For two years, 20-year old Esmat Najibi has been leading GAME’s street football practices in an underserved neighborhood of Viborg, Denmark. He was recently chosen as Playmaker of the Year in the Playmaker Program in Denmark. This was not something he imagined could happen when he fled from Afghanistan to Denmark in 2009.

Every Friday, Esmat Najibi puts on his GAME t-shirt. He teaches kids to play street football in a way that ensures that it is not just those kids yelling the loudest that get to decide everything. That was how it was when he was growing up in the neighborhood Elle- konebakken in Viborg, Denmark.

“We played football, and then there were fights. There wasn’t anyone who could control us. It was just us. It would have been better if there had been someone to help us, so it wasn’t always the one yelling the loudest in the group and on the field who called the shots,” explains Esmat Najibi.

There was not much to do for Esmat and his friends in Ellekonebakken. This is unfortunately reflected in the criminal records of some of those with whom he grew up. In 2017, an after-school program worker introduced Esmat Najibi to GAME’s Playmaker Program. Esmat said yes to giving it a try, but it was only when he went to the Playmaker Camp with other young people from all over Denmark that he understood that it was about much more than just football.

“I said yes to becoming Playmaker in GAME when I found out that the instructor training was about much more than football. It gave me a new way to look at the world,” says Es- mat Najibi.

It was especially the combination of sport and conflict management that caught his attention.

“We learn about much more than just foot- ball here. For instance, it’s also about conflict management. This has helped to shape my personality and taught me to tell the difference between right and wrong. Now, I understand the difference, and how we can influence each other with what we do and say. I use this at practice when I see a conflict,” Esmat Najibi explains.

According to Esmat, he has found something at GAME that he did not find anywhere else. Something he can use on the football field, in the school and when meeting new people.

“I did not notice it at first, but I have become better at talking to people in a way that they understand. I talked a kind of street talk before. I don’t know where it came from. Now, I have gotten used to talking with kids and parents at the street football practices. That has changed a lot in relation to my school, like when I am presenting something to the class,” Esmat explains.

Everything that Esmat Najibi has learned at the Playmaker Camp in Copenhagen, he has taken back with him to his GAME Zone in Viborg.

“It is great at the Playmaker Camp. I learned a lot without even noticing it. You think: ‘I can do that yes, yes.’ But now I can see that it works to talk pedagogically to kids. I try to put myself in their place and to think about how I would have liked the adults to speak to me when I was younger. Not by shouting, because you know very well when you have done something wrong,” he says.

And the practices are certainly popular when you see that up to 25 kids take part in them. Esmat plans the practice program in the break times and lunch hours at school, together with his Playmaker colleague Omar, who goes to the same school. Here they evaluate the previous practices and find inspirations for new drills together.

But it is not only about football and football practices. Esmat Najibi is also a role model.

“One of the children told me that he was bullied in school, but he didn’t know how he should react to it because he was afraid that it would make problems. He didn’t dare talk about it to his parents – only to me. I am, in that way, kind of a big brother. It gives me a good feeling inside when I can give advice and help to make someone else’s world better,” Esmat explains.

When Esmat Najibi is not on the playing field, he dreams about moving to Aarhus, a larger city in Denmark, and studying to be an engineer. He hopes that this will coincide with when his little brother can take over the Playmaker role in the GAME Zone Ellekonebakken in Viborg when he moves, so that, also in the future, it will not be those yelling the loudest on the playing field who get to call the shots.