Davinson Sánchez: Tackling social injustice and youth violence is a team game
Tackling social problems such as racism, poverty and youth violence is a team game no unlike football. A victim of social injustices both in his youth and current footballing career, Tottenham Hotspur's center-back Davinson Sánchez explains how the support he received allows him to develop into a Premier League player and why he is supporting XLP's effort to do the same for youth in London.
Ever since I was a little boy all I wanted to do was to play football. This was my passion and my dream.
You don’t just jump from the dusty patched land in Caloto, Colombia to the pristine turf of White Hart Lane in North London without some help and a little luck.
I realize that there’s always some luck involved with every bit of success. I was blessed with God gifted talent to play football after all, something I remind myself each and every day, and never take for granted.
On the pitch, every goal we’d score was the result of a team effort. There was always a pass, a tackle, or a decoy that contributed to the goal. I could see this develop and replay in my mind, and still today I can imagine all the goals I’ve witnessed. It’s funny though, it was not until I was older did I realize that the biggest goal of my life, my dream to be a footballer, was because of the tireless support and sacrifices made by the best team in the world - my parents.
My parents gave me the opportunity to harness my potential, to feed my passion for football, and ultimately earn my spot with Spurs. They saw my love for the game and allowed me to join the youth football club - a team I had to travel over four hours by bus to attend practice and games. They both worked at the sugar mill in Caloto. They worked hard. They earned a meagre wage. But, still they saw the potential and opted to give me the chance to excel at what I enjoyed… to give me the chance at the best future for me. If it meant that Mama or Padre (my Dad) had to eat less or miss out on something for themselves, they would. Over and over, if it kept me off the streets and on the pitch.
If you ask them, and I can attest, they will tell you that the alternative for a young boy living in rural Colombia is almost certainly incarceration or even death. There may have been faster kids or stronger kids than me in my neighbourhood but when the opportunity to make some fast money by robbing the local store, or by couriering some drugs between towns the illusion of a team and support that gang life offered was too much to refuse.
In the absence of the parental support I was provided, it's understandable why some of my friends and countless youth across my country opt for the easy path through crime. Everyone wants to be on a team of some sort. A place where you feel you belong. Where you have something to offer and contribute to a shared goal - whether it’s the right goal or not.
When I got a little older my father was offered a new, better job in Medellin - a thriving metropolis filled with its own set of vices and temptations - but my mission to be a professional footballer did not wane with the new surroundings. Rather, they improved significantly and I remain thankful everyday for the opportunity that Team Sánchez (my family) had together to achieve our goals. I believe if I had not been mad about football my parents would not have needed to work as hard and the opportunities that came to my father to progress would not have come. I may still have managed to play domestically, but I know in my heart that my trial with Atletico Nacional was because of the opportunity I was given from the beginning. I chose the path to pursue my training and to improve my skills - but without my family it is not certain how far my success would have progressed, or if I would have given up on my dream. Luckily we do not need to look back.
It may seem like a simple story, but it’s my story and I truly believe that it is not unique to me. It is why I am so passionate about my partnership with XLP the London-based charity that helps prevent youngsters in the city from joining gangs and living lives of crime, drugs and violence.
Everyone deserves a shot at reaching their dreams and fulfilling their potential. Not everyone will have parents like I did, but it doesn’t mean that their dreams are any less important or worth pursuing - or that they cannot be meaningful contributors to the society they live in rather than a bane. I want to see them have this opportunity. Ever since I arrived in the United Kingdom I wanted to give back to the community that welcomed me in with open arms. Partnering with XLP is an important way to do so and to remind me on my mother and father contributed to my success.
XLP works with over 4000 young men and women every year who are vulnerable to joining a life of crime and disobedience. The gangs of the Estates in London are no different to the gangs in Colombia or other countries around the world. Preying on those youth when they are most in need - with the promise of money, of excitement and fun, and the inclusion in a “team”.
Helping them early and giving them the resources to find their skills, like I found mine with a football, is imperative. XLP helps give them the coaching they need to move to the next level. It gives them the safety, comfort and confidence to reach their potential. Believing in themselves is the most important part of the process, and XLP’s efforts are unlocking the doors in the hearts and minds of the youth they help that anything is possible.
I was talking with one of the mentors, Tim Sledge, recently who had been mentoring a 16-year old who had experienced a troubling upbringing. He had tried to set his school on fire and had thrown a computer at a teacher amongst numerous other pranks, stunts and mischief. After many face-to-face or online sessions, Tim had a breakthrough and had the boy believing in the merits of finishing school - which he obtained his O-levels in the UK. It was not overnight. It took many many hours and the commitment from volunteers like Tim to make this difference. Today the boy has growing into a young man and a successful auto mechanic. If not for Tim, the school would have most certainly have kicked him out and a life peddling drugs on the train lines would have undoubtedly been his calling.
Championships are team efforts. There may be star players, but every player has a role and the contributions of each and everyone of them delivers positive results. XLP is a team I am proud to be a member and I’d love to have you on my team. Join me and Eversince and help contribute to a young boy or girl’s future.