Football Fever in Costa Rica
“The global sport.” “The beautiful game”. With 3 billion supporters worldwide, it is undeniable that football inspires change.
Here in Costa Rica, football however, is so much more than just a sport. Football fever has always gripped the nation, but it wasn’t until their 2014 World Cup success when the tiny country of Costa Rica was put on the football map. Reaching the quarter-finals in Brazil, with a population of only 5 million, proved Costa Rica's unshakable passion for football.
Harnessing this spirit, Tacos4Ticos seeks to help local children in impoverished areas mix football with learning.
The Grass Roots
In early 2013 members of Namu Travel, a company that sells upscale vacations in Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua, happened to volunteer as coaches with an organization called Educación Plus. The endeavor sponsors youth football leagues in the poorest areas in the country, and our co-workers were so inspired by the youth they met, that they were compelled to do more. For a year they volunteered as coaches in San Felipe, until Namu offered to take it further, sponsoring uniforms, balls, cones and other equipment for the academy.
By 2014, they had established their own team in Lomas, Pavas, an area much closer to the Namu Travel headquarters. Educación Plus already had an affiliation in Pavas, a shanty town and makeshift home to over 100,000 inhabitants on the west side of San Jose. We gained access to the Ernesto Rohrmoser stadium, and with that, training was up and away by mid 2014. What began with 40-50 dedicated kids grew and grew, until over time we have seen some to go on to be trained professionally.
Getting the Ball Rolling
Seeing what difference a few hours of our time each week had made, we sought to find out what else we could do. Asking Namu clients coming on vacations to donate used cleats, or ‘tacos’, seemed a good start. We received such an overwhelming response, with bags given containing everything from football gear to clothes and school supplies, that we expanded this approach.
Thanks to the help of other vacation and hotel partners, who knew of other schools in need, Tacos4Ticos has grown exponentially and we now work with a network of schools around the country. Currently we work with Educacion Plus in Pavas and San Felipe, Rio Azul Escuela de Futbol de Saprissa, Obandito School in Playas del Coco and Balon sin Humo in San Carlos, though we are looking to spread into other areas of the country.
Here are some of the ways we believe Tacos4Ticos helps to alleviate social problems in impoverished areas of Costa Rica:
STRUCTURE: kids train in a professional environment, which gives them pride in their surroundings and an important sense of place.
MOTIVATION: we encourage kids to have a goal, or passion, decreasing school drop-out rates and involvement in drugs/ drug related crime.
RESPITE: often our sessions provide an escape for a few hours from the conditions of their neighborhood.
VALUES: being involved in a collective game has the power to unify culture, races, and local conflicts.
DISCIPLINE: the rules and focus needed for football can instill a sense of order that is sometimes lacking from their home lives, sometimes due to loss of parents.
LEADERSHIP: the older students are appointed captains and learn a sense of responsibility needed to steer their team.
CAMARADERIE: football forms friendships, amongst players and with their coaches.