Buddha on the Ball… 7 life lessons to encourage the youth of today (on and off the football pitch)

Last week I had the good fortune to be training some teenagers from Southend in Essex, one of my favourite seaside towns. All of them had been excluded from mainstream schools and/or came from disadvantaged backgrounds. Luckily there are two people who believe in their potential, their teacher Rachael O’Brien and Stuart Long (of South Essex Homes), who have set up a Football Club for them, with funds they have fought long and hard to obtain. More info on Southend ATF (Achievement Through Football) here: http://achievementthroughfootball.org/ 

Southend comments

We had two marvellous days together, a mix of football plus the mindset and happiness stuff I teach on The Winning Edge personal development programme. This wonderful experience proved that with some warm but strict encouragement plus a more positive way of looking at themselves and the world, even kids who’ve had the toughest starts in life can discover a spark of hope, an inner resilience and a new sense of purpose. More about these lovely kids and their dreams at the end of this post.

Believing in young people

The course got me thinking about my ‘Buddhist Mums and Dads’, the people who supported my Buddhist practice and believed in me when I was in my 20s and living in Paris, Scotland, Toulouse, Bournemouth, Peterborough and a few other places besides. The ones who remain top of my mind are Maggie & Richard Norwell, Annick & Andy McKenzie and Christiane & Jean-Marie Alix. It’s about time I said thanks to all of you for ‘greeting me as a Buddha’ and opening your hearts and your homes, so here’s seven reasons why I shall always treasure the times we spent together, half a lifetime ago:

Zofia, my daughter (and a mighty fine footballer, as it happens…)
  1. I had many questions about my life direction, career choices, who to marry (or not) etc… and you listened to me and taught me that I already had all the answers inside, waiting to be discovered in my daimoku. You did not give prescriptive advice because you knew that in Buddhism the answers you discover are as unique as you.
  2. When I lacked confidence you trusted me 100% by giving me lots of different responsibilities. You stretched me beyond my limits while supporting me to the max with your consistent encouragement.
  3. You taught me that it is healthier to compare myself to my own potential than to other people.
  4. When I was angry and frustrated you taught me how to create value from this energy and passion. I remember begrudging my life while washing dishes for a living (with my First Class Degree) and you taught me to feel gratitude for the people who did that job every day, without complaining.
  5. I was sometimes irresponsible (OK, hands up, it was fun… 🙂 ) but you taught me that, ultimately, joyful responsibility is better than irresponsible joy.
  6. I was brilliant at worrying (which I now realise means I have a great imagination :-) ) and you helped me visualise a mission for the future. You taught me that every failure ultimately creates value if you carry on chanting.
  7. When I was overly casual and careless you taught me that to treasure the dignity of life is the deepest source of gratitude, of determination and of respect for others.

The Only Way is Success

Back to those kids in Essex. On the second day I was teaching them that “nobody and nothing has ever upset you, wound you up, got on your nerves or made you angry.” This is a central principle of Winning Edge which explains that we subconsciously ‘choose’ how we react to every situation and so can have much more control over how we feel than we usually realise.

Katie Piper, Beautiful
Katie Piper, Beautiful

I used the inspirational story of Katie Piper as an example – Katie was a beautiful model and TV presenter whose face was destroyed in a malicious acid attack and who, after initially wanting to die, set up a Foundation that helps people with facial disfigurement. After hearing this story, one of the youngest kids in the group, Owen Marquez, piped up: “She lost her beauty but never stopped believing she was beautiful inside.” I had shared the Katie Piper story with dozens of other adult delegates before that moving moment, but none of them had summed it up so eloquently (or energetically) as Owen did. Incidentally Owen (rear, 3rd from left in pic below) and his pals are also learning to coach younger footballers (front row…) #spreadthelove.  Owen may or may not play football one day for Southend United or England. But whether he does or not, he and his team-mates are learning to see the brilliance in their own lives and be more amazing every day. Just as I learned to, half a lifetime ago, thanks to my lovely Buddhist ‘Mums and Dads’.

Owen & his mates
Owen & his mates

For as the radical Buddhist teacher Nichiren Daishonin revealed (750 years before Tony Robbins, Robin Sharma, Louise Hay and all the other personal development gurus): “You yourself are a Thus Come One (Buddha). You should chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo with this conviction.”


PS. If you want to support Southend Achievement Through Football (and quite frankly, what’s not to love???!!), you can Like their Facebook page here – come on you Spoon fans, how about we help them get to 500 Likes by the end of April? Please forward this link to any friends who love football, love kids and want to help make a difference in society:

PPS. Finally, and we’re in extra time now… a few messages to each of you kids in Southend – I really enjoyed hearing your dreams for the future – Rhys, Jack and Lewis: it’s a great goal to want to be like your mentor Stuart. Matt: I look forward to reading your bestselling book. Olly & Harrison: I will look out for you scoring for Man Utd and Spurs respectively, though if you could find it in your hearts to play for Arsenal instead… 🙂 . Owen: you will definitely have loads and loads of friends, pets and children. Louis: you really got this stuff, there are no limits to what you can achieve if you keep that twinkle in your eye. And lastly Holly, any kid would want you as their PE teacher in a few years’ time, and by the way, you have the sweetest left foot – keep banging in those goals.

You guys rocked,

‘David de Hare not de Gea’ xxx.

5 Replies to “Buddha on the Ball… 7 life lessons to encourage the youth of today (on and off the football pitch)”

  1. Beth Virani says:

    Great story and thoughts! Thanks again…so much work to be done! I work at a middle school in a lower socio-economic region of Los Angeles. All kids are jewels! They are just sponges waiting for encouraging words, and I try my best every day, though sometimes I don’t know how to reach them. Thanks again for the encouragement! Where is info on The Winning Edge? Beth

    1. Hey Beth,
      your job sounds like a wonderful mission. :-). Reaching these kids (or anyone else as well sometimes) can be a challenge & in fact there were a few tricky moments on the Southend course I blogged about. I think with such things we either win or we don’t in our morning gongyo! There should be a link in the post straight to Winning Edge, but if not just go to http://www.mancroftinternational.com – we have done some work in the USA 🙂
      Warmest wishes

  2. Mary Mulligan says:

    This is wonderful David

  3. therebelpen says:

    Wonderful!! 🙂 Someone needs to do this with Indian kids too!! One such great person: a YMD in my chapter who is now spending some time every saturday with the kids of the best school of Bangalore!!

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