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U.S. athletic professionals teach Afghan youths value of sports

Participants in a sports diplomacy program designed to help develop community-based sports programs for youths across Afghanistan practice basic ball-handling techniques taught to them by Bob Delaney, retired NBA referee and current NBA Cares Ambassador, and Matt Williams, Jam on it Basketball Academy CEO and National Co-Chair AAU Girls Basketball. More than 150 Afghan coaches and youths participated in the event. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kris Levasseur)

By Staff Sgt. Kris Levasseur
International Security Assistance Force Public Affairs

Kabul, Afghanistan (Feb 9, 2012) — A group of senior U.S. coaches and sports administrators visited the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul, Afghanistan on Feb. 6 - 9 to train and mentor Afghan sports officials as part of a sports diplomacy effort facilitated by the International Security Assistance Force and the U.S. Embassy.

The exchange is part of an overarching sports diplomacy program designed to help develop community-based sports programs for youths across Afghanistan. More than 150 Afghan coaches and youths participated in the event.

“Thank you for making a commitment to be here and to all the children in your area,” James Parker, vice president of sports operations for the Amateur Athletic Union, said to Afghan participants. “You have made a commitment to make a difference, educate, motivate. Most importantly, you have made a commitment to change your country for the better through sports.”

During the AAU visit, U.S. coaches and administrators mentored Afghan coaches and sports federation leaders from across the country in basketball, soccer, volleyball and Taekwondo. In addition to coach-the-coaches mentoring in the four sports, the group conducted workshops on developing and conducting local youth sports programs, and worked with the Afghan National Olympic Committee in developing a fitness program for Afghan youth.

Many of the visiting coaches and administrators expressed a great sense of honor to be invited to the event.

“Taekwondo has allowed me to travel the world and meet some of the most interesting people, so when I was asked to come and spend a few days with the people of Afghanistan who are trying so desperately to change their lives and the lives of their children through sports, my only response was, how could I not,” said Mike Friello, national sport chairman for AAU Taekwondo. “What we do here is not about our differences, but about our similarities.”

The visit came at the invitation of Lieutenant General Zahir Aghbar, head of the Afghan National Olympic Committee. The visit by U.S. coaches was discussed during a U.S. Embassy and ISAF-sponsored trip to the U.S. in November by a delegation of Afghan sports federation leaders. During that visit, Afghan sports leaders observed sporting events and toured sports facilities across Florida, and also visited the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

According to Navy Rear Adm. Harold "Hal" Pittman, Deputy Chief of Staff for Communication, the program will result in Afghan coaches earning a basic AAU coaching certification. The program also links these certified coaches with young athletes, programs and sports facilities, which are being developed by the U.S. Embassy.

“These children in your community look up to you,” said Parker during his address to the Afghan participants. “You are their heroes, you are their teachers, and you are their hope. We are here to better the lives of children all across the county.”