It’s still a common story – too common. “I didn’t see a lot of girls playing football and I was one of the only girls who played at school,” says Stina, but thanks to Arsenal in the Community she is playing regularly and helping others find their way in the game.
Arsenal in the Community deliver a wide range of programmes that offer support to young people both on and off the pitch. A key focus of many of our programmes is to develop trusting relationships between staff and young people to help them understand their interests and aspirations, then support them into opportunities that will help them achieve their goals. This increases the confidence of young people, raises their aspirations and creates the sense of belonging that is a core tenet of Arsenal in the Community.
Stina, aged 14, has been a participant on our Premier League Kicks programme for four years, during which time she has become a positive role model within her group and taken up some fantastic opportunities.
“I first found out about Kicks through school,” says Stina. “I was playing in my primary school session and the coach let me know about a girls’ session going on. They found out the details, gave me a letter and I attended.
“I was excited because I didn’t see a lot of girls playing football. I was hoping to make new friends who also enjoy playing football, and at my first session I was made to feel really welcome. I felt like it was a big family. Everyone pushed me into becoming a better player, it was fun and I fitted in really well.
“I really like the fact that we all support each other; we all put each other into a good mood,” she adds. “We all have a really strong passion for Arsenal and football so it’s a really good environment to be a part of if you want to do something in football.
“I think I’ve developed my teamwork skills and communication skills because, while I like to think I was always approachable, I’ve learned to be more understanding of others and calmer in different situations. I get to help out with the younger kids sometimes. It’s a good way to understand other people.
Stina says she has benefited massively from taking part in sport, not just physically but also from a social aspect. “I’ve learnedto be more tolerant,” she says. “You might get angry when you’re losing or the decisions are going against you, but I’ve learned to handle those situations a lot better and consider the impact of my behaviour on others.
“This has taught me to use the different lessons I’m learning at Kicks outside of football as well: how others are coping, what I can do to understand them and to communicate to others to help them out. The coaches have given me the responsibility to help the younger ones, and that helps you to grow up.”
Change for the better
Last year Arsenal in the Community began delivering the Premier League Changemakers programme, an initiative that aims to develop leadership skills in girls as well as promoting good mental health and gender equality.
Through the sessions, we work with local advice and counselling service The Brandon Centre to deliver workshops on a variety of topics that support their wellbeing. In addition, the girls take part in volunteering in their local community.
“I find it fun working with Osiro from the Brandon Centre because I think she really understands what’s best for us, and she really helped me when I used to get angry on the pitch,” says Stina. “She helped me to calm down and understand my anger or frustrations on the pitch and school and collect my thoughts better.
“There were great workshops on confidence, school, exams, focusing better on the pitch and at school. The workshops helped me a lot around confidence. It’s really important for playing but also every day in life, otherwise this can be a big problem for your mental health. It helped me because I’ve played with a lot of people who have the same problems as me, and we’re all in it together.
She also really enjoyed volunteering to help the younger children. “It’s nice to support other people and help them to have similar experience that I have,” she says. “I got to share those experiences and that helped make 2022 and 2023 the best years of my life.”
Stina recently attended the national Premier League Changemakers event in Leicester, where she took part in workshops and motivational talks.
“I really enjoyed the event because it wasn’t just us – there were a lot of other football clubs there and we all contributed to the day and the activities. There were a lot of activities, and I particularly enjoyed a workshop on journalism, and seeing that there are other opportunities in football beyond playing.
“I also liked meeting the referees – that was my favourite part of it,” Stina says. “They spoke really well about inequalities and also what they go through.
“I found the event really inspiring and I’d like to do it again in the future . It was a great opportunity and I’d like to learn more about other jobs and opportunities in sport and football, because there’s a lot more to football than just playing on the pitch.”
On the ball
As well as working with Arsenal in the Community, Stina was also successful in trialling for the Arsenal Ball Squad last season. She finished in the top 20, which meant she was part of the squad for the year, supporting women’s, men’s and youth team matches at Emirates Stadium.
“When I found out I was in the Ball Squad, I was screaming – I was so excited, so, so, so happy,” Stina says. “I think I was really just shocked because there were a lot of kids who applied to take part. It was a shock to me that they picked me, but I was so looking forward to the first game.
Stina’s debut came during the Emirates Cup against Sevilla in July 2022. “I was so excited – it was amazing. The best feeling in the world.
“We had a day where we practised what we’d be doing on matchdays, and where each person would be positioned for each match,” she says. “It was very organised, no one was worried and everyone was aware of what to expect. We were all mostly excited for seeing the players.
“My best moment on the pitch was… all of them! It was great when we got to meet or speak in passing to the players, and also feeling like we’re part of the big games. I remember seeing Bukayo Saka, who asked us if we wanted to take some penalties – obviously, we all agreed. Off the pitch, I loved meeting Granit Xhaka – I was completely in shock all the time.
“I learned a lot, and most of all I learned that there is a whole family within Arsenal,” Stina adds. “I think there is so much going on behind the scenes that you never see or know about. There’s so much that goes into a matchday, so many people contribute and they’re all part of the Arsenal family. It was great to be part of that. How close I got to a group of people in a year – it was wonderful.”
Stina is ambitious and would love to remain involved in the sport. “In the future I would like to obviously my dream is to become a footballer,” she says. “Journalism is something I want to be part of in the future, too. I would still like to be part of football, so journalism is something that interests me and that I enjoy. There are a lot of possibilities.”
Read more about our work with The Brandon Centre here
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