BY ANDREW MCSTEEN
NFL player Efe Obada returned to South London on Thursday to host a youth camp at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, held in conjunction with the Lambeth-based charity BIGKID Foundation, NFL Foundation UK and Greater London Authority.
The one-day event saw over 150 young South Londoners take part in a variety of sessions including communication skills, team building, mindfulness workshops, yoga and NFL Flag activities.
Entitled the ‘2023 Efe Obada Youth Camp’, the event is close to the heart of the Washington Commanders’ (formerly known as the Washington Redskins) player who was born in Nigeria before eventually settling in south London after travelling with relatives from the Netherlands to the UK at the age of 10 and being abandoned and made homeless with his younger sister.
With the help of strangers, the pair moved into the care system, before moving to Lambeth where he discovered American Football and escaped the pressures of gang affiliation.
After a friend at college asked him to join practice sessions, Obada played a handful of games for the Thornton Heath-based London Warriors team, with his skills and physicality noticed by a British coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 2015.
He moved to the USA and the rest is history, Obada playing in the NFL ever since and in March he signed a one-year extension to his Washington contract, worth a reported US$3 million.
And now, Obada is keen to give back to South London, using the fast-growing, mixed-sex, non-contact NFL Flag Football sport as a tool.
“I want to impact my community, not only for the young men, but for the young women as well,” said the 31-year-old to the South London Press about why the camp came about.
“Flag sport allows that inclusion. You’ve got boys and girls competing against each other, having fun, and I don’t think any other sport offers that level of inclusion – everyone’s having fun.”
Obada is also an ambassador of the Lambeth-based BIGKID Foundation charity, working closely together, with the charity providing NFL Flag sessions as part of their community sport delivery in a variety of south London venues, including ‘The Dome’ at the National Sports Centre.
“I did NFL Flag training with BIGKID in the dome here and I found it really interesting,” said participant Amza, 13, from Wandsworth. “I like how you get to throw, run, catch, it’s just fun and I want to do it as a job when I’m older. I want to be a wide receiver.
“We also did some training drills, teamwork, meditation and yoga too – they made us do a lot of hard poses, but it was worth it.”
Fellow participant, Amy, 15, from Brixton only recently discovered the sport and is a fan already, especially after meeting Obada and getting some tips.
“I just got into American Football a few months ago really, but I’m having fun – I really like Efe’s personality,” she said. “We had to jump and catch the ball, I really liked that and was better than I expected. There was a bit of yoga too and that was very nice and relaxed.”
A source of energy throughout the whole day was BIGKID Foundation Chief Executive, Shaninga Marasha, who came up with the idea of BIGKID whilst studying in the sixth form at Wimbledon College and who praised the impact of role models on inspiring young people, like Obada.
“I love it when we bring kids together and they get to be kids,” he told the South London Press.
“They’re coming from really difficult, challenging backgrounds and it’s hard for them to just let loose and be free. They put up all these barriers every single day of their lives so it’s good for them to come to an environment where they feel safe, they can be themselves and they can be kids again, and just have a lot of fun.
“Efe brings so much to it,” added Marasha. “He’s a huge role model for the kids because he’s from the same area they’re from and he’s made it through difficult challenging circumstances to become extremely successful at what he does. Not only that, he’s one of these guys where he’s here; they can touch him, talk to him, they can send him a message on Instagram and he’ll reply immediately. You can’t buy that.
“I have a great relationship with him. We’re cut from the same cloth. He understands what I’m trying to achieve. If I’d met him at a younger age, I know I would have helped him, he would have been on our programme and he knows that.”
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