. He has shared with us why it’s important to speak to the kids in a manner they can understand you. You have to be firm, but not in a way that makes the kids fear you.

Joel: Body language is one of these techniques. Because they’re a lot smaller, it’s always good for us to bend down or sit down to talk to them. Make sure you’re on eye level. It’s important for us to not to lose our cool, even when things get a little heated. We have to be firm, confident so that they know we’re serious about what we’re doing, and give us their time and respect.

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Keith: In February 2015, we hosted the Free Kicks Challenge, an event that wrapped up a season of Free Kicks.  It was really satisfying to see the kids in action. We didn’t expect to get so much recognition but this year, they invited Mayor Denise Phua, President Arnoud De Meyer, and our team was recognised for our involvement in this programme. It gave us a lot of confidence in what we are doing, to actually carry on the Free Kicks programme in SMU.

Joel: It’s really a rewarding experience. Every time we end a session, it feels good. We may be feeling tired coming to training, but on the way home, it’s a big change in how we feel, which is good. It feels like we’ve done something worth our time and we know that it’s beneficial for the kids as well. Definitely rewarding, it really is.

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In serving the wider community, SMU Soccer pioneered a new collaboration with Geylang United Football Club to start a mentoring programme for students of Bedok View Secondary School throughout 2013. In December 2013, SMU Soccer collaborated with Central Singapore CDC to plan for the annual Community Shield event.

Moving forward, our club continues to be committed in engaging SMU and the wider community through the organization of events, such as the Free Kicks Challenge, in helping less-privileged youths in Singapore.

© 2018 Snapshots by SMU