October 4, 2015


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Coach helps youth amp up soccer skills

Spurs passion for the pitch

When Germany trounced Brazil 7-1 during the World Cup, images of the intense emotional reactions of Brazilian fans made their way around the Internet. Youness Moustarzak has an idea of what it's like to care about soccer that much.

"It's like a second religion in Morocco," said Moustarzak, who was born and raised in Casablanca, the largest city in the North African country. "Back home, we used to play in the streets with cars running beside (us). That's how we learned the skills."

Moustarzak moved to Winnipeg as an international student in 1999. Today, the 34-year-old is channelling his love for soccer into a volunteer position with the Spence Neighbourhood Association (SNA) youth sports program.

Every Tuesday evening, Moustarzak heads to John M. King School on Agnes Street where he helps boys from the neighbourhood between the ages of 8 and 12 develop their skills. The two-hour sessions end with a 30-minute game.

Moustarzak's ability to speak multiple languages comes in handy, as he is better able to communicate with youth who are newcomers to Canada.

Last summer, while volunteering with the girls' soccer program, Moustarzak helped a group of girls whose native tongue is French. He also speaks Spanish and Arabic and has been able to help young people who are more comfortable speaking those languages.

Moustarzak became a Canadian citizen in 2008, and the importance of volunteerism was instilled in him as he studied for the written exam he took when applying for citizenship. Moustarzak recalls the booklet saying volunteering is a pivotal part of Canadian life.

"It's important to support community initiatives," he said. "You can't just rely on the government. You need people with skills to work in the neighbourhoods."

Moustarzak, who is working toward a PhD in public administration at the University of Manitoba, coached a high school soccer team two years ago. He enjoyed the experience, but the players were already skilled, and he wanted to volunteer with younger people who might need more help.

A social worker friend of his advised him to look for an organization downtown. So, last summer he began volunteering with the SNA.

"I love working with the kids," he said. "Seeing them happy is a rewarding feeling."

About 250 youth will participate in the SNA's soccer program this year, said Jamil Mahmood, the organization's executive director.

The SNA's sports program is free and everyone gets a chance to play. For many of the youth, it's their first time playing organized sports.

"To be able to provide their first team experience and give them the ability to practise is great," Mahmood said.

The SNA is looking for more volunteers to help with its sports programs. Anyone interested can call 204-783-0290 for more information.


If you know a special volunteer, please contact aaron.epp@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 14, 2014 B2

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