For the youth, by the youth
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Rather than thinking of youth as just ‘end-users,’ SDP programmes must see them as leaders who are best suited to understanding and taking charge of their needs.

Everyone wants to engage the youth!

Most projects and programmes in the sport for development and peace (SDP) sector revolve around youth. However, we must ask, who benefits the most – the project or the participants? The answer will vary from project to project.

When it comes to SDP and the young, what should the dynamic really be?

In most instances in the past, well-meaning adults with a love for sport and desire to help young people navigate the choppy waters of adolescence into adulthood have determined the relationship on the project and participants in SDP projects involving youth, based on what they feel is best.

The essence of SDP

We can all think of numerous examples where sport has played a huge part in engaging both interested and disinterested young people. Once they are engaged, sport becomes the platform on which they develop their personhood and understanding of issues, and youth are then able to access opportunities that would have otherwise remained hidden to them. This is the essence of SDP.

There are many programmes where this is being done brilliantly. However, this is often lost on many organisations, who are merely delivering sport under the guise of SDP.

Where this is the case, any non-sporting developmental elements that the participants benefit from are often ‘caught,’ not ‘taught.’ They are the result of a considerate and forward-thinking coach or staff member, rather than embedded into a structured and well thought out syllabus of activity with defined outcomes.

Rethinking strategies

Maybe it’s time to rethink the way we engage the participants we’re looking to help. Should the notion ‘for us, by us’ be a mantra extended to youth programmes, going forward? In a rapidly changing world, maybe we need to take a step back and listen, rather than simply prescribe and imply.

When I managed the sports programme at Street League in London, we established a player’s board. This board advised us on everything from changes to the rules of our competitions to the kind of educational pathways and programmes we sought to offer.

The benefits of this were multiple. It meant what we offered tailored to a collective need, resulting in a greater ‘buy in’ from our participants. Most importantly, this provided the members of the board, i.e. the participants (the board was changed periodically) with opportunities to develop transferrable skills around leadership, communication and responsibility, which they could add to their CV. This simple by-product of a ‘user-led’ approach contributed to their chances of employment.

Young people are often the first to master and implement advances in technology and social media. Who better then, to manage a project or programme’s social media accounts? Such a strategy would serve to marry on-field activities to off-field skills, again providing opportunities to develop transferrable skills and experience. In a shrinking jobs market where any work like skills and experience can be demonstrated, this can prove invaluable in enhancing employment prospects.

Transferring responsibility

Giving young people responsibility is one of the best things an SDP project can do. This could range from letting them lead the warm-up in the sessions to allowing them to facilitate discussions that follow activities. If you look closely, the transferrable benefits around sport are everywhere.

Allowing young people to see other young people in important roles throughout your project can be a catalyst for individual change. Think about the impact of seeing women in roles traditionally held by men, as an example. When you imagine the rich discussions this can lead to, all based around a sporting programme, we can start to see the power sport has to change the way future generations see the world and the possibilities within it.

Youth advocates

On another level, what better advocate of your programme or project can you have, than the young people who have come through it and benefitted at all levels? The youth can then shape the project, with the help of the next cohort. An SDP programme that has this ethos at its core is surely one that is more relevant and impactful and, most importantly, engaging.

Of course, we must be careful not to patronize and possibly alienate what is a changing youth demographic. As a person writing this in my mid-40s, I am fully aware that 15-year-olds today, are not like 15-year-olds 30 years ago. The world and everything in it has changed and moved on. Technology and access to information has seen to that, so projects must be mindful of this.

In a sector that is brimming with brilliant innovation around the use of sport to bring knowledge, healing, reconciliation and awareness to all kinds of groups across a range of issues, it is important that we always seek the input of our participants and consider ways to engage them that goes way beyond them being just ‘end users’.

[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]


Jason Mckoy runs Mercurial Sports and has over 15 years of experience working in the sport for development sector. A former footballer and now UEFA licenced coach, Jason provides consultancy and support, plus designs and delivers sport for development programmes, as well as presenting on the subject.




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