Yes... let's practice
Today begins the Red Ball Drop Uganda. In preparation, I talked with local organizers, students and youth who participate in the GYPA soccer programming and peer-to-peer youth leadership training programs in Namuwongo. One of the common themes is that the youth want to get better at sports, but primarily want to become better leaders. In their mind, the more time they put in, the more they will get out. Essentially, "practice makes perfect."
Unfortunately, too many kids around the world don't have the opportunity to practice. Yes, because they do not have a ball, or the equipment needed, but more so because they don't have role models, coaches or others to give them a pat on the back, or a thumbs up after great hustle. As the sports for social change movement grows, these important elements MUST be central ingredients, otherwise the movement falls short of its goals: to empower individuals, and uplift and fundamentally improve communities.
Fortunately for my organization, the Global Youth Partnership for Africa (GYPA), over the past 2 months the GYPA youth in Namuwongo have worked with students from Northwestern University as part of the ENGAGE Uganda (founded by my friend and fellow social entrepreneur, Nathaniel Whittemore) program. The students, in collaboration with the youth implemented a peer-to-peer, life skills learning program with soccer, net ball and arts and drama as central elements of the curriculum.
As I was told last evening, the youth are retaining the lessons, but also practicing what they preach in the larger community. They are looking beyond stereotypes and stigma, advocating for gender equality, and all in the spirit of volunteerism. Every day, on and off of the soccer pitch, they are perfecting the lessons, asking questions, being creative and and making their community a better place.
These examples are inspiring not only to the students or the GYPA staff, but to other younger kids in the community and to their parents. Sports for social change is working in this community.
I found the timing of these conversations unique since I recently read an article written by A.J. Thomson at Philly.com. The article, “Let’s Talk About Practice” emphasizes the power of sport, but the power and importance of “practice.”
As A.J. writes, practice has become a word that for thousands of kids "has little significance." Thousands of kids are missing out on important life lessons like discipline, team-building, sportsmanship, and the opportunities afforded are only qualified by the amount of time, passion and dedication that one puts into the game he or she plays.
Tragically, sports fans are drowning in the ‘lights, camera, action” of today’s professional sports world. It’s no longer about spending time as a volunteer coach with a young player who's shooting 1,000 free-throws after dark at the local playground.
Take for example, Michael Phelps. Is he a supernatural talent, yes? But, his rigorous work-out routines, and unfathomable hours spent in the pool is what leads most to believe that he will win 8 gold medals in Beijing and break Mark Spitz's record. Phelps did not get to where he is today magically, the "lights, camera, action" came as a result of his achievements of course, but because of his dedication to practice, and the coaches and mentors surrounding him.
I agree with A.J., let’s practice, let’s put more time, more effort, more funding into practicing. Kids in Africa, Kids in Latin America, Kids in the United States today are craving the opportunity to play sports, but seeking mentors, role models, and a safe place to play. But, until those of us make time to volunteer, save a little money to donate, young people with big dreams, but without a helping hand will suffer, and we as a society will too.
So, as I embark today on the Red Ball Drop Uganda, it will be about chasing your dreams and your passions, but it will also be a challenge to those who receive the Red Balls. The leaders in each organization, in each school, in each community, to each of the Namuowongo Youth leaders, to commit to teaching, training and mentoring. Because, sports, as we more are learning from this sports movement, are more than just about the game.....it is about improving the world that we live.