Qatar’s Kids and the Positive Power of Football
With the FIFA World Cup 2022 drawing ever closer, Qatar is using the power of the event to push forward its country's development goals. The country is positioning itself to be a world-class sports hub, with an active and healthy population to boot. The right infrastructure, economic climate and supporting workforce are all part of the plan, as is better access to sports and elite sporting opportunities. However, the importance of supporting grassroots sports, in particular football, has not been overlooked either.
The benefits of grassroots sports on the health and well-being of a population can not be underestimated; neither can its impact on the mindset of the up and coming generations. But, equally as important is its ability to generate the next wave of sports stars. Qatar is keen to raise a population of active and fit citizens and, of course, to enhance its pool of homegrown football talent.
The hosting of the World Cup tournament has seen an explosion of football programmes and initiatives designed to get Qatar's youth up and moving and focussed on sport for the future.
The Importance of Kids Team Sports
The importance of an active lifestyle to our health has long been known. But, sporting activity, especially team sports, can provide us with a host of additional physical, mental and social benefits. The earlier we start to adopt an active lifestyle, the more ingrained those benefits become.
Physically, sport helps us to build stronger, more flexible bodies, enhancing muscle strength and bone strength and supporting heart and lung health, and helps us to maintain a healthy weight. It also helps us to develop specific skills, i.e. motor skills and movement skills.
Mentally, sports can have a positive impact on our well-being by giving us focus and a sense of achievement, as well as increased social interactions, which in turn improves self-esteem and confidence. It can also induce better sleep patterns and reduce the occurrence of anxiety and depression.
Socially, through shared interests, we become part of a wider community creating new connections and so a bigger social circle and support network. Our social relationships teach us about friendship and communication, give us a sense of belonging, and, through belonging to a wider community, teach us about inclusivity and diversity.
Sports are also important in helping us to develop life skills (discipline and worth ethic, problem-solving and decision making, overcoming adversity and managing emotions, etc.), which are transferable into many other situations, i.e. in the workplace, in relationships, etc.
Team sports include all of the above benefits plus a whole host more. Particularly for children, team sports help to establish life skills such as leadership, teamwork, communication, discipline in one's role, conflict resolution and ownership. They also help to develop notions of fair play, respect for others and constructive criticism.
Promoting Kids Football
Recognising all of the health and well-being benefits of team sports, especially for kids, organisations around the world are keen to promote football as an ‘all-rounder’ in achieving physical, social and cognitive development.
Indeed, football does warrant such claims. Football develops physical strength, mobility, balance, coordination, speed and endurance. It also, through the skills and tricks taught and learned, improves spatial awareness, depth perception, reaction times, and decision-making and problem-solving under pressure. Players must be focussed, disciplined and motivated; they must learn to be team players and possess good communication skills. Socially, players are introduced to a wider range of people from varying social and economic backgrounds, which helps to encourage acceptance and understanding. As well as that, in a game designed for everyone, players become part of one of the biggest communities in the world. A useful advantage in many social situations.
And so, there are a plethora of organisations in every country from government bodies, football associations, football clubs, sports clubs and schools to not-for-profit and charitable organisations, who offer programmes and initiatives to get children playing football. Obviously, football for kids has always been a fun activity, one that keeps them active and healthy and allows them to blow off steam. However, the programmes and initiatives that have been developed in the last few decades now offer much more than just physical opportunities. They promote social skills, life skills and mental well-being; many bridge the gap between grassroots sport and professional sport, and many more enable children from all social, cultural and economic backgrounds, and abilities, to enjoy the game.
Qatar’s Supporting Role
In Qatar, the government’s vision for the future of their country has long incorporated the desire for a step change in attitude, access and availability to sports, especially where the youth of the country are concerned. Much has been achieved since the beginning of this century, especially in conjunction with the hosting of the World Cup 2022.
Kids in Qatar now have a host of opportunities available to get involved in sport, especially in football:
Qatar runs a host of annual community sports events and programmes, many of which involve football. The events are usually free to join and open to all. The majority of the activities are centered upon encouraging people to participate, however, some activities offer those already involved in sports to bring themselves or their teams along to play or compete for fun.
For football specific sports opportunities there are a multitude of sports and kids clubs offering football lessons and football development sessions. And, there are a host of kids football clubs for those who want to play and train on a more regular basis. Clubs are generally hosted by schools, community organisations, and football or sports schools and academies.
However, recognising the need for longer term grassroots football opportunities, a number of community football leagues have been established to host and encourage the development of the country’s amatuer football clubs.
Qatar Community Football League (QCFL)
The QCFL was founded in 2016 by the Supreme Committee of Delivery and Legacy, responsible for delivering the World Cup 2022, to increase participation in sports, provide a healthy activity for communities, and promote diversity and social cohesion. The QCFL, as well as a number of adult leagues, offers three girls leagues and four boys leagues for kids aged 16 and under.
Qatar Foundation Junior Football League
The Junior Football League, part of Qatar Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation for, amongst other things, social development, offers league football for kids aged 13 and under. Qatar Foundation also runs a host of football events and classes for girls and boys throughout the year.
Qatar Youth Football League
Organised by the Qatar Sports for All Federation, under the Ministry of Culture and Sports (responsible for delivering cultural and sporting aspects of the Government’s National Vision 2030), the Youth Football League is for over 16’s only. The organisation offers non-professional, non-football association registered youth players the experience of a professional type league environment.
Qatar Schools League
The Qatar Schools League is organised by the Qatar Football Association in cooperation with the Qatar School Sports Association, and sponsored by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy. The Schools League was founded in 2013 with the aim of providing a platform for Qatar’s youth to play football and to instill a culture of football in society. Official referees from QFA officiate the matches to give credence to the league and ensure that the students learn more about the positive values of football such as fair play, teamwork, and good sportsmanship.
In the last decade or so, football schools and academies have popped up all over Doha city. Driven by the government’s social development aims, the sizable football loving population and the up and coming World Cup, these private enterprises provide the opportunity for kids from all social and cultural backgrounds, and abilities, to play the game.
Whether kids join the various academies for the fun of the game or for building specific footballing skills, there are plenty of programmes on offer - assorted age ranges, girls only, goalkeeping skills to name but a few. Some academies also offer pro-development programmes as a pathway to professional football.
The majority of the private academies available in Doha have teams that participate in either the Qatar Community Football League or the Qatar Foundation Junior Football League.
Additionally, a good number of the academies work in conjunction with organisations such as the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, Qatar Women’s Sports Committee, the Qatar Olympic Committee and the Qatar Football Association to promote football throughout the country at events and festivals and through a variety of additional programmes and initiatives.
Check out what football schools and academies are available in Doha in our Football Academies for Kids in Doha article.
Football Clubs and Professional Football
The Qatar Football Association and Professional Football Clubs
The Qatar Football Association (QFA) is the governing body for football in Qatar. Founded in 1970, the QFA is responsible for the country’s national football teams (senior and youth), as well as the national futsal team. They are also in charge of the country’s premier professional football league - the Qatar Stars League, the second division league, the Qatargas U-23 League, the Qatar Amateur League, and the Qatar Futsal League. The QFA organise a host of tournaments throughout the year, including the Qatar Cup, The Amir Cup and the Sheikh Jassim Cup.
The Association is also responsible for organising the junior leagues and tournaments for the country’s U18 to U13 professional football club teams.
There are currently eighteen professional football clubs in Qatar, each hosting junior teams and many offering youth development programmes.
Young talents are invited to join junior teams or youth development programmes by a variety of means, though having usually been scouted at open days, amateur tournaments and league matches, etc.
The Aspire Academy in Doha is a sports academy for the physical and academic development of youth athletes. The core sports offered by the academy include football, athletics, squash, table tennis and fencing.
The academy’s football programme caters for U13 to U18’s, though prior to this age talented footballers can join one of the Academy’s Football Talent Centres to train and join feeder teams to the Academy.
The programme offers a host of development opportunities for players, including training with international coaching staff, competitions and tournaments with some of the best youth teams around the world, training at academies abroad, and long-term career development into professional football or football-related roles and industries.
Admission to the Aspire Academy is via their Talent Identification Programme.
Generation Amazing is a social legacy programme developed by the Supreme Committee of Delivery and Legacy during their successful bid for the 2022 World Cup. The programme was established to help encourage positive social changes in communities through a variety of ‘football for development’ initiatives. A number of these initiatives were designed specifically for kids to address social issues such as mental and physical health, inequality, social exclusion and environmental sustainability.
The programme is being rolled out throughout Qatar in schools and at a variety of local and national events. Lessons, workshops and training are all based around football games, tactics and skills that can be used to teach valuable life lessons and competences which address social issues.
The initiatives are delivered by professional football and sports-related personnel, alongside ex-professional players, coaches and managers, and a host of local volunteers who give their time to be ambassadors of the cause.
The Future of Football in Qatar
As hosts of the World Cup in 2022, football has become even more prominent in Qatar. With new sports infrastructure and facilities, a rising sports industry and plenty of footballing opportunities, the future of the game looks bright. And who knows, with the number of rising opportunities for kids to play football, some of the next global football superstars could come from this tiny nation.
Helping to shape Qatar's youngest footballers are some excellent training academies. Check out Qatar's finest football schools here.