From sports coach to life skills coach

Experiences Erasmus+ Erasmus+: Sport
With an Erasmus+ Sport grant, people at FIMU were trained to solve problems, both big and small. The main goal of the project was to use grassroots physical activity and sports to promote social inclusion and school motivation among children and young people at risk of social exclusion.
Play! -project participants

A child is annoyed about not hitting the shuttlecock. Another one is fooling around and disturbs the group during training. The third child has never had a hobby at all.

These are small but unfortunate microlevel problems. But a big problem is looming at the macrolevel: risk of social exclusion of young people.

The Finnish Multicultural Sports Federation FIMU decided to start solving all big and small problems at one go. It applied for an Erasmus+ Sport grant for the three-year PLAY! project and was awarded the grant. Together with five project partners, it engaged children in physical activity in many countries.

In Finland, life skills coaching was integrated into the training of the coaches. There were seven collaboration partners in total, and the training of the young people coaching children in FIMU’s member clubs was at the centre of the project. One of these young people was Deniz Caliskan, who led children’s sports clubs in Espoo when the project was launched.

“When you start to coach children at the age of 18 or 19, you jump into a role of an adult, but you really become a little bit of a child yourself too,” Caliskan says with a little laugh.

 “In the PLAY! project, we learned to assess children's and young people’s emotional and social skills and divide them into categories based on their skills. Each of the categories must be coached in a slightly different way. I could adopt a lot of things from the training to my own work. I was able to develop my own emotional skills and open my thoughts; why I think this or that way when I coach the children.”

Caliskan says Hanna-Mari Toivonen from the University of Jyväskylä was an excellent and absolutely wonderful teacher. Both beginners and those who had been coaching sports groups before benefitted from the training.

“She came with me to my low-threshold sports club for children. We identified problems and addressed them straight away using the methods learnt in the training. Hanna-Mari asked me: Did you notice that 10 minutes ago that child behaved this way and now that you have applied the methods you have learnt, the same child behaves that way?” Caliskan says.

“I think the training I received would be suitable for anyone interested in working with children.”

A method that increases sense of responsibility

In the project, the European project partners developed and shared methods that strengthened children’s and young people’ life skills, communication, concentration and entrepreneurship. From the University of Jyväskylä, FIMU adopted the American Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility method, which is aimed at improving young people’s life skills.

“These skills can then be transferred to school and home life, and of course to the workplace later. The children practice the different levels of sense of responsibility, the first of which is respect. For example, conflicts are not solved by fist fighting but by talking and children start to respect themselves and others,” Riitta Latvio, Coordinator at FIMU, explains.

“The next level is participation: everyone participates even if they don't find the content interesting to start with. Setting goals and doing one’s best come next, and from then on, the sense of responsibility increases. At the top level, they help others and take the role of a leader, trying to think what is in the best interest of the whole group.”

“The most important thing in making these changes happen was including the target group in the project. The young coaches themselves were the change makers, they planned and did most of the work. At the same time, they were empowered and perceived their own abilities,” Riitta Latvio says.

She found it wonderful to see how the young people showed initiative and how skilled and capable they were.

“In the end, even some of the youngest ones, who at first seemed to be giggling teenagers, grew as persons and committed themselves to the project. They came to demonstrate a model session to an international audience in the final event and according to the trainer, used the method in an exemplary manner,” Latvio says. The voluntary coaches also had an opportunity to exchange experiences with coaches from the other countries during a sports camp held in Italy.

More resources for the core task

The coordination of such a big and long project may sound like biting off almost more than you can chew. Fortunately, no one is left to their own devices to run the project.

“EACEA answered my questions very quickly, usually within a few hours. Their service is very good,” Riitta Latvio says.

The European Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency EACEA in Brussels is responsible for the management of Erasmus+ Sport projects.

Up to one thousand people benefitted from FIMU’s courage to start to manage this project. Especially the impacts on the young coaches in FIMU’s member organisations were clearly visible. The method has also spread to the other activities in the clubs. In the project, a total of 109 voluntary young persons were trained to coach children and young people in cooperation with 41 local partners (sports club and/or school).

Volunteering and the training provided for the method look good on a CV and three of the young coaches involved in the project have indeed found employment in the sports sector. For example, Deniz Caliskan was spotted and employed by the Sporttikaveri project in Vantaa, in addition to which he coaches children’s ice hockey and floorball teams.

The Erasmus+ for Sport project gave more resources to FIMU for the implementation of its core task: improving the sports opportunities of immigrant families and that way helping them to integrate into Finnish society. The umbrella organisation FIMU also wants to offer training and guidance to its member organisations.

“This project has helped us raise FIMU’s profile considerably in Finland. The project had visibility. We also gained a lot of experience of participation in an EU project. Internationalisation is important for us and we intend to participate in new projects. This year, we are planning a youth exchange with an Erasmus+ grant,” Riitta Latvio says.


  • Project type: Erasmus+ for Sport, Partnership for Cooperation
  • Coordinator: Finnish Multicultural Sports Federation FIMU ry
  • Project period: January 2017–December 2019
  • Partner countries: the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Slovenia
  • Funding: EUR 315,951 

Author: Natalia Kisnanen