In Sierra Leone, we partner with youth soccer club Vintage Academy as well as other community-based sports clubs and organizations to engage both young people and adults through softball and provide holistic support and youth development programming for young players.
The leadership of Vintage Academy first approached Philadelphia Adult League Softball about the potential of partnering together to introduce softball as an additional or alternative sport for their young soccer players in March 2020 and, as we learned more about their work, we immediately wanted to get involved.
In November of 2021, we hosted a mini-USA Quickball clinic as a pilot with players for the Vintage 14U girls soccer team and, through PALS, returned in June 2022 to donate over 1,300 pounds of equipment, as well as school supplies, and host a free four-day USA Quickball camp for 170 young people from five soccer clubs including Vintage Academy Lumley and Lakka, Prospect Foundation, Amie Morie/Hereford, and Fants Hill Station. The equipment donations were made possible through contributions from many individual donors and organizations including Pitch In For Baseball + Softball, Drew University, Arcadia University, Lower Merion Little League, Media Area Girls Softball, the Big Apple Softball League, the Clinton Sport Shop, and the Neshaminy Wildcats. Each participant received a t-shirt, lunch, snacks, beverages, a backpack with school supplies, and free transportation to and from the field each day. Three members of the leadership team from the Belize City Softball Association in Belize also traveled to Freetown to support these initiatives.
In addition, we facilitated training for the adult soccer coaches, and hosted a USA Quickball clinic with 290 young people from the Sierra Leone Cricket Association. Following the camp, Vintage Academy hosted several clinics for young people and facilitated multiple adult trainings and scrimmages, and we continued to support them through virtual training.
Current + Future Programming
With the incorporation of Change Up Sports, and in coordination with our partners, our priority for 2024 and beyond is to continue to strengthen, deepen, and expand our work in and around Freetown with a focus on establishing longer-term, sustainable youth development programming through softball, engaging a greater number of young people, and providing more in-depth training and playing opportunities for adults to build capacity to work with young players through the following initiatives:
In February 2023, we hosted a four-day coaches training for 20 adult coaches that focused on history, rules, and instruction through fielding, hitting, pitching, and baserunning drills and culminated with games designed for teaching and learning. The coaches have continued to host weekly scrimmages to practice and develop their skills and we have continued to provide virtual support. In December 2023, we hosted a three-day follow-up coaches training for 27 adult coaches to continue to build on their skills and prepare them to work with young people. We are also currently developing instructional videos and materials in both English and Krio to enhance the virtual training that we can provide.
In December, we hosted a free CPR/First Aid training for 58 adult coaches and community members in coordination with the Sierra Leone Lifesaving Society.
Youth Focus Groups
In February 2023, we facilitated a focus group for 24 young players from the Vintage Academy 14U girls team who participated in our camp in June 2022 to better understand what they like about playing soccer and softball and what their barriers are to playing so that we can address these challenges in our programming. Key barriers include lack of transportation, limited funds, little access to equipment and uniforms, issues with family support and buy-in, managing other responsiblities such as housework and school, the inability to pay for medical care and/or keep playing if they are injured, and the need for pads/sanitary napkins.
Equipment + Supply Donations
In 2023, we have contributed 480 pounds of softball, soccer, and cricket equipment, toiletries, school supplies, and first aid items valued at over $7,500 in coordination with our partners in Sierra Leone
Coaches Connection Mentorship Program
Started in March 2023, Coaches Connection is a penpal and mentorship program that matches adult softball and baseball players and coaches in the Philadelphia area with adult players and coaches in Sierra Leone who are new to the game to foster learning, skills development, and friendship. Sierra Leonean coaches and players are able to virtually ask questions, get support, and gain 1:1 mentorship and Philadelphia coaches and players are able to provide guidance, encouragement, and training resources. When possible, participants who play similar positions are connected to one another to foster skill development and strengthen connections.
Sierra Leone Medical Fund
In 2023, we established a medical fund to cover the costs of treatment related to any medical issues that arise during trainings, games, or programming for young people and adults, as medical care is very difficult to access and afford in Sierra Leone and health insurance is limited. This fund will also provide comprehensive first aid kits for our partners and programs and fund CPR/First AID training for the coaches through the Sierra Leone Lifesaving Society which will take place in the last quarter of 2023. In addition, the fund will also cover the cost of wellness visits for young people in our Softball for Success program. To date, we have covered the cost of care and related transportation for three individuals.
Softball for Success
Starting in 2024, Softball For Success is a free five-week community-based youth development and girls empowerment program for 30 girls ages 12 to 18 in Freetown that melds softball instruction, practice, and games with holistic youth development activities including life skills and leadership workshops, academic support, cultural activities, community service, and team building opportunities. The program also seeks to develop positive, supportive adult connections and reduce barriers to participation by providing meals and transportation as well as school supplies and toiletries to help ensure participants’ needs are met off the field. In addition, Softball for Success also covers basic wellness care for the participants and has a medical fund in the event that any softball-related care is needed. The program takes place two days a week after school and during the day on Saturdays, and also includes a parent/family session at the beginning of the project which took place in December. In December, we also hosted a painting workshop through Bondumani Art Center as well as a yoga class through Edward YogaSalone with Softball for Success participants, and provided toiletries and school supplies, to get them excited about the upcoming program. The pilot season of Softball for Success will kick off on February 3, 2024.
Also starting in 2024, Softball Salone is a free and inclusive mixed-gender adult slow-pitch softball league–with an emphasis on learning the game–offered in Freetown that enables adult coaches and players to enjoy the many benefits that recreational sports can offering while also helping the participants to become more familiar with the game so that they are better positioned to work with young people as softball coaches, as adult involvement and investment is critical to the success of youth programs. The season incorporates training, instruction, and practice as well as league play. The pilot season of Softball Salone will start on February 4, 2024.