"Wait, we’re the coaches now?"

How PeacePlayers’ leadership pipeline is paying off in PeacePlayers Cyprus

August 2, 2021

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PeacePlayers’ leadership pipeline is designed to give youth not just the skills, but also the confidence and the opportunity to lead; whether that is at home, with their friends, in their communities, and also, within PeacePlayers. A fantastic example of this practice put into play is the team of young coaches from PeacePlayers Cyprus who in April designed and led a cultural twinning as part of this year’s Virtual Friendship Games, generously supported by Ed and Penelope Peskowitz.


Each month for the last six months, one PeacePlayers site has been tasked with leading an hour-long virtual session that encourages peers from across the world to learn more about each other’s cultures, histories and conflicts. When the time came for PeacePlayers Cyprus to lead, Internal Operations Manager Stephanie “Steph” Nicolas knew exactly who to turn to. The PeacePlayers Cyprus team had already been making an effort to re-engage their program alumni, taking advantage of the pandemic that had suddenly left many alumni with a fair amount of free time.

Nursu Summer Camp 2021

Coach Nursu, PeacePlayers Cyprus Summer Camp 2021

Also due to the pandemic, several alumni who had been studying or working abroad returned home. Two such examples of those returning home are Nursu, a 22-year-old Turkish Cypriotfrom the northern part of Cyprus who is studying medicine in Turkey, and Christianna, a 23-year-old Greek Cypriot from the southern part of Cyprus who is also studying medicine, but in the United States. Both Nursu and Christianna returned to Cyprus once the global pandemic hit.

Coach Christianna, PeacePlayers Cyprus Summer Camp 2021

On why she was excited to come back and coach with PeacePlayers, Nursu says, “Because of school I’m missing out. Inside me I was like I want to go back, I want to go back to my family because I suppose PeacePlayers is my second family. I learned everything from PeacePlayers. My vision is like PeacePlayers’ vision and I really want to continue that. I really want to be in PeacePlayers as much as I can, and that’s why I came back.” Christianna, who is still in Cyprus and patiently waiting to return to the U.S., adds, “I wanted to bea role model for the kids. I wanted to teach them lessons I’ve learned through PeacePlayers. I want them to feel like they can always count on me and I’ll be there for them.”

 
Viktor, 22, who has been assistant and head coach with PeacePlayers Cyprus and Nesodden Basketball club in Norway since turning 18, never passes up an opportunity to coach with PeacePlayers Cyprus. Viktor moved to Cyprus from Belarus as a teen and found the transition to Cypriot life hard, but thanks to PeacePlayers, that transition was made easier. “I felt very safe and

very welcomed into the PeacePlayers community… If I could make one kid feel the same way I felt back then, when I was a kid, that would be a goal for me that would be like a dream come true so that’s why I always comeback and coach.”And the Virtual Friendship Games Cultural Twinning was a great platform to pass on that knowledge to more than just the young leaders from Cyprus, but to many more youth from around the world as well. Steph says the group of alumni worked so well together in brainstorming for the virtual session, that they only had to meet twice before delivering the session. Viktor thought their biggest challenge was being too specific with certain cultural references that he feared no one else would be able to understand. 

 

This challenge though, is also what unites the northern parts and southern parts of Cyprus. They planned activities like “Cyprus Says” where participants in attendance were asked to make specific hand gestures that were common in bothregions of Cyprus such as a head nod and clicking of the tongue instead of saying no; and a game of Cypriot trivia where it became clear that despite the different languages, Turkish in the northern part and Greek in

Coach Viktor, PeacePlayers Cyprus Summer Camp 2021

the southern part of Cyprus, there were strong similarities: halloumi and hellim (famous Cypriot cheese) kapira and gabira (toasted bread) sapouni and sabun (soap).“I think the goal was to break [a] stereotype that [Cyprus] is two different societies and we have little [in] common. It was more like breaking that stereotype by showing that we have our differences, but it’s a very similar culture; similar way of living on both sides,” Viktor says.

 

Designing and leading this virtual session was the perfect trial run for these alumni, who, thanksto the loosening of stay-at-home restrictions, were all able to coach at PeacePlayers Cyprus’ annual summer camp, held in the Agros Mountains. In addition to the excitement of getting back on the court, the alumni, who until then had been given the role of assistant coaches, had another reason to be excited. A still shocked Christianna remarks, “We had a coaches meeting, and Steph went over the schedule and everything and then she put the names of each coach with the kids they’d be coaching, and I turned around after a while I was like ‘wait, are we the head coaches?’ We’re always like the assistant coaches, for the past two years, when I was coaching preschoolers I wasn’t the head coach, I was the assistant coach…. The first day [of camp] I remember going to some of us ‘do you guys feel like we’re actually the coaches?’ Imagine how time flies. You were in their seats like participants and now you’re coaching and leading everything.”

 

Christianna’s remarks on becoming a head coach after years of participation and assistant coaching, along with Viktor’s inspiration for becoming a head coach, speak to PeacePlayers’ leadership model that empowers its own participants to be the ones driving the global movement forward. And the Friendship Games, whether they be virtual or in-person, served as the perfect liminal space for PeacePlayers Cyprus’ alumni to put what they’ve learned into practice as they become the positive inspiration for the next generation of Cypriot leaders.

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