While my linguistic skills are quite limited, there is one language that has allowed me to communicate across Sub-Saharan Africa: soccer. I can’t say I speak all the dialects, but I am more or less fluent in Premier League, proficient in Champions League, and speak enough La Liga and PSL to get by. This skill is invariably helpful when operating in places where you can’t turn your head without seeing someone in a Lionel Messi jersey, a bus painted with Santi Cazorla’s face, or a restaurant advertising the week’s televised matches on hand-written poster boards.

Like many places around the world, young soccer players in Africa often think in the short term about being the next Didier Drogba or Victor Wanyama to break out and get a lucrative European league contract. The vast majority will never play professionally, but the lessons you learn and skills you develop playing soccer can serve you for a lifetime.

A new IYF initiative in partnership with Barclays, Sport for Kenyan Youth Employment (SKYE) looks to harness the passion for soccer and translate the skills learned playing it into the workplace. IYF is integrating football, as it's known locally, into our Passport to Success® (PTS) life skills curriculum by adapting some lessons from the classroom to be taught using soccer tenets and the soccer field. Things like being on time and being a positive teammate are not new to athletes. Arsenal great Robert Pires, who cut the ribbon at the SKYE launch event, pointed out that hard work and discipline are necessary to succeed in soccer, just like any career.

The 500 young men and women from Nairobi’s Eastland area participating in SKYE will receive work readiness training through our partner Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) using IYF’s freshly soccer-infused PTS curriculum. Then they will receive on-site training and certification in a construction sector trade through our partner Arc Skills, to be placed in a job thereafter.

At the kick-off event, I helped lead a demonstration lesson on the five keys to being a good employee to a group of 30 Kenyan youth. The group was fantastic, diving right into the role-plays, games, and discussions. We talked about how if they are late to a game, their coach won’t play them, so we could connect that type of consequence to what they might experience on a construction site job. Likewise, they agreed no one likes a teammate who is always negative and complaining, and the same goes for work colleagues. They know being able to demonstrate skills such as being a team player will make a coach much more likely to play them, and, translating to the workplace, can inspire a boss to hire, promote, or recommend them. They seemed to enjoy the dynamism of the classroom demo, so I can’t wait to see them for the on-field lessons.

I was happy to hear the most commonly asked question after the demo training was “how do I register?” Sport has been used in a myriad of constructive programming—to build kids’ confidence, to bring communities together, to instill health information—and I look forward to seeing what it can do for employment in Nairobi. Maybe in the process I’ll also pick up some of the local language: Kenyan Premier League.

Tom Brownlee is an IYF Program Manager.