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Why S4D programmes need to focus on having fun!

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Why S4D programmes need to focus on having fun!

20 March is celebrated as the International Day of Happiness. Let us work to ensure that sport for development initiatives are fun and bring happiness to the participants.

Since 2013, the United Nations has been celebrating the International Day of Happiness on March 20 every year. Happiness is intrinsically linked with participating in physical activity and sports. Think about the time when you were young – why did you play sports? What made you keep going back to the playground? Most likely the answer would be that you had fun and that playing sport made you happy.

This is backed by extensive research, which has found a positive impact of sport and physical activity on the happiness of individuals, and this holds true at all stages of life. A large-scale longitudinal study with adolescents revealed that participation in sport has a “significant positive association with happiness”. The study also states that the social interaction facilitated by participating in sport is what promotes happiness.

Another study with college students revealed that their participation in sport prior to college had a positive impact on their levels of happiness as well as self-esteem. A study with adults aged 50-83 years found that participation in sport had a positive impact on their general happiness. Further, a former Olympian has highlighted the importance of play (as compared to practice) to promote enjoyment and happiness as one of the factors to becoming a successful elite athlete.

On the flipside, research has also revealed that one of the most common reasons for young people to drop out of sports is that they don’t have fun. Hence, creating an enjoyable atmosphere in sport is not just important to promote the happiness of participants, but also to ensure that they continue playing sport.

These findings are important for the sport for development and peace (SDP) sector as they inform stakeholders within the sector of three crucial aspects in relation to program design and advocacy, especially relevant in the response to the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people.

First, the findings point to the fact that any SDP intervention must emphasise on ‘having fun’. This means that all sport and development activities part of the intervention must ensure that participants enjoy themselves, while at the same time imbibing crucial learnings. Stakeholders should take a participatory approach to understanding the needs of participants and how they believe sports activities should be designed to have fun. The training of key delivery personnel should also incorporate these changes.

Second, the sector must prioritise the monitoring and evaluation of its sports activities, vis-à-vis the happiness of individuals, especially as research shows that its closely linked with their self-esteem as well as social interaction, key elements of many SDP interventions.

Finally, the research provides the SDP sector an opportunity to advocate the positive impact of sport on the happiness, self-esteem and social development of individuals, which align closely with several other policy priorities including health and well-being (especially mental health), youth development as well as social integration and inclusion.

On this International Day of Happiness on 20 March 2021, let’s collectively reflect on how we can ensure that sport for development interventions are leading to happier and healthier individuals who enjoy themselves and have fun, in order to unlock the many other potential benefits of sport.


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Suheil Tandon


Friday, March 19, 2021 - 08:30