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How to use sport as a means for personal development: athletes reflect


How to use sport as a means for personal development: athletes reflect

Neva Foundation and Sport for Life Foundation organised a conference on sport for personal development on 25 March 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland. Here are some highlights.

Elena Dementieva (tennis player), Didier Defago (downhill skier), Fanny Smith (ski cross), Slava Bykov (hockey player), Valeri Kamensky (hockey player), Guy Carbonneau (hockey player) and Yvan Cournoyer (hockey player) are all champions in their respective sports and shared with the audience the difficulties athletes have to face, their emotions and how they want to give back to the community.

Sacrifices to become a world champion
Before becoming a champion you start playing sport like all your friends but then you choose to make sacrifices, to enter competition and to be the best. This could include family sacrifices, as for Elena whose family was her team and whose mother followed her to every competition, or the injuries suffered by most of the speakers. “Great goals require great sacrifices”, shared Elena.

The champions also highlighted how training to become a professional has changed; there are better quality facilities for young people to be involved in sport– although it still requires improvement – and it has become a full-time job.

Moreover, they did not hide the fact that to become a champion you have to win against teams and athletes from different countries and also from your own national team.

The joy of winning
However the sacrifices seem to be quickly forgotten – or at least worth it – as the joy of being an Olympic or world champion is overwhelming. All athletes present have a clear memory of their respective victories and remain highly emotional about them, even if at the time it was hard for them to realise what they had just achieved. Didier shared that watching images of his winning race still gives him the shivers and Valeri explained: “I grew up with hockey, I love hockey, and hockey gave me everything”.

Responsibility of champions towards the community
Finally, retiring from a professional sport career does not mean quitting sport. Whether it is because they keep playing recreationally or because they have become coaches, sport has constructed their life and it seems unimaginable to live without.

Most importantly, the speakers highlighted that the future of the sport they love lies in the youth. They consider it their duty to motivate the younger generation by winning, training them – at competitive and grassroots levels – or creating charitable foundations to provide them with opportunities to participate in sport.

All in all, guest speakers – athletes and scholars – agreed on the importance of providing people, especially youth, with access to sport facilities, of fostering one’s personal development and also of learning about competitiveness as it has the potential to impact a country’s image and economic development.


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Valentine Cailliau


Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 23:00