Panthers FC – Parents using Sports to nurture children in Arua
Due to its vast reach, unparalleled popularity and foundation of positive values, sport is definitely one of the greatest things man has ever created. It’s also a powerful tool that breaks down all the barriers and helps us feel good about ourselves, both physically and mentally. Sport is quite beneficial for children too: by playing sports children develop physical skills, exercise, make new friends, have fun, learn to be a team member, learn about fair play, improve self-esteem, etc.
This is why Pamela Licoru Smith and friends started Panthers FC, a sports academy that seeks to unite their children and nurture them into useful individuals in society.
Gamdad Yaser sat down with Pamela to trace the history, impact, struggles, and achievements of the academy in its six months of existence.
How did this whole idea of Panthers FC come about?
The whole idea of Panthers (FC) started with my own kids. I used to go (and) pick up my son from school, he could come back and his head, (you know he has afro) would be full of grass. He could come so excited, ‘Mummy, I played football, I scored and all that.’ So that really touched me.
The second motivation is that sometimes teachers tell you about your kids character and somehow you don’t believe because at home they behave differently, then the teacher is telling you possibly, your kid is rough.
Thirdly, whenever I could meet with my friends and go out to chill, have fun, for instance, it’s a birthday and we’ve gone home. Here is the thing, for us we would be enjoying and the kids are tense with each other. So I asked myself what we could do about it. There’s already a gap, what can we do to fill it?
So I told the ladies, why can’t we come up with an activity whereby as we’re chilling, our kids are socializing. Then it would help us to know the real behaviors, characters of our kids instead of waiting for teachers to tell us or the neighbor. So, they bought the idea, we talked about it for years, we didn’t have the zeal to start.
So as my twins made five years, I challenged and asked myself whether we could not do something that can really bring an impact to people. I sold the idea to the Panthers. They were aware that it’s my kids birthday because we do trace birthdays, we know, this year it’s so and so’s kid. During the birthday, I told the ladies am planning to start a football activity. They bought the idea. Immediately, we started arrangements, had meetings and came up with that name (Panthers FC), bought jerseys. The name Panthers actually came from the kids themselves. They suggested many names but we zeroed down to the Panthers, I think majority of them like that character. That’s how Panthers started.
What are the challenges that you’ve faced with starting such a project, the first of its kind in Arua or West Nile at large?
The first challenge we’ve faced is weather. In Arua, sometimes the weather is unpredictable. You’re all eager to come for training and then heavy rain starts. Then sometimes mobilizing is not easy because, you know this is a team thing, sometimes you come up with an idea and people have different ways of taking it in. Good enough, each parent, being that I involved them in this whole process from the beginning, somehow they tend to comprehend. The ones that may possibly not agree, with time they tend to agree.
We also had a challenge of the pitch but thank God through good people that I met in the process, we managed to get a pitch that we do our trainings from. As you can see, this is around Salim Saleh grounds. We’re so grateful.
What are the plans for the future? Where do you hope to see Panthers one or three years from now? What would you have objectively wanted to achieve?
What started as fun has given us a vision. We see how our kids are, we’ve realized some of our kids want to be professional footballers. So we’re looking at having a football academy to nurture all these talents. I’m sure there are big teams that are interested in players. If we nurture our own, we can sell them out to the bigger teams. So that’s what we’re looking at, to make it a football academy.
If Panthers is able to survive for the next five years, would you have called that an achievement?
It would not just be an achievement but a great achievement.
In case somebody out there cannot afford to pay for their kids, is there a way they can be part of this project?
We’ve had a lot of unprivileged kids having interest in this whole thing, sometimes we do allow them to play. As we were here, one of the academy kids came to me, saying the other kids want to compete with us.
We’re looking at expanding beyond, going out and competing, coming up with matches, putting in resources that will have cause to help impact the lives of others.
There are also other teams that are within Arua. We would want to play friendly competitions with them.
In the six months of Panthers’ existence, what would you say are the achievements you’ve realized?
As a parent, or any other (Panthers) parent , I feel we’ve achieved a lot. I told you about the other element of our kids’ social behaviors; I can tell you that when we started our first two training sessions, as parents we really saw our children’s characters. Those (first) two training sessions were so intense. Other (kids) were abusing their friends, and fighting. They didn’t know how to socialize. But, with consistent training, they’ve learnt overtime.
In the first two training sessions, whenever the other team lost, you could see kids expressing emotions. Now, they (kids) know that in a competition, there’s a winner and a loser. And when you lose, you work harder next time. They have got that element now. Every parent can attest that their kids social values have improved.
Then two, discipline, we’ve noticed that our kids’ are getting better discipline-wise. I wish all parents could embrace this. I’ve been telling some parents to come up with teams as friends. Most of these kids love football. Every Sunday, by around 11:00 am, my kids are already in uniform, that’s right after returning from church. So whenever my children do something that’s not in line, I tell them there’s no football for you on Sunday. Basically, football has become discipline.
Previously, Uganda Cranes and URA FC goalkeeper Alionzi Nafian visited us, inspired the kids, motivated them, brought them gifts. It means we (Panthers FC) have started seeing the achievements, they’ve started recognizing us, we’ve started bringing impact.
Many parents now want to do this, they see, they feel the improvement in our kids manners, even teachers are commending saying kids behaviors have changed. For me as a parent, I feel like it’s an achievement.
The enhancement of physical and mental development of children is certainly the most important contribution of sports, but the list of values your child may learn and acquire through sports does not end here. Other positive aspects are numerous, which reveals the true beauty of sport.