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Sport for youth-focused outcomes

Copyrights: FHI

Sport for youth-focused outcomes

How can sport be designed to build youth leadership which works towards achieving youth-focused outcomes?

In the youth development field, there are many theories on the best way to encourage leadership within the program. In FHI 360’s role as the implementing partner of the U.S. Department of State’s Sports Visitor Program, we are able to engage with an incredibly diverse group of organizations that each bring powerful voices to the sport and development space.

The Sports Visitor Program utilizes the power of sport to bolster U.S. Department of State foreign policy goals, such as empowering women and girls, promoting inclusion and disability rights through adaptive sports, supporting positive youth development and strengthening cross-cultural understanding. Along the way, we have learned a few core principles that we incorporate in our work with youth from all over the world.

It is important to note that it is not an exact science and we, as all programs should, are constantly adapting and adjusting as we gain new insight from our participants and program stakeholders. As we design and implement programs across a variety of content areas and media, we keep these specific practices in mind to ensure that the youth who participate in our programs have opportunities to be leaders in the ways that best suit them. 

There is no one way to lead

This is core to our methodology. Leadership does not take one form, and it is important that we do not expect it to. Some people lead through words, some through action, some quietly, some more outwardly. It is our job, then, to ensure that there are opportunities for everyone to lead regardless of individual leadership styles.

We can do this through a variety of ways, but most commonly through making sure that activities are varied, opportunities for feedback exist and multiple feedback avenues are available, ensuring that no youth is unable to share in the way they most feel comfortable. We cannot ever assume that only those who speak up have something to share — it is vital to give youth every opportunity to engage in the program. 

We recognize that leadership shows itself in different forms. It is not always the most vocal person or the most talented athlete or the person most comfortable speaking the program's language. For instance, one program participant was quiet during trainings and sessions but would sit with others from different countries during lunch each day to get to know them better. 

Program culture is youth-led

One of the most important ways to encourage leadership is to ensure youth participation in the program design process. Because our programs are planned well in advance, this is a challenge. However, we consistently ask for input directly from our participants before, during and after they attend our exchanges and through a variety of mediums.

The key is to not only have youth participate in program design, but also to incorporate their ideas in current and future program design. We ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be a leader, and we create a culture that is, in large part, led by the participants themselves. This leads to youth to have ownership over their program, thus creating a culture of openness, high-level engagement and being a leader in their own way.

Know your outcomes

Because we focus on and invest heavily in monitoring and evaluation, we are constantly thinking about the “why” of our programs. These outcomes are guided by the feedback that the participants give us. The outputs of various trainings that we facilitate and organize are vital opportunities for youth to showcase their leadership skills, but the “why” of our program is what we are constantly working toward.

That comes from our youth-centered focus. The youth themselves help provide the “why” and continue to do so through feedback. The outcomes provide us with a macro view of our work and allow for us to think holistically about how we design future programs. The outputs give us a micro view and provide opportunities for youth to play a role in the adaptability of our programs. We need to focus on both outcomes and outputs, and our feedback opportunities provide youth with the ability to impact both.

Some programs tend to focus heavily on outputs (because they are often tied to funding). By including a focus on the outcomes, we can provide additional opportunities for leadership in the sport and development field. We also have found that an outcomes-based approach allows us to be more connected with each other and build a growth mindset, which is important for continuing the feedback loop (click here to view the program’s most recent evaluation report). 


Ryan Plourde is a Senior Program Officer with the Sports, Cultural and Youth Exchanges team at FHI 360. He is a former college athlete and still plays regularly in addition to coaching youth soccer and hosting a sports-based podcast. He has an M.A. in International Development from American University’s School of International Service (2019). 

Ian Evans is a Program Officer with the Sports, Cultural and Youth Exchanges team at FHI 360. He is a former collegiate and semi-professional athlete and youth soccer coach. He holds an M.A. in International Development from American University’s School of International Service.


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Ryan Plourde; Ian Evans


Wednesday, August 11, 2021 - 11:03

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