AAU & NBA Cares Ambassador Mentor Afghan Coaches during Government Sports Diplomacy Visit


(Kabul, Afghanistan)–  The cries of excitement reverberated across the campus of Ghazi Olympic Stadium in Kabul.  Even with freezing temperatures and a foot of snow on the ground, more than 150 Afghan female and male coaches and sports administrators from all 34 provinces of Afghanistan converged on the Afghan Olympic facility for four days of intensive training in sports administration and sports coaching, taught by eight volunteer coaches from the Amateur Athletic Union.

The AAU volunteers were in Kabul as part of a sports diplomacy program sponsored by the International Security Assistance Force and the U.S. embassy in Kabul.  The program was designed to help develop community-based youth sports programs across Afghanistan. CLICK HERE for PHOTOS

Although the coaches’ arrival was delayed 24 hours by a record snowfall in Kabul, it didn’t dampen the spirits of the young Afghans, who received coaching in sports administration and leadership, as well as basketball, soccer, volleyball and taekwondo.  The seven AAU veterans were enthusiastic, and even with the coldest temperatures in 15 years in Kabul, the gyms came alive with participants from all provinces and ethnic groups from across Afghanistan.

James Parker, Vice President of Sports Operations for the Amateur Athletic Union, opened the first day of training with a key message to the youthful participants:  “Thank you for making a commitment to be here and to all the children in your area,” he said. “You have made a commitment to make a difference, and to educate and motivate. Most importantly, you have made a commitment to change your country for the better through sports.”

The AAU delegation included former NBA referee and NBA Cares Ambassador Bob Delaney, who spent a substantial amount of time interacting with male and female basketball coaches.  Delaney also conducted a session on sports leadership with the Afghan coaches from all four sports.  In the evenings, he took time out to speak to the U.S. and NATO service members at several Kabul military bases, and he also autographed and gave away several hundred copies of his two books “Covert” and “Surviving the Shadows.”

“It was a tremendous experience,” Delaney said.  “The Afghan men and women athletes and coaches were eager to learn. They were enthusiastic, appreciative and serious about sports. They taught me a great deal – their generosity was overwhelming.”

AAU Taekwondo Sports Chairman Mike Friello spoke to the group about his own personal commitment to make the 8,000 mile, week-long trip to help develop the future of youth sports in Afghanistan.

“Taekwondo has allowed me to travel the world and meet some of the most interesting people, so when I was asked to come and spend a few days with the people of Afghanistan who are trying so desperately to change their lives and the lives of their children through sports, my only response was, how could I not,” Friello said.  “What we do here is not about our differences, but about our similarities.”

The visit was at the invitation of Lieutenant General Zahir Aghbar, head of the Afghan National Olympic Committee. The visit by U.S. coaches was planned during a U.S. Embassy and ISAF-sponsored trip to the U.S. in November by a delegation of Afghan sports federation leaders. During that November visit, Afghan sports leaders observed sporting events and toured sports facilities across Florida, and also visited the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Navy Rear Admiral Hal Pittman, the ISAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Communication and senior sports diplomacy organizer, spoke to the Afghan coaches as a group, emphasizing the need for them to internalize the training and take it back to their individual communities.  “The future begins now, with each of you,” he said.  “The purpose of this training is about empowering each of your communities … You must take back the things that you learn here this week and share them with the youth of Afghanistan.  That is the only way we will improve the quality of community-based youth sports that provide alternatives to drugs, crime and the insurgency.  This is about each of you empowering your respective communities.”

The four-day training seminar resulted in each of the coaches earning both an AAU coaching certificate, and an NBA Cares certificate of completion.   Additionally, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the AAU and Afghan National Olympic Committee which is expected to lead to future support and exchanges.

In addition to Parker,  Delaney, and Friello, the AAU delegation included Mr. Matt Williams, CEO of Jam on It Basketball Academy; former AAU executive Mike Killpack; Adam Ritchie, of Rush Soccer; Rusty Buchanan, President of the Buchanan Group Sports marketing firm; and Mr. Greg Tubbs, AAU Taekwondo National Team Coach.

For more information about the Amateur Athletic Union, visit us at www.aausports.org.