The Mellunmäki neighbourhood is home to something very special. This Eastern Helsinki suburb takes pride in its very own football club for children and youth, FC Meltsi. The club's reputation for inclusiveness and great team spirit has spread far beyond its home pitch.
What makes FC Meltsi so special? Since the beginning, it’s been all about the kids. The story began with a group of children and their desire to create a new, local hobby for as many as possible. Football, a universal sport, was their first choice thanks to its low barrier of entry, even without any previous playing experience. Meltsi, our community house and local hotspot named after the neighborhood’s nickname, took the children’s wish to heart: we saw an opportunity to use football as a tool to address concerns expressed by the local schools over classroom restlessness and widespread loneliness among children and youth.
FC Meltsi is a community initiative that aims to provide a rewarding, long-term hobby for everyone. In an area where many families are in a vulnerable position due to social and economic reasons, providing an accessible and engaging activity regardless of the child’s previous skills or experiences acts as a protective factor against inequality. Our goals are to offer kids meaningful activities, create a sense of belonging, as well as to strengthen the trust in oneself and one’s future. We can proudly say that we are continuously reaching those goals. FC Meltsi has grown from a small team with a few players to a tight-knit community of 130 members that brings players closer together, improves their wellbeing, and helps to improve the atmosphere in the neighborhood. Through the power of sport, we've been able to create a sense of meaning and belonging among kids who might otherwise feel isolated or disconnected.
Kids weren’t only behind the idea of FC Meltsi - in fact, they have been able to influence nearly all of its activities, from the training schedules to the team rules. Even FC Meltsi's lion logo was designed by the kids themselves. For those who have wanted to take on more responsibility, we’ve offered the chance to become assistant coaches or junior league referees. We believe that by giving our players the opportunity to take on responsibility, we are helping them to develop important life skills that will serve them well both on and off the field.
We regularly gather players’ feedback and ideas for new activities. They have come up with some great fundraising ideas, such as a successful pop-up kiosk which was entirely organized by the players themselves. Our commitment to combatting racism and promoting equality is demonstrated through our participation in initiatives such as the Finnish Multicultural Sports Federation’s "Show Racism the Red Card" project. Involving our players in these activities has resulted in increased dedication and pride in our club, as they witness the impact of their efforts firsthand. This has served as a powerful motivator for our young athletes.
Keeping the club’s activities as accessible as possible is our priority. Training takes place immediately after school and within walking distance from home, to make it easy for parents in Mellunmäki area to support their children’s engagement. Many of them do not have the resources to take their children to faraway training venues. The children in our teams speak 20 different home languages, so we pay a lot of attention to clear communication. Participation is free of charge for all, including those involved with the teams that play at a competitive level. We have received numerous positive feedback on this, as many families cannot afford the expenses that come with their child's participation in competitive sports.
Coaches play a crucial role in children's sports, not only as experts in their sport but also as mentors who consider each child's developmental stage and physical abilities. They must support the children in developing their emotional and social skills, including conflict resolution. However, If you ask our Head Coach, Mostafa about the most important thing in coaching kids, he does not hesitate – "It's joy”, he says. From joy comes everything else: interest and motivation for the sport and, gradually, technical skills.
Our coaching philosophy, developed by Mostafa, focuses on taking small steps. By exercise challenges, the children can feel a sense of accomplishment and shared joy, and progress towards larger goals. Teams earn points upon completion of these challenges, which are recorded on a team board. As the points on the board increase, the children have tangible evidence of their developing skills. This creates a sense of shared accomplishment – "We've learned all this!" It reinforces the children's understanding of themselves as skilled players, who are capable of growth and progress. Studies show that improving a sense of self-efficacy has a positive impact on schoolwork as well.
While our primary focus is on providing accessible football opportunities for everyone, regardless of their level or background, we also believe it’s important for children to have the opportunity to participate in competitive teams if they wish to do so. In 2020, we joined the Football Association of Finland to promote our competitive sports-focused teams. Our teams have achieved great success on the field, and we’re proud to have set a national record. Specifically, two players from our girls’ first team earned the top position on the national score board after scoring an impressive 122 goals in just 13 matches.
Measuring and assessing the impact of our work is at the core of our operations. We follow up on the results and effectiveness of our activities and use a purpose-built tool to help us do this. Looking at data, we know that approximately 60 % of FC Meltsi players are children in a vulnerable position. We have also witnessed a significant positive change in the wellbeing of our young players, an observation that is echoed by their parents. The vast majority of our players (96 %) feel they belong to a meaningful community. These results are especially important considering the club’s origins and the reported experiences of loneliness.
Based on studies, we know that approximately half of the youth in junior secondary school quit their sports hobbies. There are often social reasons for this, such as their friends quitting or them becoming more interested in hanging out with their friends than doing sports. We have put a lot of effort into addressing this challenge, such as setting up bounce-back structures. The open activities offered at the Meltsi community house have seen a 90 % pick-up rate, and include everything from gaming events to after school clubs and pizza nights. Additionally, we offer school support through daily homework clubs that our players actively participate in. In our wellbeing survey, 100% of the children reported being motivated to learn and to develop.
We encourage players’ families to participate in our community house program, which includes weekly shared meals, conversation events, and opportunities to share recycled children's clothes and zero-waste food. We also provide peer support in multiple languages to address the challenges of parenthood. Every child is valued as a unique individual and a vital member of both their family, our football team, and the community as a whole. We take pride in the fact that FC Meltsi is more than a football club: it is a catalyst for positive change in our community.