Newham football coach: ‘Music videos have a negative impact on the way kids view the world’

Denis Hasanaj, who single-handedly set up the Football Force Academy last year. Picture: Ken Mears

Denis Hasanaj, who single-handedly set up the Football Force Academy last year. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

The head of a football academy in East Ham has spoken out about youth crime, social media, and the positive impact sport can have.

When Albanian-born Denis Hasanaj, 25, set up Football Force Academy in July last year, he had a specific area he wanted to target.

“I did a lot of research – I wanted the academy to be somewhere you’d consider disadvantaged, an area with poverty,” he said.

“Individuals don’t have equal opportunity, and I wanted to change that.”

The academy, for six to 12-year-olds, trains in Plashet Park on Saturday mornings. The focus isn’t on winning – Denis said it’s about learning how to cope with weakness.

“Different children react differently to weakness,” he said.

“If they have low self-esteem, which a lot of them do, some don’t handle it as well. The academy is about teaching you the value of different skills.”

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For Denis, providing this outlet is about providing an alternative identity for young boys. A sense of belonging, which they might otherwise find in gangs, can be found there.

He said: “The aim is just to be there for them - we’re someone they can come and talk to, someone they can lean on.

“Being in a gang, they look at it like a brotherhood. It’s attractive because it’s seen as being good money, and it’s often attractive for kids who haven’t got a lot.

“We’ve got to teach the younger children that it’s okay not to have money, as long as you’ve got your brain.”

Denis, a trainee teacher, admitted finance was one of the biggest challenges. He cited a boy who enjoyed coming every week who suddenly stopped due to cost. Money becomes a double-edged sword – kids stop being able to afford activities like the football academy, and instead find role models from elsewhere.

“Social media has a huge affect on them,” Denis said. “Kids as young as eight are looking at music videos which have a negative impact on the way they view the world. They watch these videos and want the lifestyle they promote - but they don’t realise the kinds of things people had to do to get there.”

The academy trains 9-10.30 on Saturday mornings, but will also be running sessions in May half term.

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