PORTRAIT

PORTRAIT

Interview

Sofiane Ouahrani

Soccer Coach, Life Coach
01.21.18

Sofiane Ouahrani's work is inspired by the district in which he grew up: the 18th arrondissement of Paris. He founded the 18th Soccer Académie of Paris, an organization that trains and supervises young soccer fans after school. Between trainings, the association ensures there is a good balance and solid opportunities for the young adults between school, sports, and culture.

Profession: Train driver and president, founder and volunteer for the association 18th Soccer Académie Paris
Mission: To be much more than just a soccer coach for young people – to organize cultural outings, help them in school, and so mcuh more. 
Conviction:  Equal opportunities for all children.
 
During the day, you drive trains for SNCF, and in the evening, you run a nonprofit association that helps young people in the 18th district of Paris. What attracted you to the nonprofit world?
I grew up in this neighborhood, and when I was little, I played a lot of soccer and was fortunate to have been guided by teachers who helped me find my way. As an adult, I wanted to give back to my neighborhood what I was given. I thus engaged in founding and helping with several nonprofits.  Today I do not live in the 18th because I had to be closer to my work... but I always spend more time there than at home! 
 
Soccer Académie Paris is not only soccer: it's also cultural outings, and above all, school support. What is the intent behind such an offering?
I worked in several sports and nonprofit associations with young people in the neighborhood, and I quickly noticed that soccer took priority in their lives. Their goal was to become a professional soccer player... but very few success: one in a million! So, when they are 17-18 years old, they are often idle and hang out in bad places, some start to deal drugs, etc. As a coach, I had a feeling of failure. I left the association in which I was volunteering to set up a project that links school, soccer and family: for soccer to be a hobby, but not an end game. If they succeed in the sport, even better; otherwise, they can do other things with their life. With some other teachers, we started with a small group of ten young poeple in March 2015. I was 27 years old. We reserved a small field for sports training and next door, we organized cultural outings – the Louvre, for example. We saw there was a real success around this formula: parents realized their kids were doing better at school, they were more attentive and respectful, etc. Today we have more than 500 young members from ages 6 to 19, supervised by 32 volunteers.

How to you decide how to split time between the leisure part and the school part? 
We regularly collect report cards and make a meeting with the parents if necessary. If a child has difficulties in school, he is given more tutoring and less soccer. Soccer is the key that drives them to do well in the other activities, which is very important. Sometimes, they discover other passions – like when I took a group of 16-year-olds to the Opera Bastille. They weren't excited originally and thought it was too stuffy, but that was the condition for them to play in a soccer tournament the next day. And when they left the show, they were pleasantly surprised: some asked me, "when are we going back?" There, I said to myself, we succeeded at something. Same for the museum: we visited the Louvre before going to see a soccer match of the Euro last year. They got so caught up in the museum that we were almost late for the game.
What challenge has most affected you since the beginning of the association?
Soon after starting, we realized that girls wanted to play soccer too... but their brothers and mothers did not want them to participate. We had several meetings with parents to show them the importance of soccer for girls. Our argument was that playing sports helped drive momentum in school as well. We came to an agreement: a mother came to training and stayed in front of the girls locker room when they changed. In March 2016, we had 45 girls and 150 boys. Today, we have a full women's team in the league; they play every Saturday. Their families have confidence and we are continually gaining momentum.
 
Why is soccer so important for these young people?
They believe very strongly in their dreams of becoming professional soccer players. They tell us, "I have to become pro so I can help my mother" or "I want to help my father because he never comes home, he has two jobs." They have role models: when they see people on TV like Messi, the money they earn, the glory... If there are these who did it, then say to themselves, then why not us? We have trained some pro players, like Harisson Manzala or Max-Alain Gradel... We take our young people to the vocational training centers but we make them understand that there is homework too: having a good report card. We also participate in tournaments at home and abroad: in Germany, in Dortmund, with professional clubs. It's important for them to compare themselves to other teams, it drives them. It also allows them to see other things and other cultures, and encourages them to learn English!
 
Demain (tomorrow), for you, what does it represent?
It is hope. My hope is that all children have the same chance for success. That's why my role is also to socialize: last Sunday, a young man arrived and did not want to play soccer. He admitted to me that he had not eaten: there was no food at his home, but he still came. I spent more time talking to him than preparing for the match.