Inspiring young people through football

Going back to his roots: Wilfried Zaha visited Premier League Kicks this season to inspire and be inspired.

Premier League Kicks, which began in 2006, uses the appeal of professional football clubs to engage young people from challenging communities in regular football, sport and personal development activities. Now funded in partnership with Sport England, and often delivered in conjunction with local police forces, it has grown incredibly over the last nine years. Fifty Premier League and Football League clubs now deliver Kicks at more than 800 sites – and over 56,000 young people benefited last year. Since its launch, Premier League Kicks has engaged over 131,000 young people across the country – enough to fill the Arsenal, Sunderland and Swansea City stadiums to capacity.

Once you give someone that arm around the shoulder and you support them constantly, I think you can get the best out of them.Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha revealed the role Premier League Kicks played in his formative years when he visited the project in Croydon where he honed his skills as a youngster. The 22-year-old used to attend Premier League Kicks sessions at the Canterbury Road site as a teenager, where, with the help of the Crystal Palace Foundation, he began his journey to the top flight of English football.

  • Why do you think the Kicks scheme works?

    Once you give someone that arm around the shoulder and you support them constantly, I think you can get the best out of them. You’ll see kids just hanging around but you’d never know that they’re that good at football. Kicks gives them the chance to come and just play and that’s how you discover talent. I think it’s because Kicks is brought right to your doorstep – so you’ve got every opportunity to come and play at facilities close by. I think that’s why it works so well.

  • How did Kicks help your development as a player?

    It was big for me because after a while I couldn’t use the back garden anymore as I literally broke everything. It was great for me to be able to come down to the park and actually have goals, cones and nets to use for free. Obviously those times were hard times, but Kicks gave me a big opportunity and the staff were all really supportive.

  • What do you think Kicks does for the kids and the areas it works in?

    It’s just about helping the community really. It shows that you can come from nothing and become something.

  • Kicks coach George Henry with Zaha

It started off as something to do and turned into a passion.George Henry, Premier League Kicks coach

Kicks coach George Henry (pictured above with Zaha) was part of the same Crystal Palace Kicks scheme as Wilfried growing up:

“A lot of these kids get into trouble because they haven’t really got anything to do with their time. I wasn’t in with the best of crowds and only first went along because it was near me and was free football. It started off as something to do and turned into a passion.”

Young boys at Crystal Palace Kicks

“They got me to do some volunteering, then they put me through a Level 1 coaching course, then I went to university and did a degree in sports development. Yeah some of the kids who come to us think it’s a way to make it as a player. And maybe they will. But the important thing is, we can help with all sorts of things.”

By providing a safe, friendly environment, the scheme has not only helped improve the prospects for young people, but has also played a role in reducing anti-social behaviour. To further illustrate the reach of the programme, 75% of Kicks projects are delivered in the top 30% most deprived areas in the country.

Up to 35,000 young people take part in Kicks each week and in one of the biggest tournaments of its kind, the 2015 national Premier League Kicks Cup also saw over 600 U16 boys and girls from 47 professional clubs take part in the one day event in Liverpool. Girls from Brighton & Hove Albion’s Premier League Kicks programme who travelled 270 miles to the event are pictured celebrating a win.

Young girls at West Brom Kicks
Next article Delivering Participation Jermaine Jenas sees how our investment in first-class facilities is developing all levels of the game. Watch the video. Read more

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