Wednesday 17 July 2024
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Nottinghamshire football coach proving himself to be a true leader

A young football coach who dedicates countless hours to helping other footballers and young people on and off the pitch has been celebrated with an award.

Zeko Smith is a 12-year-old like no other.

He dedicates so much time every week to football training, coaching other young people, encouraging and helping his teammates with their mental wellbeing before games, and supporting coaches of other teams.

His dedication to the game, positive attitude, putting others first, and supporting not only children his age and younger but adults too has led him to be recognised with an award.

After being nominated by his football coach Zeko has been awarded this year’s Young Leader of the Year Award.

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The award forms part of the Live Our Best Life Awards – launched by Nottinghamshire Police in 2021 to shine a light on the incredible work of young people in the county.

Taking to the pitch for most of his life and captaining his team for seven years, Zeko has become a crucial part of Hucknall Warriors.

Zeko said: “I love football because it’s an amazing sport and you get to meet loads of new people, it’s really fun and is a great hobby.

“Every night before a game I’ll put a big comment out onto the WhatsApp chat I created saying ‘come on lads we need to get a win to push us up in the league’, so it will encourage them and us to get those three points.

“And the team loves it and it goes down well.

“I’ll also come off the pitch to let my other teammates have a go against the opposition team and give them a chance to play.

“We had a tough game once and one of my teammates was pretty down and they didn’t have the best game and we didn’t have the best game ourselves.

“So I went up to him after the game, patted him on the back, and said next time you’ll prove who you are, why you play for this club so he knows to learn from his mistakes.”

With future plans to become a police officer, if football doesn’t work out, he continues to help out other squads as well as his own rise up the leagues.

Zeko added: “When I’m older I want to be a footballer but if I can’t I want to go and be a police officer because I know people who are officers, and they say how good it is and how they are always intrigued by what’s happening and want to investigate.

“I also spend my time helping out with the under 9s matches and training because I love football.

“It gets me more involved in something and seeing them get better and enjoy it but really I just love helping them and watching them improve and fall in love with the game.”

Having played football since the age of six Zeko has worked hard to encourage any teammates that have taken to the pitch and also up-and-coming young people who are just starting out playing football.

Nominator Steve Freestone, coach of Hucknall warriors under 13s team, said: “I nominated Zeko because over the seven years I’ve been coach of Hucknall Warriors he’s always stood out as one of the most inspirational young children I have ever had the privilege of meeting.

“From a very young age, he took on the captain’s role without really being asked to do so. I was really impressed and over those years he’s grown as an individual to take that role – and his attitude towards the team is something way beyond his years.

“Every week he’s really positive and I have my own son who plays in the team and I get to witness some of the pre-match stuff he does.

“Each Saturday he’s always sending WhatsApp messages to the team giving a brief lowdown of what the opposition is like and where we are in the league and how important it is that we all turn up with a really positive attitude.

“On match days and training days, he’s really enthusiastic all the time and has a really positive mindset and that attitude is what rubs off on all of the other children.

“When he first started, I noticed there was a little spark in his eye but over the years as he’s grown up, he’s changed that whole mentality to be much more outward with his positivity.

“His enthusiasm at training and matches as always goes well above and beyond the years I would expect of a 12-year-old.

“I’ve never seen someone who’s grown and developed into a role so seamlessly and so easily and taken it upon himself to just be this amazing character every single time I see him.

“Both on and off the pitch, I’ve got all the time in the world to see him and speak to him because I think he’s such an amazing young man.

“I also nominated Zeko because, in the last two seasons, we started an under 8’s team and his younger brother joined the team at the start of this season, so he voluntarily offered to go help the coach.

“The coach is just a one-man band, and he took it upon himself to go stand with the coach and he’s now at every training session and match.

“There’s something quite magical about seeing a 12-year-old surrounded by 8-year-olds hanging on his every word.

“I just think it’s unbelievable – add that to all the work he does with the under 13s – he’s just such an inspirational young man.”

Awards founder and youth outreach worker Romel Davis, who met with Zeko recently, said: “Seeing Zeko surrounded by his friends and family and his reaction to winning this award was lovely.

“His dedication not just to the sport but to his whole team and other players is truly inspirational and shows what a good leader he is.

“This award is all about celebrating people who help others, are a role model, and are inspiring to everyone – Zeko’s attitude and way of thinking has and is really helping his team and the club are incredibly lucky to have such an amazing young person on their team.”

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