For some children and youth, it takes a little extra to have a good experience with sports
Psychosocial disabilities such as autism, anxiety, ADHD and depression differ from physical disabilities in that they are not always immediately visible, yet they can weaken a person's ability to participate in positive sports communities. With GAME’s insights and 10 recommendations, it is possible to integrate even more children and youth into the positive communities of sport.
Barriers for participation in sports
For children and youth with psychosocial disabilities, it can be difficult to play and make friends through sports. Zero sum competition with clear winners and losers leads to an experience of feeling like a failure. This along with the unwritten social rules on the field can be a tough game to navigate in.
In GAME's current project 'Friendships on Asphalt', we found that many of the children have had such bad previous experiences in sports settings, and GAME sees examples of children struggling with anxiety to such an extent that they had forgotten what their bodies could normally do such as climbing trees, jumping around, cycling or even just playing. They were simply not in touch with their body anymore.
In addition, children with psychosocial disabilities are sometimes motorically challenged and have underdeveloped physical abilities, due to lack of exposure and positive experiences with physical activities, which in turn makes it even more difficult to become a member of a local sports team.
Self-esteem and self-confidence
Being physically active and healthy is good in itself. But sport also has a great potential for a positive effect of mental, personal and social outcomes. When a person experiences success physically, they often also feel a positive mental effect. They will have a more general sense of success, which can be transferred to other areas of life such as school, social environment, etc.
GAME’s psychosocial projects take its starting point in street sports and an empowerment approach. The goal is to complete a street sports course which form a network in a leisure activity, that helps them to acquire social skills, improve their quality of life and positively affect schooling.
A teacher from the Friendships on Asphalt project gives an example: ”We had this boy who got a GAME t-shirt and didn’t take it off for a week. Being part of something meant so much to him. It gave him self-esteem and self-confidence.”
Parkour has been an especially successful activity in GAME’s psychosocial projects, since it is incredibly flexible and scalable, which means that everyone, regardless of level or physical shape, can participate in the same practice.
Less competition and more structure
GAME has been working with specially designed street sport programmes for psychosocially disabled children and youth for more than 15 years.
In cooperation with professionals within the social pedagogical field, GAME has created four principles that are always considered when developing programmes and activities for psychosocially disabled children and youth:
- Less competition, more successful experiences for everyone: Everyone should be able to participate in the same game, no matter how good they are, and have the feeling of success
- Focus on structure and clarity: Getting many impressions at once can be overwhelming. In these programmes, the training should be as easy as possible to understand and participate in
- Motivation and support: The acknowledgement of participation and trying your best is more important than the acknowledging performance and results
- More than just physical activity: GAME considers sport a social activity and an arena for development of positive social communities. This promotes a focus on the good experience of everyone involved rather than being great street sports athletes.
In most street sports activities, GAME uses a peer-to-peer approach, and this is also the case in programs for psychosocially disabled children and young people. Young volunteers who themselves have experience with psychosocial disabilities play an important role, by helping the sports instructors in training and being positive role models for the children.
”To be part of this team makes so much sense to me as I wish I had a young person like me in my life when I was younger and had a tough time,” says a volunteer in the Friendships on Asphalt project.
Their experiences and disabilities, which have often been an obstacle, are suddenly a valuable resource here, as they can really relate to - and therefore support - the children. The role models also have a great personal interest in doing this and feel empowered by the recognition of their inner knowledge about psychosocial disability. In GAME, they receive a street sports education and are equipped to support the children and help create social change through the programs.
Learn more about GAME’s psychosocial work on game.ngo and download GAME’s 10 recommendations on how to make including sports activities.
GAME is an NGO founded in 2002 in Denmark, with a mission to create lasting social change through youth-led street sports and culture. GAME establishes innovative facilities and trains youth-leaders as instructors and role models in street sports and civil society.
Bente Justesen is a sociologist and Project Manager at GAME. He leads the Friendships on Asphalt project, a street sports project which targets psychosocially disabled children and youth in Denmark. Currently, 170 children and youth are part of the project.
Karl Baaré is a parkour instructor, anthropology student at Copenhagen University and Junior Coordinator of the project Friendships on Asphalt.