The course, run by the Irish Prison Service, in partnership with the FAI and St Patrick’s Athletic, gives selected inmates the chance to enter the adult education programme which uses football as a vehicle to teach the men multiple life skills and sees them obtain a coaching licence in the process.
The course was led by St Patrick’s Athletic’ Director of Football and UEFA Pro Licence holder Ger O’Brien and will enable all licence holders to coach in the adult amateur game and integrate into Irish football on their release.
One such inmate was Graham, who has been in Wheatfield Prison for 14 months, and said the course has completely changed how he looks at himself.
“Before I started this, I didn’t really have the confidence in myself to do something like this at all, I just didn’t have confidence. I didn’t believe I could do it, but the lads [Ger O’Brien and Niall O’Regan] really helped me,” Graham told The Irish Independent.
“Especially with presenting things and all, I wouldn’t have known how to present things but the lads really helped me with how to put things together better and I have way more confidence in myself from that”.
The FAI’s Head of Coach Education, Niall O’Regan, said the course is educational first but uses the practicality of football to get people who may not be totally comfortable with adult learning to engage through the medium of sport.
“This course teaches valuable life skills, even in things like handing a project in on time, you learn the importance of timekeeping and deadlines. Or teamwork, they have to come together to create training plans - that’s a life skill that will translate to the outside world.
“The programme is a fabulous way to connect the participants to the game of football, providing them with an introduction to education through the medium of the game they all love.
“Skills such as planning, organisation, administration, writing sessions plans, completing assignments and presenting in front of their peers theoretically and practically,” are all part of the curriculum, Niall said.
“These are all huge characteristics of being an effective coach but also helping the participants with their future integration into their respective communities. The success of the programme has been down to the fabulous delivery style of Ger O’Brien and it is something himself and his club should be extremely proud of”.
St Patrick’s Athletic Director of Football Ger O’Brien led and designed the course on behalf of the club and thanked the graduates for their commitment and willingness to learn. Ger said a lot of the course is about helping the inmates “improve on everything” before they are released,
“This has been a fantastic initiative from all involved to help educate the participants.
“Their interpersonal skills, how they communicate with other people and learning to trust other people. This is just as important as getting a degree when it comes to getting a job.
“When they go back into society, the person that’s going to give them a job has to feel that they can communicate what they have to offer. We’ve given them that opportunity and we treat everyone as equal. The relationships you see them build with each other; I think those are so, so important. We are really big on how they communicate with each other.
“Sometimes, the mindset is, ‘’I’m in prison, I have to be a certain type of individual to survive’, but we stress that how they talk to each other and conduct themselves during the programme is of the utmost importance. Using bad language, how they stand, all these small things make a difference to attitude,” Ger said.
Assistant Governor of Wheatfield Prison, Amanda Sutton said the Prison Service was committed to managing custodial sentences in a way which encourages and supports prisoner’s resettlement and reintegration into their communities.
“I believe that the skills learned through participation in this course provides prisoners with some of the core skills required for their successful reintegration. We are looking forward to continuing our partnership with the FAI and St Patrick’s Athletic, and working on future projects together,” Ms Sutton said.