UAE Portrait of a Nation: A football coach’s fight to change attitudes to the game

Omar Al Dhiyebi coaches football for hundreds of hours a year and his goal is not just to teach a sport, but to change the perception of the world’s most popular game.

Omar Al Dhiyebi’s day job is in an office working in real estate, but he has opened the door to football to hundreds of children in his position as director of Regional Sports, a grassroots football academy in Abu Dhabi. Delores Johnson / The National
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Omar Al Dhiyebi is helping his young footballers to apply the lessons they learn with a ball at their feet to the bigger challenges they will tackle later in life.

Omar Al Dhiyebi coaches football for hundreds of hours a year and his goal is not just to teach the sport, but to change the perception of the world’s most popular game.

As the director of Regional Sports, a grassroots football academy in Abu Dhabi, the ­Emirati not only coaches youngsters, who range in age from three to 18, in theory and technique, he also provides valuable life lessons through team sports.

“You can learn so much through football – more than just passing and dribbling, you can learn respect, punctuality, work ethic and, of course, selflessness,” he says.

The Emirati is also trying to change perceptions of the sport. He says that when he was growing up, football was seen by some people around him as a waste of time. Now, he wants to show parents that it can be an integral part of a vhild’s healthy upbringing.

“If you want that to work, it needs to be a culture of sports for people in the region.

“Many people think that those who get involved in sports are uneducated or that sport is only for those who don’t make it in school.

“I want to change this perception at school and in the home.”

Al Dhiyebi is a living example of his aspirations.

He has a bachelor’s degree in real estate, along with a level two coaching badge from the Football Association in England.

He works in an office job in real estate at Aldar and then coaches more than 250 youngsters.

“You can still be a sportsperson and have a master’s degree. I want to create that culture because it can be a profession and I want parents to understand that when their child is passionate about football, that they shouldn’t look down on it,” he says.

Being a sportsman, however, is more than just being good at football, a lesson he learnt later in life.

Aside from teaching those lessons he thinks that inherent in football and its competitions, the biggest of which is the World Cup, internationalism and intolerance for racism are easily taught. “You know, we have a problem here, where all the locals are grouped together. But, at the academy, we have more than 30 nationalities involved in working with each other, and eventually becoming friends,” he said.

He says even if a person never makes it as a professional, there are many lessons they can learn from being involved in sport.

“It’s not just about football, it’s about good social ethics and morals that come out of it,” he says.

“Not everyone will become a professional but everyone can learn.”

That is what he is interested in teaching, so much so that Al Dhiyebi and his students conduct philanthropic campaigns regularly.

“I want the students to learn all the things that I learnt playing football, namely what it means to be a great sportsman,” he says.

Part of his work is that after the season is done he sends all the used equipment with two of his coaches to their respective African countries. “For them, some African kids play football with plastic bags wrapped in a bundle, so we donate all our used gear to them,” he said. “I think that’s what football is about.”

nalwasmi@thenational.ae