Topic: College of Applied Sciences and Technology

June 11, 2015

Ball State faculty recently used soccer to improve relations between Tajikistan and the U.S.
Ball State faculty recently used soccer to improve relations between Tajikistan and the U.S.

When a group of Ball State University faculty recently flew to Tajikistan to provide soccer instruction, they found coaches clamoring for the latest trends and techniques — something lost since the central Asian nation became independent more than two decades ago.

Led by Lindsey Blom, an associate professor of sport and exercise psychology at Ball State, the delegation worked with 100 grassroots coaches and physical education teachers. Coaches attended a two-day workshop to learn how to teach human development and social change through the game of soccer. The curriculum developed by Indiana Soccer and Ball State’s Center for Peace and Conflict Studies addresses positive coaching behaviors, methods of coaching, team building and conflict resolution skills.

“After some time to build rapport, the coaches and teachers were open to our project,” Blom said. “The project is designed to be a collaboration, so we worked to engage the coaches quickly and then the workshop went well. Many of them had not had new information about coaching soccer since the early 1990s, when the nation was part of the U.S.S.R.”

“We had an excellent team of professionals who are passionate about the project and excited about the opportunity to incorporate the Soccer for Social Change program in Tajikistan with the help of the local coaches and teachers.”

This was the second visit by a Ball State delegation to Tajikistan as a result of a partnership with Indiana Soccer Association. The project was funded by a two-year International Sports Programming Initiative grant from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ SportsUnited division.

During the program in Tajikistan, about 190 youths from the surrounding areas joined the American and Tajik coaches on the second afternoon of the workshops. The final phase of the project took place in local schools in partnership with the Tajikistan National Tae Kwon Do and Kickboxing Federation and the Ministry of Youth, Sport, and Tourism.

“It is a very beautiful country with gorgeous mountains and rivers that reminded us of Colorado,” Blom said. “The big cities seem to have resources, but in the villages, we found old brick housing, poor roads, and limited clean water. The people were extremely gracious and incredibly hospitable.”

The first phase of the project occurred in May 2014 when a three-person Ball State delegation traveled throughout Tajikistan meeting with coaches, teachers and government officials to assess needs and select participants for the second phase. Then 10 Tajik teachers traveled to Indiana, including several days at Ball State, for a two-week cultural exchange last fall.

The goal of the program is to promote empathetic ongoing relations between Tajik and U.S. youth soccer coaches, encourage coaches to teach human development through soccer and improve Tajik and U.S. players’ skills while teaching ways to peacefully interact with teammates, opponents and community members.

Blom said the program will build lasting peace by using soccer as a tool for people to build relationships. She previously led a delegation to Jordan in 2012 and 2013.

“I believe that first and foremost it is promoting mutual understanding between the countries and people, which is crucial for peace-building,” she said. “I believe that we are also teaching the coaches and teachers tangible ways to help their youth develop into positive leaders and good citizens, encouraging the respect for others and those who are different.”