Building genuine youth leadership opportunities
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a soccer player looks backwards while marking his opponent
For genuine youth leadership, organisations need to find ways to go beyond tokenism and create an environment where youth have the space to explore on their own.

As a youth, I find that genuine youth engagement is hard to come by. Tokenism and symbolic gestures run rampant throughout all sectors in their youth engagement initiatives. To create genuine youth engagement in sport (and in all other sectors), it is important to give youth the space to explore on their own. There are several ways that the sport and development sector can empower youth in their organisations.

Youth groups

Youth committees, or youth groups, are a great place to start. These committees must have their own budgets, and the ability to set their own agenda and direction (within the context of the broader organisation’s goals and mission) without interference of the board of directors or other people in the organisation. They must be able to advocate for issues that they believe are important, and host events on their own.

Youth empowerment means giving youth the ability to do it themselves. These organisations are also great ways to bring youth representatives to the decision-making table, have representation from these committees as members of the Board of Directors, or steering committees with full voting rights. A great example of this is ENGSO Youth, the independent youth body of the European Sports NGO.


Another way for youth engagement is through events like the Young Sport Makers at Global Sports Week. Through this platform, Global Sports Week gives youth the ability to learn from and speak to global sport industry leaders. Youth are able to ask questions on a variety of topics directly to leaders and also give panelists direct feedback in real time. Conferences like Global Sports Week are opportunities to uplift youth voices and let their opinions be heard.


One important way of youth engagement is in the form of internships. It has become commonplace to offer unpaid internships to youth. By not paying youth, organisations are undervaluing their efforts and contributions. Youth engagement must be valued enough by organisations to put money behind their efforts.

It is important to note here that for youth engagement to happen, it has to be accessible to all youth. Offering honorariums or paying for travel and accommodation for youth is essential. Youth cannot be asked to pay for expenses related to a volunteer position on a committee or at a conference. This severely limits who is able to attend, limiting the voices and opinions reached and often stopping the voices of those who are most vulnerable.

Support groups

Other ways of youth engagement in sport can be support groups like the Yunus Sports Hub Sport & Social Business Community, networks like the Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development and Peace Network, or business accelerator programmes like the IOC Young Leaders. Through groups like these, youth are given opportunities to connect with other youth in the sport for development sector and develop skills and expertise.

Youth creating change

All of the ways outlined above, are ways of getting young people involved in setting policy agendas, creating change and having an impact. Of course, there are more traditional ways of having youth be involved in the sport and development sectors, such as bringing them on as coaches, having them involved as volunteers in sporting events. These are also ways of having youth engaged in sport and ways of developing skills that are useful for youth.

Young people are driven by purpose. The sport for development and peace sector is in an ideal position for youth engagement because it is also driven by purpose. There are many ways to involve youth, and no one right way to do it. But, in all ways, youth engagement must be done within the framework above, independence, empowerment and trust must be at the core of this engagement.


David Thibodeau is a former competitive swimmer and current National Coaching Certification Program certified coach. He founded Sports for Social Impact to explore sport policy and provide insightful analysis to those working in the sport industry. David was selected as a Young Sport Maker for Global Sports Week in Paris in 2020. He is an advocate for better inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in sports, and has a Masters in Public Policy and Administration from Carleton University.



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