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US women's football player Brandi Chastain speaks at the launch of the FIFA-UNICEF alliance for children. Behind her is UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy.  
Football: Empowering girls

Football's ability to empower children, especially girls, is one of the sport's greatest strengths in the eyes of US football (soccer) star, Brandi Chastain.

"The basic principles of the sport are dedication, teamwork and appreciating the ability of each player," she explains. "These are the things I experienced. You earn respect for your talent while learning to respect the talent of others."

Chastain is concerned about the large number of young people who grow up without ever playing on a sports team.

"Football teaches the players how to be leaders," she says. "And a leader is not [always] the captain or the star of the team, a leader is [also] someone who organizes a game, remembers to bring the ball, or does a good job on the team."

Chastain has seen football's big impact on girls who play the sport and is herself a role model for millions of girls she has inspired with her outstanding performance and ability.

"Football gives girls the ability to be leaders and improves their self-esteem," she says. "They learn that they can be leaders, be powerful and strong and that those are perfectly fine qualities for a woman. They learn to explore themselves through football."

The sport's growing popularity has broken the twin stereotypes of football being a boy's game and the idea that sport in general isn't for girls.

"Football games give girls the opportunity to play in public and the encouragement to succeed," she says. "One of the most important things high profile players can communicate to young people is that it's okay to be afraid. We are all afraid of something - afraid to fail or afraid to succeed. It's important for young people to know that, and to know that they can successfully overcome the fears that may otherwise hold them back."

Chastain, who works as a coach in her native California, believes that a sense of overcoming the odds is particularly important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who face so many challenges each day that they may feel hopeless.

"One of the most satisfying moments I have experienced in working with young people is the look in a child's eyes when they 'get it'," she says. "Once a child understands and successfully replicates something, they also recognize that they can learn many new things. Showing a child how to do something is a basic action we can all take, and it is immensely rewarding."


© UNICEF / Photo taken from the TV spot  The power of football  by Leonardo Ricagni
The issues Did you know...

During the course of a 90-minute football match, 85 children will die of AIDS.