A grassroots football tournament in Tonga is drawing huge numbers to Loto-Tonga Soka Centre in Tongatapu as youngsters scramble to take part in the new initiative from Tonga’s Just Play department.
Malie Soka is a 12-week tournament featuring three divisions – U-10, U-12 and U-15 – for which 65 teams have registered from 20 different communities throughout Tongatapu.
TFA Just Play Project Manager Palu ‘Uhatahi said her team has worked hard to deliver a tournament which will not only introduce football to the young participants, but also feature a fun, festive atmosphere.
“We wanted the teams to play small-sided games, and it’s really worked out,” ‘Uhatahi said.
“We wanted to stick closely to the way we conduct football festivals and Just Play activities as we know regular access is important to develop ball skills and a passion for the game.
“As we know, children at this grassroots phase need to learn ball control and start developing an understanding of the game. Plus, everyone should have an equal opportunity to play both during practice and the games.”
The U-10 and U-12 divisions play five-a-side matches with a mix of boys and girls, while U-15 has been expanded to seven-a-side and mixed teams are not compulsory.
While Malie Soka was initially offered to communities which have an existing relationship with the Just Play Programme, ‘Uhatahi said there was an overwhelming response when offered to new communities.
“We went out to all the communities involved in our programme and we also reached out to some new communities. We’ve welcomed the new communities and everyone appears to be enjoying themselves so far.”
One mother, Seini Falepapalangi, said the timing of the tournament is great as it gives the children something to focus on following their exams, and encourages them to be active.
“All my players are still at primary school and they just finished sitting their High School entrance examination so now I have to train them every day,” she said.
“I’m glad the parents are supporting their children and I enjoy seeing them bring their children to the home of football.”
Just Play Programme is a sport for development programme that helps children to grow, learn and explore through sport. Just Play gives a child a ball, a coach and a safe place to play. The programme shows children how to have fun with other children, be physically active and become confident in their abilities. Through the integration of social messages, Just Play helps children to develop healthy lifestyle habits, encourages gender equality and leaders in the community, promotes social inclusion and insists on sport for all.
The Just Play Programme is designed and monitored by the OFC Social Responsibility Department in partnership with Australian and the New Zealand Governments, the Football Federation Australia, the UEFA Foundation for Children and UNICEF.