Israeli Sports Program Helps Heal Relations Between Fathers and Sons

June 12, 2013


The concept of Father’s Day would not always have come easy for 10-year-old “David,” who lives with his parents and older brothers in a coastal Israeli town north of Tel Aviv.

David attends a facility for at-risk children during the day before returning home for the evenings, and when JDC’s “Fathers and Sons” sports program was introduced to the center, staff members thought David and his father Sol could benefit from the opportunity.

The center had noticed that Sol was a sore point for David: just the mention of his father or the possibility his dad might visit school or the facility would generate significant anxiety for the boy.

Looking for a way to calm David’s fears about his father, staff members decided that the sports themselves would give David positive encounters with his father, and that the initiative’s fathers-only sessions with a social worker would provide Sol with valuable insight and strategies.

Part of JDC’s Ashalim partnership with the Government of Israel and UJA-Federation of New York to improve services for Israel’s children and youth at risk and their families, the Fathers and Sons initiative aims to strengthen relationships between adolescent boys and their fathers during the period when teens are defining their identity and transitioning towards adulthood.

The program, started as a pre-pilot in 2010 with two locations, is now in the process of expanding to at least 10 groups in eight locations, with three government ministries (Education; Sport and Culture; and Social Affairs and Social Services) and local municipalities participating in the pilot.

The program is designed for children between the ages of 10 and 14.

Though David enjoyed playing soccer with his friends, he withdrew into himself on the field with the other boys and fathers, shying from the soccer ball, running around the field aimlessly, and fleeing if the ball came in his direction.

Still, trusting in the advice of the coach, social worker, and facility staff, David and his dad kept going.

Some weeks later, during one of the father-son soccer games, a breakthrough happened: When David was hit hard with a soccer ball, Sol immediately came over and hugged him.

At the next fathers’ session, the soccer coach and social worker spotlighted Sol’s positive and sensitive response to David in his time of need, explaining to Sol how the moment was critical to fostering a growth in trust and confidence for his son.

Since the JDC-supported program showed David on the field that his father loved and cared for him and cemented for Sol the value of displays of affection, the boy’s behavior has changed dramatically.

David is now less anxious, less afraid, and more willing to join his teammates and push himself during the soccer matches.

The opportunity to interact together in a structured activity enabled David and Sol to see each other in a new light, and as a result, a very strained relationship between them has been repaired.

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