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From paying lip service towards being heard

From paying lip service towards being heard

Substantive representation of youth in the sport for development sector is key to build both organizational and youth capacities.

[We are calling for articles on youth leadership and engagement in sport and development in the lead-up to International Youth Day on 12 August - we welcome your contributions!]

Many in the sports industry and the sport for development sector offer leadership opportunities for youth – this includes organizations like Young Sports Makers, the Impulse Summit or the Sport Positive Next Gen Summit. I have been part of several youth councils and discussions myself, some better than others.

What I miss overall is the engagement of young professionals so that they can determine policy agendas and influence change. A best practice model from Germany describes a helpful framework for fostering youth-friendly engagement in sports, which can simultaneously be used for leadership development of youth in and through sports.

The Frankfurt Model for fostering youth-friendly engagement in sports offers a structure that sports organizations can use to reflect on and further develop their own approach to engaging the next generation. The five phases of success are:

  1. Approach and solicitation
  2. Takeover of tasks, orientation and familiarization
  3. Qualification, reflection and development opportunities
  4. Further development of tasks
  5. Interruption or termination and prospects

An eye-level partnership

As a start, low-threshold opportunities are key to raise the interest of young changemakers. Very often, these people are already intrinsically motivated and only need a last incentive to take action and responsibility. Organizations need an open attitude towards potential new young leaders and accept that the internal views and beliefs of the organization can be challenged by them. Communication based on an eye-level partnership, irrespective of age, gender or cultural and social origin, are often regarded as basics, but not accordingly applied in everyday life.

An eye-level partnership can be made possible through mentoring because it allows for a regular exchange of perspectives. The mentor has the necessary organizational knowledge, while the mentee has a different perspective of their peer group and experience in new media. The young leader should not solely be seen as a performance indicator or to fill the minimum spots of a youth council or a panel discussion. The person needs the support to develop their strengths.

Reflection and feedback

Regular reflection and a corresponding feedback culture are key for the individual growth of a young leader. Apart from this, access to meaningful qualifications related to sports for development and also leadership skills training are good ways to ensure the candidate stays motivated in the process. A transparent and comprehensible roadmap to which both the young professional and the organization agree to and regularly reflect upon ensures a fair qualification process.

Young leaders will develop ideas for changes and projects in the sports organization. It is important that these ideas can be discussed within the sports organization in order to find ways to implement or improve them together. To make tasks tangible, task profiles and requirements should be defined. The concrete tasks and expenses can and will change through time due to the fact that young people are often experiencing changes in their life situation. For instance, the start of new studies or a new job can result in a temporary reduction of tasks and responsibility – flexibility is key.

Termination and the future

Lastly, an aspect that is often missed and under-appreciated in youth leadership is the interruption or termination of a given role. Young people often get involved in the sector again as soon as their personal life situation allows it. Therefore, the sport for development sector should remain in touch with their trained young leaders via alumni networks (a good example is the recently created ENGSO Youth Alumni Club) or the establishment of ambassador programs. The onboarding is equally important as the offboarding!

Engaging youth in leadership positions takes time and commitment. I have met eager young minds who have lost their motivation because of the organizational incapacity to empower them. Unfortunately, I have found myself in a similar situation where I terminated my youth leader role, feeling stuck and not being listened to.

Wrongly designed youth leadership schemes can have a counterproductive effect in terms of missing out on extraordinary talents. I urge the sport for development sector to consider the appropriate strategic steps to include youth. Youth leadership comes from the conviction of empowerment, not from ticking an internal ‘checkbox’! 


Anton Klischewski is the founder of Project PRESFUL, the human rights & sports blog + knowledge-sharing platform for students and young professionals. He has been working for Special Olympics Germany since the beginning of 2021, serves as a sports & sustainability consultant and holds a MSc. in Administration and Management of Professional Sports Clubs from the University of Bordeaux.


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Anton Klischewski


Wednesday, July 28, 2021 - 08:29

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