Positive youth development programs: A solution in the wake of COVID-19?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities for and access to physical activity and sport have been restricted in South Africa, and on a global scale. The global pandemic has highlighted many of the inequities that permeate the sporting world, including issues of inclusion, inaccess to resources, toxic-ideology, discrimination, poverty, and a lack of holistic development foci. During this time of isolation and withdrawal we have been afforded an opportunity to re-evaluate the system and make change in a meaningful and forward-thinking manner so as to redress current issues and circumvent greater catastrophe. The broader societal problems that are reflected, reinforced, and even contributed to, by the hegemonic structures within sport must be challenged directly on an individual and organisational level.
Sport and physical activity are not “inherently good”, as they cannot be divorced from the broader social reality. However, sport and physical activity does have the potential to play a transformative role. Nelson Mandela and other visionaries championed the value of imbuing sport with the best morals and ideologies of the time to inspire, give hope, and drive pro-social progress in society to bring people together. The sporting realm must aim to be refurbished with a strong commitment to fostering positive values, by creating a pro-social and nurturing context.
By combining physical activity and organised programs (with stated development goals and values), participants garner the benefits from both, resulting in improved physical and psychological wellbeing. Scientific research has yielded development programs that involve physical activity and mental skill acquisition within a positive learning environment. The appeal of such programs is that they can be low-cost, adaptable to specific contexts, inclusive, and flexible in their implementation. Positive Youth Development (PYD) programs are one such solution. Youth are resources to be invested in and provided with opportunities to grow and acquire skills and competencies that lead to lifelong positive improvements for the individual and society at large.
How then do we address youth development, during a global crisis, in countries such as South Africa which are already plagued with seemingly insurmountable inequality?
The greater sporting community will face reduced funding and financial support as the global recession continues to swell. Adapting to this will require, in no small measure: creativity, a collaborative spirit, and a multisectoral approach. A holistic view must be adopted to appreciate the multiple intertwining levels of society. The socio-ecological model helps to conceptualise the influences upon any development program. Looking at the macro-level, the focus should be on adapting existing governmental and non-governmental structures. This may include increasing funding, or redirecting resources from elite sport, towards PYD programs.
Practitioners, policy-makers, donors, and other stakeholders can, with targeted investments and an understanding of PYD, make a real difference by addressing issues of inequality, and encourage people to remain healthy, active, and united. At the meso-level, community regeneration, social transformation, cohesion, and inclusion are some of the focus areas. Connections can be made between organisations, such as NPOs and schools, to provide learners with unique opportunities otherwise not available. Programs will need to be tailored to specific cultural contexts, and their differing needs. This will allow for the realisation of program goals, despite the structural challenges that the majority of developing nations face. At the micro-level, evidence-based PYD programs can be reflexive, constantly evolving to deliver effective psycho-educational content that contribute to personal growth, self esteem, self efficacy, resilience, peer relationships, mastery, and life satisfaction.
During this crisis and the ensuing transformation period, PYD programs play a role in increasing awareness, solidarity, and encouraging healthy and adaptive pro-social behaviour. An emphasis on multi-level collaboration and interdisciplinary research will bring about the exceptional change South Africans need.
Daniel Page, Ruan Parrott, and Wiehan Basson are founding members of the Positive Youth Development Foundation (PYDF). The PYDF delivers evidence based psychological interventions to youths and young adults of South Africa. The long-term aim is to develop local skills and implement lasting positive changes to communities, such as university departments, high schools, and impoverished neighbourhoods.