Global Study
YMCA Global Study Blog header


An Interview with Coaches Across Continent

by on

Today YMCA Global Study got the chance to sit down with Adam Burgess – the Sustainability Strategist at Coaches Across Continents. CAC is a unique NGO that uses sport to create a positive impact on communities. Using their specially designed football curriculum, CAC trains volunteer football coaches around the world in order to improve education and leadership among young people in disadvantaged communities. They also address important issues within these communities such as gender equality and empowerment, conflict resolution and health and wellbeing.

Keep reading to find out how Adam’s travels and love for sport led him to  Coaches Across Continent, and how sport is the best way to create a positive impact on any community.

Delisa: For those who aren’t familiar with Coaches Across Continents, would you be able to give us a summary of the organization and how it came about?

Adam: Coaches Across Continents is a global leader in the sport for social impact movement. Community based organizations from 95 countries have requested partnerships with Coaches Across Continents, enabling them to utilize our year-round strategic resources to Design, Develop, and Implement sustainable sport for Social Impact programs and focus on local issues such as: female empowerment, including gender equity; conflict prevention, including social inclusion; health and wellness, including HIV/AIDS behavior change; child rights; vital life skills; and fun. Our key to success is a unique Self-Directed Learning model that educates people to identify, address, and solve problems specific to their communities. We mentor organizations and empower communities to question harmful traditional, cultural, and religious practices; responsibly choose their own futures, and create sustainable change. We started with 1 community partner in Tanzania in 2008 and have grown exponentially ever since. It was started by Nick Gates who ran a successful youth coaching company in the USA but felt that soccer could do more than just be about competition and realized there is so much demand for support using sport for good globally.

Delisa: Did you always know that you wanted to work for an NGO or the sports industry? Was there something that drew you to it?

Adam: I always wanted to work in the sports industry from a young age as I felt that doing something that you love was the number one priority for employment. However, I didn’t specifically target the NGO world within the sports industry until I had completed my MBA. Working for an NGO can be very stressful due to the financial model, however, after getting experience with governments and corporations I felt that it was the sector which had the greatest impact on a section of the population who didn’t have equal opportunities to succeed.

Delisa: Coaches Across Continents is such a unique organisation, what would you say is the best thing about working there?

Adam: The flexibility. We have a virtual office with staff on 5 continents right now. Everyone is given the space to build their own roles and responsibilities including when you work as long as the work gets done. This is not for everyone but it means there are different challenges coming your way every day.

Delisa: What’s a project that you’ve worked on that you’re particularly proud of?

Adam: For CAC I manage the Michael Johnson Young Leader initiative. This offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to young leaders from our community partners globally who have come from challenging backgrounds. Selected young leaders are paid to come to Dallas, USA and take part in a week-long leadership course at the Gold medal winning athlete Michael Johnson’s Performance Centre. Then they are given year-long support to develop their sporting ability, leadership potential and/or community impact in their country and are always considered alumni. We are now in the 3rd year of this initiative and have had young leaders from places like Tanzania, Zambia, Armenia, Lebanon, Brazil, Jamaica, Australia, Philippines, India and Cambodia who are now all doing incredible things in their community and are becoming leaders in their chosen fields.

Delisa: Why do you think using sports as a tool for social change and community development is so important?

Adam: As soon as you go into a new community and bring out a ball or any type of sports equipment it breaks down barriers. All of a sudden kids come running and people listen and open up. You can have conversations about sensitive and challenging subjects due to sports ability to create and build relationships.
If you try and do the same in front of a classroom or in a meeting room there is an ingrained distance or wariness which discourages creativity and open discussion. Traditional education is very academic and theoretical. It is not able to address life skills and social skills which leads to many young people being unprepared for personal growth after education. Sport can fill that gap and complement traditional education.

Delisa: We’d love to learn more about your role within the company. Would you be able to give us a brief summary of your academic/ professional journey to get to this point?

Adam: After doing sports coaching for a few years personal relationships took me to Kenya where I ended up volunteering with a small NGO using sports to address HIV education. They connected me with Coaches Across Continents whom I volunteered with for a Summer. I decided to go back to university to complete an MBA in International Sports Management. The final part of the MBA was a research internship which I decided to do with CAC on partnerships between corporations and non-profits. After the internship, I started working full-time with CAC and have been a staff member ever since. My role has definitely evolved over the past 5 years but I am now getting to the point where I want to be which is managing 5-10 corporate partners for an international NGO.

Delisa: This question is mainly for students who have finished, or are close to finishing their degree, can you identify an academic or professional opportunity that helped you get to your current role? Perhaps volunteering or an internship?

Adam: I volunteered with CAC and one of our community partners before coming on full-time with CAC so that definitely helped!

Delisa: Have you ever studied abroad or has work ever taken you overseas?

Adam: Yes, with CAC I have worked in Kenya, Tanzania, Cape Verde, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, India, South Korea, Albania and am just back from Australia. In addition, my home country is the UK but with CAC I work in the USA

Delisa: If yes, would you say that experience had an impact on you as a person or your work ethic?

Adam: Yes, working in different locations is so important for everyone where possible to gain different perspectives on other peoples lives and realities. Working in the field is essential with CAC as it provides a picture of different ways to communicate and relate to others from very different backgrounds.

Delisa: Looking at the YMCA Global Study website, is there a program that particularly interests you?

Adam: Corperate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development

Delisa: Finally, do you have any advice or words of wisdom for any students that may want to pursue this or a similar field?

Adam: Build towards doing a job you enjoy and allows you to be creative rather than spending time working in a job which isn’t dynamic and is just about making money. And get international experience in the field- sports or otherwise!


A big thank you to Adam for taking the time to do this interview with us.
If you would like to learn more about Coaches Across Continents, donate or explore other opportunities to get involved in the organisation, click here!

Check out YMCA Global Study courses:


© YMCA 2017. All Rights Reserved.