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Soccer player coaches finances

May 11, 2010 insideToronto.com

Original Article

Toronto FC's Julian de Guzman told St. Mary's Catholic Secondary School students that when he first began earning a pay cheque as a soccer player at the age of 16, he knew nothing about managing his money.

It wasn't until an ATM ate his bank card that he discovered just how bad he had let it get.

"I was thrown into hot water. I had to learn the hard way at a young age," de Guzman admitted to his teen audience, Monday, May 10 during the launch of VISA Canada's Financial Soccer, a FIFA World Cup-inspired online educational game that teaches the fundamentals of responsible spending, the banking system, budgeting and saving. "It was tough at first."

At the bank to replace his lost card, de Guzman learned he had spent all his money and then some. "I spent my first (soccer) season paying back debt," he said.

It was this hard lesson learned that inspired de Guzman in part to get on board with VISA's effort to encourage all students to become financially literate.

"Today, a lot of young adults lack knowledge of money management," he said. "You guys are going to graduate soon, go to college and get a job. It's important you learn how to budget and learn how to save. It's never too early to start a budget and stick to it."

Students from St. Mary's various sports teams got a chance to play Financial Soccer, coached by the Scarborough native, a mid-fielder signed to the Toronto FC in September 2009.

With a set of fast-paced, multiple choice questions, players were tested on their knowledge of financial management skills as they made their way down the soccer pitch to score goals against their opponents. Grade 12 students Andreia Almedia and Vicki Nguyen, both contenders for the school's top female athlete of the year, agreed financial know-how should be a part of the curriculum.

"We're in school to make sure we learn how to make money. What's the point if you don't know how to use it?" said Nguyen.

Both said they thought they had a healthy understanding of their finances until they played Financial Soccer and found out there is so much more to learn.

"I'm always learning a lot of things with help from my mom and the bank," said Almedia. "I thought I had a good understanding, but the game is showing you there's a lot more details."

Monday's launch coincided with the one-month countdown to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

"VISA could not have chosen a more appropriate school," said Principal Rob Merolle. "St. Mary's is at the centre of the soccer world. These days, the only language spoken in these hallways is soccer."

Tim Wilson, who's head of VISA Canada, revealed the last time he spoke to a high school audience was 21 years ago when he was vying for student council president.

"Financial literacy is something that's very real to me in my personal life," said Wilson. "We're teaching my three young kids how to manage their money."

The launch coincided with public consultations in Toronto hosted by Canada's Task Force on Financial Literacy, developed by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, whose mandate is to develop a cohesive strategy to improve financial education across Canada. Wilson presented VISA's recommendations to the task force on Tuesday.

Financial Soccer can be played for free at www.financialsoccer.ca.