Last month marked the 15th anniversary of Premier League Kicks, the community programme established by the English Premier League with the aim of inspiring young people to reach their full potential through weekly football sessions.

Premier League Kicks runs these weekly sessions free of charge alongside various football clubs from across the country, bringing young people together on a frequent basis to improve their mental and physical wellbeing. The programme also provides access to valuable educational workshops, promoting diversity and increasing awareness of the social challenges facing young people, such as youth violence, meaning that participants are able to gain a greater understanding of their local communities and can become more involved within them.

With the support of Kicks coaches, young people are able to participate in sports activities in a friendly and constructive environment during these sessions, increasing their confidence and allowing them to socialise in a safe space. The sessions also provide valuable employment opportunities for those involved, and 20% of the current workforce of the programme are former participants.

Premier League Kicks 1
Young people participating in Kicks sessions. Photo: Premier League.

The impact of the Premier League Kicks programme has been seen very clearly in the participating communities across the last 15 years, over half of which are considered to be among the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK. The MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy, says “It’s been amazing to watch a lot of our young people grow in self-confidence, not just on the pitch or through the community work that we do but going off to get apprenticeships to get jobs”. She added, “It’s been a real lifeline for a lot of young people and it’s also been the way that our community has been able to get stronger”.

The programme was initially set up in 2006 alongside the Metropolitan Police, with the aim of strengthening communities and providing a positive space for young people to get involved in sports. Now, it has worked with 36 different police forces and 90 professional football clubs to provide over 900,000 hours of these sessions to young people across England and Wales. Because of this, an incredible 440,000 participants have been involved in the programme since its launch.

As part of the celebrations marking 15 years of the programme, the clubs involved have been naming “Local Legends”, those who have been particularly inspirational and successful during their time with Premier League Kicks.

Newcastle United, for example, have nominated Liutauras “Lilly” Balciunas, who joined their Kicks programme 6 years ago. His attitude and behaviour had initially been negative, but he has since flourished and represents the team in football tournaments. He is also now involved in running Kicks sessions himself, and aspires to become a sessional coach. The support of coaches from the programme, and the employment opportunities offered to him by Premier League Kicks, have been particularly beneficial for this. Lilly says that he has become “more and more confident” since joining the programme and adds that “Kicks definitely helped improve me as a person”.

Football Clubs Celebrate 15 Years of Premier League Kicks
Local legend Liutauras Balciunas with his award. Photo: Premier League.

Similarly, West Ham United have nominated Najma Shariffu, who joined the programme 11 years ago and initially struggled with anxiety and extreme shyness. She says that engaging with the coaches and fellow participants at Kicks sessions increased her confidence and helped her to overcome her fears. As a result of the employment opportunities offered, she is now a full-time coach with the programme, using her own experience to help mentor others in similar situations.

Football Clubs Celebrate 15 Years of Premier League Kicks
Local legend Najma Shariffu with her award. Photo: Premier League.

These success stories are some of many highlighted as part of the 15th anniversary of Premier League Kicks, and are testament to its positive impact on the lives of young people across England and Wales since 2006. Additionally, with 80,000 young people expected to participate in the sessions in the next 12 months, the programme is set for even more of this success in the future and will continue helping young people strive for goals, on and off the field.

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