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John Amaechi: why sport is not magic


John Amaechi: why sport is not magic

When a former NBA basketball player opens his speech at a sport and development conference with the words "I'm not a sports fan" there is a reason we need to know him. sportanddev speaks to John Amaechi about how his experiences have shaped how we should respond to sport as a tool for development. 

As John looks back at his near decade in elite sport, he reflects on it as "overwhelmingly negative... with a few dots of good practice" and as a result, "when people stopped paying me, I stopped physical exercise," leaving him "emotionally and intellectually incurious."

This isn't the story we sell to our young sporting hopefuls, but for most, it could be the reality. "When I start talking about young people, they are experiencing the same, 79% of young people in sport experience emotional harm, leaving only 21% to get what they need from sport." As he shares this shocking statistic, the former basketball player, who now works as a psychologist, asks "So what are we doing about it?" 

Safeguarding children in sport
John attended the UNICEF hosted workshop on safeguarding children in sport because "My interest in child protection is a process, it can help sport deliver its promises." So what promises have the sport and development community made that we have broken? 

The misconceptions we have built about sport for development 
"Sport has made promises that are so massive, it is the Lehman brothers of sport: a ball on a pitch does not cut obesity rates. These types of initiatives make sport safe and deliver what sport has promised, where coaches believe it is not simply about teaching a child how to kick a football, but to have an impact that is huge, even if not designed to be for development.

Sport has lost its way and using sport for good has become a 'magical process,' we treat kids like they are a commodity, that the kids will be OK because sport is magic, but active participation will not make children more confident, or feel better about themselves and spending 30 minutes on a topic that is easy to integrate will not teach them everything" he said.  

"The teachable moments are when you've just beaten team and they are devastated, think about how they feel and when you loose, it is not about crying, but about losing gracefully."

He used the analogy of a soda bottle about to explode: "When a bottle is about to explode, you need to think about how to diffuse it, this is the point of coaching. It is not just about training, but an emotional buffer, coaches are educators." 

Building learners and educators

John continues to support the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), in leading the development of child safeguarding in sport standards and guidelines because "We can use this to improve the how of coaching, building self-help, help make them more resilient. The sport is irrelevant."  

Why should we know John Amaechi
Many will know him as a very tall man who became Britain's first NBA basketball player, but as sport and development professionals, we should see him as a reminder that the work we do is just one small part of the bigger picture. Sport itself does not change lives, but the concept of changing lives, is what drives our programmes. 


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Mel Paramasivan


Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 23:00