Soccer is a simple game made difficult by the players. A teammate shared that statement with my while playing soccer in university. I can’t really argue with it. In theory, the game is so simple. In practice, I’ve given it over 20 years of my life and am still so far from having figured it all out.

I’m not on the front lines of AMANDLA’s work. Unlike past CTC Ten fellows and interns who spent the majority of their days working directly with the CTC Ten Safe-Hub staff, I work from the Support Office. While the work that I do is rewarding and energizing in its own right, it doesn’t necessarily lend well to action-packed blog posts and engaging and heartwarming stories of human connection. In a simple and broad way, I sit at a computer, read manuals, studies, and review documentation in an effort to make it leaner, more relevant, and more effective.

I’d venture to assume that most anyone outside of the sport for development space understands the profession to be a simple equation of a soccer ball and a field. To borrow a friend’s analogy, consider those components the hardware. They are the tangible materials that are essential to what anyone does in sport, be it social or athletic development. Programming—the day-to-day training, coaching, and lessons—is the software.

To extend the analogy of software and hardware, it follows that if we have the best hardware available, it’s of little benefit if the software isn’t up to snuff; similarly, if you have top notch software, but relatively insignificant hardware, then constant setbacks will limit the effectiveness of your work. It is true that we can learn without great software. We can dig deeply into the sometimes incoherent or cryptic information that comes from outdated or less-than-relevant software and find the life lessons and the answers to our questions. Really good software, though, is intuitive; so is really good programming.

Program design is like a good referee in a soccer match: completely forgettable. A good referee never becomes the center of attention and soon after the game is over, they vanish from the memories of the players and coaches. They gently guide the course of the match with a distant and soft touch, allowing the game to play out with fluidity. If all goes according to plan, then at the game’s conclusion, players have little to no recollection of the referee’s presence on the field. They remember the game, the opponents, the good passes and poor decisions, but not the man or woman at the center of the field.

It runs the same with program design. We quiet guide the course of learning from afar. We seek to uphold the highest principles of the game: fairness, integrity, sportsmanship, respect. We devise rules and procedures that, if adhered to, bring out the best things in the beautiful game. We are forever tweaking and augmenting those standards in search of a better method, more efficient manner, and increasingly seamless implementation.

As such, we are the underwriters of heartwarming moments. If we do everything correctly, then the observation that it only takes a ball and a field should seem, at a glance, to be accurate. The invisible wires of program design should manage to make the peaks loftier and the valleys shallower. To the unsuspecting eyes, it should look like soccer. But it should be so much more than that. It should be life lessons, expert role modeling, fluid transitions, relevant discussions, and powerful conclusions. It should be life skills reinforcing soccer skills and soccer skills reinforcing life skills.

Soccer is a simple game made difficult by the players. True. The thing about soccer, whether played for athletic prowess or social development, is that without the players, it’s nothing. Hardware and software are useless without the user; a referee cannot be good to bad without a game to call; a ball and a field are just a ball and a field if there are no players. Everything we do in program design and operations is contingent upon the players, because they are at the heart of what we do.