Sunderland strengthens ties with South Africa as coaching project helps change lives

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Sunderland AFC has seen its community work in Africa come full circle as young coach enjoys life changing experience at the club.

Sergio Van Der Ross, from Cape Town, South Africa, recently visited Sunderland to take part in a two-week knowledge sharing tour after impressing club officials on a visit earlier in the year.

Graham Robinson, head of international football development at Sunderland AFC, said: “We first met Sergio back in 2014 when we launched the Premier Skills initiative in South Africa with the Premier League.

“You could tell from the beginning that he had the skills to become a great coach and qualified from the initiative with flying colours, so much so that we invited Sergio to work with the club at Premier League Live in Cape Town.”

Following the event in Cape Town, Sergio explained his tough background before Premier Skills and his involvement in drugs abuse and criminal activity at the British High Commissioner’s House.

Sergio explained: “I lived in a rough area of Cape Town where drugs abuse is rife and got involved with the wrong people, but while at a youth facility I realised that this was not something I wanted to be part of anymore and I have been clean now for five years.”

“That was my life before football, Premier Skills and Sunderland. I have developed so much since then, not only as a coach but as a person thanks to Premier Skills, it has given me the confidence to go out into the community and coach with kids from a similar background as mine.”

Sergio now works for Oasis, a non-profit organisation which focuses on sport for development programmes which connects with both youth and adults from marginalised communities, offering them educational and life skill opportunities.

Graham added: “Sergio’s story is part of his progression but for me the actual person and how he has developed himself is key to his success.”

As part of Sergio’s visit to Sunderland, he worked with Sunderland AFC’s coaches at the club’s state-of-the-art Academy of Light alongside the club’s charity, Foundation of Light.

Graham said: “Sergio’s visit was all about knowledge sharing and gaining more experience and understanding about how it works differently in the UK in comparison to South Africa, whilst working in the academy system which is very structured and well organised.”

Sergio explained how the visit has changed his life, he said: “I love the setup of the academy, the quality of the players from such an early age is unbelievable and I’m just amazed by the whole experience.

“I have never experienced something like Sunderland AFC before, the way the coaches and staff members have made me feel so welcome and part of the family is amazing. It has had a positive effect on my life and has changed it, I would like to thank both the club and South African Airways for making this possible.”

Going forward Sergio will travel with Graham to run a number of community activities in Tanzania as part of the club’s partnership with Acacia Mining.