Ricardo Gardner, the Concacaf Ambassador, says he believes the new NextPlay grassroots program will reap handsome dividends on regional development fronts down the road.
The former Jamaica international, who will work closely with the linked Scotiabank NextPlay Academy and the Scotiabank NextPlay Cup, says the broad-based activation has all the elements to help foster the love for the game and shape participating kids into all-round good human beings.
“This will impact Caribbean football in a big way because at this young age this is where everything starts and these kids are our future. If we can teach these youngsters life principles through football it can only get better out there on the field,” said Gardner, who attended Wednesday's launch of the NextPlay Cup in Kingston.
“I think this is the difference between our football now and our football back then. If you can learn the principles from a young age and grow with these principles everything will be a lot easier for us and I am sure we will be seeing some of these youngsters in the World Cup which is one of the biggest stages in football,” said the former Bolton Wanderers star.
Gardner, who is a coach in his native Jamaica with boyhood club Harbour View F.C., says he embraces with great joy his new role as Concacaf Ambassador and the opportunity it will afford him to work with the kids.
“This is a very special moment for me (as) football has done so much for me so it is always good to give back to the sport that has done so much for you and to be a part of something bright for these youngsters at such a tender age where they can learn life principles.
“My role is to be at as many of the games as possible once I am available and helping to teach these youngsters how to live the life of a professional footballer and that it is not only on the field, but it’s also stuff you do off the field," Gardner shared.
He said he takes particular pride in working with Concacaf Director of Development Jason Roberts, who himself has a wealth of knowledge to share with the kids having played the game at the highest level for his native Grenada and in the British leagues.
“They (children) will learn not only from myself, but from the director (Jason Roberts) himself of how to be a professional and the skills that come with it to live the life of a footballer on a day to day basis. I think it (NextPlay Cup) is a great platform for the youngsters to display their talent to the best of their ability right across our region,” Gardner expressed.
“So if you can prepare them and have them growing up in the right manner, growing them up to be leaders on and off the field, how to be responsible, how to love the game and how to embrace each other and be very competitive out there it's just great for football,” he ended.
The Scotiabank Concacaf NextPlay Cup, which will involve 2,240 kids from 240 primary schools, will be contested in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and The Bahamas. Each territory will crown its own champion.
The new grassroots development activation will be contested by football-loving children — boys and girls aged 10-11 years old playing on the same team — from the respective school systems.
With football as the pathway, the NextPlay program seeks to expose both sexes to football academia and to assist the youngsters, importlantly, in becoming valuable citizens armed with vital life skills.
The NextPlay Cup will run from November 10 to December 8, and is to be played on Saturdays at some of the participating nations' premier football facilities.