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Wallan primary school kicking goals for life skills

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Pam Kiriakidis
Pam Kiriakidis
Pam Kiriakidis has worked as a journalist at the North Central Review since 2022, with a particular focus on the City of Whittlesea and stories for the Whittlesea Review. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Media and Communications majoring in journalism and focuses on politics, community, and health with the occasional niche sports story finding its way in front of her.

By Pam Kiriakidis

Wallan Primary School and Our Lady of the Way Catholic Primary School students broke down barriers while participating in a Soccer COPPS Program last week.

About 20 police members and representatives from Football Victoria, Football Australia and Bully Zero coordinated the day, strengthening bonds with students from grades three to six at Wallan Football Netball Club.

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Grade three and four students were the first group to kick soccer goals with the Victoria Police Soccer Club and other sporting organisations, enjoying the sight of a police chopper flying by.

Coordinator and Acting Sergeant Vincent Manno said the program had great potential, incorporating sport and life skills to prevent risk-taking behavior, especially from a young age.

“Sport is a vehicle; sport is the key and we’re using that basically to get that message across. Whilst kids are doing something they are enjoying, their ability to learn and their ability for their mind to be open to be educated is incredibly important,” he said.

“Bottom line is we’ve got to start them young. Kids are like sponges, and if you teach them the right way from the word go, they will take on the positive messages.”

Acting Sgt Manno founded the event in 2001 when he organised games for youths from different cultural backgrounds and marginalised groups.

The games eventually developed into an opportunity for Acting Sgt Manno to use his police skills and knowledge of soccer as a key learning model.

The program has since involved more than 14,300 students, and partners with Victoria Police Soccer Club.

Senior Constable Ryan Coleman spoke to students he had bonded with in their classrooms through his work as a youth specialist officer for Victoria Police.

“We do a lot of educational discussion in their classrooms about bullying, the laws, what you can and can’t do,” he said.

Sen Const Coleman said the day focused on students asking questions and creating memories with their peers.

“If it’s just us kicking the ball with them and having fun then that’s a successful day for us,” he said.

Football Victoria schools program manager Bradley Atholwood conducted clinics for two hours, running soccer games that allowed students to find their voice and confidence.  

“The whole point of the soccer clinics is pretty much to show teamwork, show comradery, and reinforce what Vincent told them … about their social responsibilities,” he said.

The non-profit organisation works alongside government sectors during the year, hosting events in Victorian schools that needed sporting outlets.

Mr Atholwood said the session established further connections with the police, collaborating to spread good messages.

Wallan Primary School’s grade three teacher Rebecca Spadijer said the students enjoyed kicking soccer balls with peers from another school and police officers.

“It’s such a great message that students can see and always being reminded about the positive aspects, and how the Victoria Police help the community,” she said.

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