“There’s no telling when the call to lead comes”
“There’s no telling when the call to lead comes”
Creating safe spaces is a pre-requisite for youth to acquire leadership skills and further create social impact.
For more than half of my life, I’ve been embedded in sport – first as a kid who enjoyed play, then as an athlete, and now as a community builder and emerging leader in the sport for social impact space. From my various experiences within the sports ecosystem, I believe that meaningful spaces for youth voice are necessary to shape our growing sport for development / sport for social impact space.
I once attended a youth-led workshop where a young lady recounted her various experiences as a participant in the
PeacePlayers programs. She ended her story by saying, “there’s no telling when the call to lead comes to you. When [the conditions are] right, it just comes.” This stuck with me, partly because it resonated with my personal leadership journey and my curiosity for uncovering what these conditions are.
The journey to leadership begins from within and is cultivated further by external factors. Participating in sport can help youth identify their natural strengths while stretching their abilities. Strong sport for development programs create spaces where young people’s strengths are recognized and celebrated.
Every week at PeacePlayers’ programs across the world, youth meet people similar and different from them, they share their personal stories, and they reflect on who they are as individuals and on their cultures. They learn their leadership styles and how to collaboratively solve problems with others on the court. Through these experiential learning activities, youth can discover their strengths both as basketball players and, more importantly, as individuals.
Many youth join sport for social impact programs because of their love for the sport. However, quality sports for social impact programs are able to retain youth in activities beyond sport by helping them develop skills not only in the sport, but also beyond the sport.
For example, at PeacePlayers Brooklyn, we introduced a series of career readiness activities to our Leadership Development Program to support youth in identifying their career interests and post-high school goals. Youth took part in public speaking workshops on topics they enjoyed such as sneakers and favorite sports heroes.
We partnered with our friends at Nike NYC to organize sessions such as the “art of the pitch.” Youth practiced communication and persuasion skills in a safe and encouraging space. We also explored violence as a topic and the different ways violence manifests – from direct violence to cultural violence to structural violence, and how they impact life outcomes of young people.
Knowledge of social issues and how they relate to community contexts helps youth gain a deeper understanding of issues that affect them. These skill building sessions also strengthen youth confidence in communicating their ideas.
Visible and accessible leadership pathways
PeacePlayers Middle East recently published results from an eight-year randomized control study which found that sustained, frequent and long-term interventions are critical to helping bridge divides between Arab and Jewish youth and to develop them as peace advocates in their communities. This is supported by visible and accessible leadership pipelines for youth to grow into as they enter different stages of their lives.
High quality sport for development programs have visible leadership pathways for youth to grow into either internally as a youth coach/project coordinator or externally through partner networks.
Power sharing and spaces for meaningful contribution
As we develop leadership pathways within and outside of organizations, we should also foster opportunities for youth to participate in decision making spaces within the sport for development sector. Nike Game Growers is an excellent platform that elevates youth voice from ideas to actionable ways for young girls to plan and execute initiatives within their communities.
Another example is the collective impact approach. As one of four recipients of the Beyond Sport Reducing Racial Inequalities through Sport Award, PeacePlayers is part of a yearlong effort to create recommendations for youth-serving organizations to build in more equitable practices. It is important that youth voices are championed in a way that is not tokenistic but allows them to influence decision-making in their organisations and in the sector as a whole. The set of recommendations will be shared with the wider youth sports and sport for development sector towards the end of 2021.
The young lady whose words are the inspiration for the title of this article is currently a member of the PeacePlayers Global Youth Steering Committee – a group of PeacePlayers alumni across the world who are informing and leading the development of a global initiative that will connect youth leaders across the world through professional development opportunities and social action projects.
As we celebrate International Youth Day, here’s to more enabling environments that cultivate self-discovery, skill building, and meaningful opportunities for youth to participate but more importantly, to lead!
Sally Nnamani is the US Director of Programs & Partnerships at PeacePlayers, a global movement using the game of basketball to bridge divides, create equitable opportunities and develop youth leaders across the United States and globally