LiFFA: Transforming lives of young Indians through football
By Agnel Maria
The Little Flower Football Academy (LiFFA Trivandrum, Kerela) in India has transformed many young lives from the coastal belts of Trivandrum and Kanyakumari.
Becoming a part of the LiFFA Football team was how the organization improved the lives of many people by training and providing education to bring order into their life.
“Many neglected pearls” is how their head coach, Cleofas Alex, refers to the players of the team. LiFFA is transforming these uncut diamonds into refined ones by facilitating players with the essential requirements.
Msgr. James Kulas, with the Latin Archdiocese of Trivandrum, started the initiative in 2015 as a residential football academy solely for coastal villagers.
LiFFA was established to uplift the lives of young talented coastal children. It all started when Msgr. Kulas noticed that alcohol and other drugs were influencing the lives of young people and they were losing the power to dream and aspire for the future.
For this initiative, meetings and discussions with football specialists, educators, representatives of various teams from the coastal region, and representatives from the Archdiocese of Trivandrum were held over a five-year period in order to prepare for the launch of this project.
Facilities offered by LiFFA
LiFFA not only provides free education, accommodation, and food, but also proves that dreams are attainable for anyone with ambition and the right guidance.
In an interview with Vatican News, Mr. Alex said that creating discipline and order in the lives of the youth, along with helping them to realise that attaining their dreams is not impossible, were one of the reasons to establish the organisation.
The Archdiocese provided admissions in schools and universities under their management and offered young people contact with professionals on the field to give guidance and support.
Triumph over Challenges
Challenges are always part of any beautiful journey. Parents and players gradually had to realize that football was not just a game, but a profession.
Mr. Alex said there are now almost 14 parish clubs, but one challenge they faced early on was a shortage of faculty members to organize and coach the athletes, since people were still not fully convinced about that football could be a profession for them.
In the initial days of LiFFA, the only aim of the players was to get a job and make money. But now the mindset of the players leans towards making football a profession and creating a social identity for themselves.
The organisation is enabling the young athletes to see things from a more open-minded perspective.
Mr. Alex expressed that the athletes still face various challenges regarding access to facilities, such as transport, but in the end, the teams have been sponsored by people who appreciate the LiFFA initiate.
Getting recruited by the LiFFA football team has become a dream of many children from the coastal belts of Kerela, India. Most athletes are recruited through LADDER Cup (Latin Arch Diocese Elite Recruitment) events, and Parish club playgrounds are used for the matches.
The academy’s selection process is a year-long procedure that takes place throughout the coastal region through intensive scouting, regular short-term zonal visits by the LiFFA technical staff, tournaments, decentralized camps, and centralized residential camps.
The LADDER Cup tournaments are crucial for the selection process as the children participate in the tournament after months of preparation as parents cheer them on.
The Cup is conducted exclusively for Parish Clubs belonging to the coastal regions of Trivandrum and Kanyakumari coming under the Latin Archdiocese of Trivandrum.
The LADDER Cup is conducted among 7th graders as the athletes are recruited, who then undergo training along with their 8th grade education.
The 10-day long tournament sees over 50 teams participate and more than 550 students play, showing the magnitude and demand among parents for their children to participate.
Mr. Alex said the need not to worry about saving money for their children’s food and education offers parents an additional incentive.
Achievements and Goals
The impact of LiFFA can also be seen in the numerous trophies they have secured from various cups ranging from school to international leagues.
There are even two players under the age of 19 who are currently part of the Indian team. They have also won 11 national level cups, 17 state level cups, 8 district level and 12 school level cups.
High-school age LiFFA boys have represented Kerala in the Under–14 league and won the Subroto Cup International Championship at Delhi, India. They are champions starting from the school level and making their way up to the international level.
Mr. Alex expressed his joy that LiFFA has transformed the young people’s minds to dream big and wide. The athletes dream to play in the Indian leagues as a team by the year 2030. He also added, “The organization is also looking for more opportunities to expand in accommodating many more students from different religions who are struggling and willing to learn.”
Finding meaning and value from among the neglected communities to train the young talents to become champions that the world would have failed to see without the initiate of LiFFA, according to Mr. Alex, who added that the Church works towards the upliftment of the community and letting the future generations have a dream and work towards achieving it.