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Like many nine-year-olds, Jacob Townsend spent most of his time playing on his Xbox.
However, thanks to Reds in the Community’s Premier League Kicks programme, Jacob switched the screen for the pitch and turned his virtual dreams into reality.
Applying for the initiative changed his life, and showed how getting away from behind closed doors significantly improves social skills.
Through the Premier League funded system, the Kicks programme aims to engage and promote physical activity to young people in areas across Barnsley. The sessions use sporting activities to divert young people away from antisocial and sedentary lifestyles.
For the last 18-months, Jacob has been a regular attendee at RitC’s Premier League Kicks sessions at Dorothy Hyman, rarely missing the chance to get involved on a Monday night.
Jacob’s dad, Trevor Townsend, sung the praises of RitC’s Premier League Kicks programme, highlighting the importance of the scheme and how it had a positive impact on his son’s personal and social development.
He said: “The coaches here have helped him so much, bringing him out of himself, giving him confidence to go ahead and get involved more.
“He’s now got a wide range of friends and that has helped massively in character building.”
“It’s brought out the best of him, he’s an only child so he’s always been a bit inward, it’s been brilliant and he’s very much enjoying it.”
Before starting the weekly sessions, Jacob wasn’t interested in playing football, but since participating in the Premier League Kicks programme, he has gained a lot of confidence which has given him the opportunity to go on and engage in further positive sporting pathways.
His Dad added: “He goes to all the evening sessions, he does the holiday clubs and the occasional weekends before the game and he has really thrived on it actually because when he first came to the football (Premier League Kicks) he was very shy and reluctant to get involved.
“He’s made a lot of friends on these evening sessions; it’s driven him to join a Sunday league club that he is now part of, and it’s opened him up to a lot of social events.”
Jacob himself expressed how the programme made him believe in his own ability.
“I’ve learnt lots of stuff about how to play the game and how to play in a team.”
Community Coach James Cooke, who has guided Jacob since he first started attending Premier League Kicks, hailed his attitude and commitment, outlining how that contributed to his personal growth.
He said: “Jacob has attended Kicks from the beginning, and I have seen a lot of progress since the first time he attended. At the start Jacob was rather shy and didn’t really communicate with us as staff or other participants.
“Now he is always coming to us at the start of the session to speak with us and has made a lot of friends. Jacob is always here for kicks, missing hardly any sessions, we even see him now on our coaching clubs and holiday camps which is great.”
James, who is our dedicated Premier League Kicks officer, identified Jacob as a great example of how the Kicks sessions can help support young children as pathways open for further opportunities.
He went on to say: “The evening sessions are great for young people who want to come and join in football as it gives them something positive to be involved with. Its everything else that comes with it that is the real impact.
“Jacob is a great example of how you can progress from attending the sessions, he even now plays for a local Sunday league team which is fantastic.”