Kids That Play Together Can Learn Together

“Kids that play together can learn together” is a hypothesis from social psychology that simple contact between two groups can reduce tension/competition, and stimulate cooperation.

In a world of increasing interconnectedness, communities are constantly plagued with division, tension, and conflict. For example, the ongoing crisis between Israel/Palestine, HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, riots in Belfast, and natural gas off the coast of Cypress all produce conflict that preys on civilians.

Most notably is the division of groups within society and a particular outgroup bias in which members of one group inherently fear, hate, and distrust the other. The only solution to these worldwide issues is a bottom-up approaches that changes not only the dialogue and public opinion between groups, but more importantly the attitudes of civilians. By shifting attitudes toward favorable reconciliation, trust, cooperation, and negotiation, peacebuilding will be able to overcome exogenous conflicts and keep societies united. Attitudinal changes eventually lead to policy changes, making individual influence just as important as institutional influence.

In 2001, two brothers Sean and Brendan Tuohey spent time coaching basketball in Ireland shortly after graduating college, during a post-conflict period after a deep sectarian division called “The Troubles” had just ended.  They noticed how Protestant and Catholic youth didn’t only live separately, but they even played separate sports. Protestants played rugby and cricket, while the Catholics enjoyed hurling. The two groups were able to come together while playing basketball, a neutral sport, which is also popular because its American and “cool”.

The brothers were quick to jump on this observation. They started a peacebuilding initiative by integrating the two groups in basketball practices, clinics, and games. Heads started turning quickly. People wanted the Tuohey’s to come to their regions and reduce conflict/tensions as well. A South African who was in Ireland at the time suggested the brothers test their ideas on a greater scale in post-Apartheid South Africa. This is where the original “Playing for Peace” was launched.

Overtime, the organization has greatly expanded due to institutional grants, local support, and the commitment of Brendan and Sean. More heads turned. In 2012, PPI aligned with the Brooklyn Nets, a professional basketball team, in a generous sponsorship package. Currently, the organization is trending towards proactive transition to local leadership and constant innovation. PPI’s managing staff are becoming more and more local, helping to better innovate with individuals deeply embedded in the communities that the PPI operates within.

PPI has long term goals to increase its outreach and develop best-in-class strategies for achieving peacebuilding goals by using basketball to bring children together and teach them vital life skills. Results showed the kids involved in the program were more likely to be open to others.

As of 2007, the organization is operating in all four of the conflicted areas I mentioned above: Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Cyprus, and South Africa. In just 6 years, they had reached 45,000 children.

You have to find a way, or make one.

Peace Players International built courts where they did not exist, constructing 70 in South Africa alone by 2007. 

As I’ve written in previous posts, methodology and implementation are two of the most important factors in instituting change through sport.

How is Peace Players International achieving their goals? 

First and foremost, each of PPI’s four sites cater to their community’s specific needs. Discretionary programs based on local needs, resources, and culture are more effective than standards. However, all programs are built upon the same core principles:

  • Frequent, long term integration: The curriculum and facilitation strategies of the program are implemented not only for a fixed period of time, but over years to create sustainable change. For example, the first steps involve simply learning each other’s names, and then more advanced steps involve bringing different groups together.
  • Local leadership development: “Graduates” of the program are invited to take part in a leadership program where they impart their leadership skills on the youth in their communities. They serve as mentors and assistant coaches, and eventually graduate as head coaches.
  • Peace and Leadership Curricula: This educational component of the program is crafted to meet local meets and differs amongst each site. For example, in South Africa the participants learn about healthy lifestyles to avoid infectious disease, whereas in Ireland the participants learn about growing up in a post-conflict society. The curriculum emphasizes “out of the box” thinking, and uses simple soccer and basketball drills to teach lessons about social dilemmas and communal conflict.

Peace Players International started with a simple idea and two big hearts. The power of that idea to change the world for 250,000 kids (and counting) is immeasurable. One of the brothers’ greatest achievements is that the idea isn’t as unique today as it was in 2001. People are latching on to the power of sport for change, and that’s something that can’t be stopped.

 

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Financial Incentive for Physical Activity

 

Source: http://money.msn.com/insurance/would-you-exercise-for-money.aspx

Does cash incentivize exercise?

A proven fact in society is that financial measures incentivize behavior. Tax deductions incentivize charitable donations, home ownership, education, and childcare — the behaviors that keep society and the economy moving forward. Can tax deductions incentivize preventive health care by encouraging physical activity in Americans?

Physical activity is a preventive health measure, both mentally and physically. Not only will citizens benefit from tax deductions and increased health conditions, but the economy will also benefit from improved mental health, reduced productivity, reduced transportation costs, reduced human capital costs, and reduced direct medical costs (primarily related to obesity).

Since the 1970’s, obesity in adults and children has more than doubled.  Today, more than 2/3 of adults are overweight or obese. Even the heaviest Americans have become heavier in the last decade. The Food Research and Action Center points to lack of physical activity as the primary cause for the growing epidemic of obesity. (in conjunction with excess caloric intake). The disease continues to pervade the standard of living and economy of the USA.

Obesity impacts the economy in four major ways: direct medical costs, productivity costs, transportation costs, and human capital costs. Lack of physical activity also reduces mental health.

In 2012, US health care spending increased for the fourth consecutive year to 2.8 trillion, or about $8,915 per person. That’s two-and-a-half times the average OECD country spends per person on healthcare, annually. Coincidentally (or not?), obesity poses a far greater health risk in the US than other countries. Even in comparison with other high-obesity countries, the US ranks low in terms of diet and physical activity. For the first time ever, children in the current generation might live shorter lives than their parents.

A study dividing subjects into groups based on their BMI published in The Economic Impact of Obesity in the United States reported:

“The obese (BMI ≥ 30) had 36% higher average annual health care costs than the healthy-weight group, including 105% higher prescription costs and 39% higher primary-care costs. The overweight (BMI 25–29) had 37% higher prescription costs and 13% higher primary-care costs than the healthy-weight group.”

Case in point. Obesity is expensive.

To prevent poor health, the US needs stronger policies to prevent lifestyles that lead to poor health.We spend trillions of dollars on health care to treat preventable diseases. Shouldn’t we start spending more on preventing these diseases in the first place?

The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association  recently released the following information as a primary recommendation for adults:

“To promote and maintain health, all healthy adults aged 18 to 65 yr need moderate-intensity aerobic (endurance) physical activity for a minimum of 30 min on five days each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 20 min on three days each week…

Persons who wish to further improve their personal fitness, reduce their risk for chronic diseases and disabilities or prevent unhealthy weight gain may benefit by exceeding the minimum recommended amounts of physical activity.”

The key words here are promote and maintain. Physical activity staves off many diseases, disabilities, and most importantly unhealthy weight gain.

According to Slate magazine, regular physical activity treats and prevents disease in every system of the body (Metzl). By encouraging gym memberships and regular physical activity, the US can not only save money from health care expenditures, but also save lives from many diseases. Furthermore, the mental health of society can be improved. A study in Exercise for Mental Health reports that activity reduces anxiety and depression. Physical activity also reduces low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Overall, the major benefits of exercise on mental health are:

  • Improved sleep
  • Increased interested in sex
  • Reduced stress
  • Better endurance
  • Improvement in mood
  • Increased energy and stamina
  •  Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
  • Weight reduction
  • Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness

Exercise is overlooked as an intervention in mental health care. It also is overlooked as a money saving policy in tax codes, and overlooked as a means to improve the standard of living in the United States. Refer to my post about how the world’s most successful and powerful people don’t miss a beat in their exercise routine. Put simply, there isn’t enough time in the day to NOT exercise.

Imagine a world where the government could dramatically cut direct medical spending on type 2 diabetes, hypertension, asthma, hypercholesterolemia, coronary heart disease, stroke, and arthritis — all diseases caused by one common risk factor: obesity. Next, imagine that the mental health and mood of the world is dramatically improved.

A tax deduction for a gym membership AND attendance (people actually have to go to the gym regularly, not just pay the monthly fees) will encourage physical activity in more Americans and increase preventive health measures. Financial incentives are proven to change behavior. The result is less money spent on preventable diseases, and improved standard of living in America.

 

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Innovation Matters

In my last post I wrote about how creative strategies and innovative tactics are the cutting edge for empowering youth and cultivating social development through sport. Those were prime examples, but here I’d like to share a little more about why innovation matters.

“It’s the people who figure out how to simply work in the present, rather than the people who have mastered the past, who get to say what happens in the future.”  Clay Shirky 

Here, Clay Shirky (an American writer who studies the effects of the Internet on society) emphasizes relevance. Defined by the OED, relevance means closely connected to the matter at hand. The word derives from a medieval Latin word meaning “raising up.” Innovation matters for this exact reason: it takes traditional methods and makes them relevant for today. Applicable for today. Possible for today.

For example, a traditional method of communicating is letter-writing. Yes, I’m talking about taking a pen to paper and handwriting a message. How relevant is that to society now? Not only are you thinking “not at all”, but you’re considering how emailing or texting are so much better because they are faster, convenient, and most importantly possible. Innovation is exponential. Every day it opens doors of possibility for further innovation. First came the typewriter, then the telegraph, then the telephone. That order can’t be reversed. Each new innovation in communication lead to another.

Think back to letter-writing vs. texting. Global connectivity (according to George Pohle and Marc Chapman of IBM) makes new skills and partners accessible and practical to employ and enables entirely new forms of collaboration, and thus, new business models. “New” and “innovative” are relatively synonymous. Creating new business models means getting rid of what worked yesterday and replacing it with what works today. That’s innovation.

How does this pertain to social empowerment and development through sport?

It’s not a matter of fixing something that’s not broken, but more of a matter of changing the method to fix the problem. Traditional methods may have proven successful, but with today’s technology and resources, are they really the best we’ve got? Telephone help lines, telethon fundraising, the fair trade movement, and Wikipedia didn’t exist a few years ago, and imagine how much that’s change the world in just a few short years. Optimizing resources and creating a need for new technology is what keeps the innovation ball rolling. If everyone was satisfied with their iPhone 4, no one would want the iPhone 5. Luckily enough, people want more. The unmet demand for the next best thing is what drives innovation. Most importantly, people need more. People might get used to getting monetary aid for development, but once that becomes common-place, it creates a crutch for that economy. Naturally, innovation makes progress inevitable. That innovation is creating new solutions, which is where sport comes in as a method for change.

What’s next?

In the words of Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.”

According to Geoff Mulgan of the Said Business School at Oxford, innovations usually consist of “new combinations or hybrids of existing elements, rather than being wholly new themselves”. For example, social development and empowerment is the brainpower of what kids love, i.e. sports and games, and what kids need, i.e. education. The familiar example of communication technology takes what we had, a typewriter, and combines it with what was needed, expedient communication, in order to create the telegraph.

Innovation is not always perfect. Trial and error and experimentation are key elements that lead to success. Mulgan continues, “In some cases, innovation starts by doing things – and then adapting and adjusting in the light of experience… In all cases, innovation usually involves some struggle against vested interests; the ‘contagious courage’ that persuades others to change; and the pragmatic persistence that turns promising ideas into real institutions

The best strategies for social development aren’t the same in every situation. It’s a case-by-case evaluation that makes the difference. One thing is common across all innovations, which is that it takes a leader with passion, perserverence, and commitment. These qualities are what persuade others to follow suite. A leader cannot be ignorant, cannot be closed-mind or narrow-hearted. To make a sustainable difference, a this leader needs to be an agent for change by adapting solutions to different situations. That is why the leaders in my last post used cricket as an agent for change in India, and soccer as an agent for change in Africa.

Think Creatively: How To Use Soccer to Empower African Youth

Life skills program in northern Uganda with Girls Kick It

Life skills program in northern Uganda with Girls Kick It

Here are just a few success stories about how soccer is creating better futures for kids in Africa. Each example below is based off of the principle that sport (soccer, in this case) has the power to transcend borders and empower youth through education, health, HIV/AIDs awareness and prevention, and life skills. More importantly, the strategies and tactics that each organization is using to reach their goals shows the flexibility of sport and the power of sport to impact many levels of social development.

1. Grassroots Soccer 

  • Working in seven African countries, this organization’s mission is based on the Social Learning Theory that teaches kids by using people they respect as role models, by incorporating hands-on experiences, and by integrating community support and involvement. Through activities and games, GRS teaches kids about HIV prevention and life skills.
  • Proven Results: “Overall, the Grassroot Soccer Program is a culturally appropriate, internationally suitable, creative, and effective way to educate at-risk youth about HIV/AIDS and its prevention… Significant changes in students’ knowledge, attitudes and perceived social support are observed s a result of the program. These changes were sustained after five months.” – Childrens Health Council, 2004. Numerous formal evaluations, conducted by universities including Johns Hopkins, have reported that GRS is effective in reducing sexual risk behavior, decreasing stigma, and improving students’ knowledge, attitudes, communication, decision-making skills, and perceived social sipport realted to HIV and AIDS.

2. Girls Kick It

  • I was fortunate enough to work with this organization in northern Uganda over the past summer. Northern Uganda is in a post-conflict era, still suffering from the wrath of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Girl’s Kick It works on post-conflict resolutions, education, and HIV awareness through soccer by engaging students in life skills forums and educational soccer activities. For example, we did a soccer drill in which the players learned how the ball (the disease) can move quickly through a team’s defense and into the goal (their bloodstream) if they don’t work hard to defend it. The ball thrives when passed along, just like the disease. The players involved said it was the first time anyone had ever really spoken to them about the disease, and how most people in the community are too afraid to speak about it. At the end of the day, we gave all of the girls tampons and pads, as well as juice and snacks to encourage them to participate in future events.
Team Photo of Girls Kick It and female students in northern Uganda after an educational day of soccer activities, followed by a fun scrimmage and snacks

Team Photo of Girls Kick It and female students in northern Uganda after an educational day of soccer activities, followed by a fun scrimmage and snacks

3. Coaching for Hope: to create a “level playing field”

  • Coaching for Hope trains community youth as coaches to deliver HIV awareness, life skills, and substance misuse sessions to young people and their communities. The training consists of a 3-level program that includes assessment and follow-up, as well as monitoring the delivery of the courses. They also provide regular one-day events and complete access to curriculum and updates for all coaches. For example, the organization provides a “coaches log-book” so that coaches can track their successes and failures and talk about them in group discussions amongst other coaches. In 2015 they plan to incorporate more disabled people into their programs in order to defy the illusion that sport is exclusive to fit males. To involve more females, they plan to have women-only coaching courses and network with other organizations that promote women’s rights.
  • Proven Results Awa Zoungrana, a 12 year old girl from Burkina Faso, “Before I have never talked about HIV and AIDS with my friends or family and I was very afraid to ask. Now I have learned many things and explained to my family how they can catch this disease and how we can avoid it. I am very happy because we had fun.”

4. Kick4Life

  • Kick4Life provides on-site testing, information sessions, and counseling at one-day soccer tournaments, called Test Your Team. It also implements the Red Card campaign that performs skits at local community events to raise awareness and educate locals about HIV/AIDS. The Red Card is meant to be used when individual find themselves in risky situations in real life as a way to protect themselves.
  • Social Enterprise: My favorite part about this project is that it combines sport with education, but also about empowering participants by generating sustainable income for the organization and provide training and employment opportunities for people to work towards sustainable livelihoods. For example, a restaurant at their center provides training for young entrepreneurs. They also run a corporate soccer league and rent out their conference and meeting spaces.

Although these four examples are not the only organizations making a change for African youth through sport, their creative strategies and tactics for implementing change provide a great example of the flexibility of sport and different ways it can adapt to every culture and make a positive impact. I hope these creative examples will inspire others to think outside of the box, beyond traditional forms of social development, to make a sustainable difference in the world.

 

Taking NCAA Bracketology One Step Further

This time of year, the NCAA basketball tournament is in full-force, with every sports fan out there suddenly paying attention to the madness of March. Brackets are fun and competitive, and also pose many benefits to participants. Besides Warren Buffet’s billion-dollar bracket challenge, some of these benefits are even educational. The odds of creating the correct bracket are about 9.2 quintillion to 1. 

The buzz about brackets in March cannot be ignored nor contained. Smart teachers and businesses are channeling the captivating power of sports into their classrooms to keep students focused on the task at hand, by engaging them by using the basic bracket idea. (Source: http://www.sju.edu/int/academics/pls/programs/certificate/bracketology.html)

Many teachers are taking the NCAA tournament bracket buzz into the classroom and applying it to lessons on probability, statistics, and debate. By using a topic that engages students and is presently consuming media and sports fan, teachers can get across valuable lessons in their classrooms. NCAA tournament bracketology is a great tool to get students excited to learn about these topics and to gain hands-on experiences. Some teachers are even stretching the lesson to have their students create brackets for the best novel of the 20th century, the healthiest breakfast food, or the invention that contributed the most to scientific discovery. By using the basis of the brackets that the students understand, the curriculum is pulled through and embraced by the competitive spirit of the students. Students learn the following concepts:

  • Decision-making
  • Basic principles of logic and reasoning
  • Basis of presenting an argument
  • How to trouble-shoot and identify similarities and differences
  • How to work with others in a team and emerge as a leader

Additionally, subject-specific skills are sharpened, such as understanding the impact of single discoveries as pivotal points in history for the “invention that contributed most to scientific discovery.” These lessons aren’t limited to just young students either. Colleges and universities commonly offer courses in bracketology. For example, St. Joseph’s University offers a course that studies rules governing the selection process, analysis undertaken by schools to position themselves for tournament qualifications, and common misconceptions in the media. The students learn the basic same principles listed above, but on a more specific level.

Not only is the NCAA bracket for March Madness a learning experience, but it also is a massive advertising and promotion opportunity. Warren Buffet (mentioned earlier) and Quicken Loans seized the opportunity by offering the 1 billion dollar prize for a perfect bracket. Yahoo benefitted because you have to sign up for a Yahoo account in order to enter the contest. All of your information (name, email, mortgage situation) goes to Quicken Loans, a huge bonus for them at no cost. 

Other advertising opportunities are present in national TV airing of the NCAA tournament. According to Kantar Media, NCAA post-season sports spend MORE than NFL post-season, NBA post-season, and MLB post-season. The “Brackets Everywhere” campaign involves movies stars and artists to attract more attention to the brackets, including a fashion designer who makes “bracket design” a hip and trendy topic.

So, here’s a twist for schools and businesses where employees and students are consumed by the brackets and constantly refreshing their browser to see the latest updates: Incorporate this trend into your curriculum or business model. The power of sports is captivating, and when used correctly can drastically increase opportunities for students and businesses alike.

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Cricket Breaks Down Gender Violence in India

The setting: Mumbai, India

In 2011, India was rated as one of the most dangerous places to be woman (Source: http://www.trust.org/spotlight/The-worlds-most-dangerous-countries-for-women-2011/))

In 2011, India was rated as one of the most dangerous places to be woman (Source: http://www.trust.org/spotlight/The-worlds-most-dangerous-countries-for-women-2011/))

This is an area of the world where parents favor their daughters marriage over their education, men believe they have a right to abuse their wives, husbands dictate the appearance of their wives and daughters (hair length, makeup, clothing, etc.), brothers feel that their sisters hold all responsibility for household chores, and sexual harassment of women on the street is almost become a past time for young men and boys.

In 2011, India was rated as one of the most dangerous places to be a woman. According to a video produced by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), 1 in every 3 married female youth experienced physical, sexual, and emotional violence. 19% of young men have sexually abused a girl in school, and 87% of young men believes that it is always women to be blamed for all sexual violence against them.

The hardest part to swallow: men in Mumbai see this behavior as a form of respect to women. They feel that they are protecting the women by safe-guarding them from all potential harm. Views and traditions such as this are almost impossible to reverse, as they are ingrained in the culture and embedded institutionally in the structures of the society.

In 2000, Futures without Violence developed Coaching Boys Into Men (CBIM) with the initiative:

“to engage coaches as positive role models and train them to deliver message to their male athletes about the importance of respecting women and understanding that violence never equals strength.” Parivartan was the brainchild of this initiative, born from ICRW.

Parivartan is a unique program that uses cricket to teach young men that aggressive behavior does not make them “real men.” The ultimate aim of the program is to reduce violence against women, and help boys and men view women and girls are equals. In Hindi translation, it means change, or transition from childhood to adulthood.

Cricket is the most popular sport in India  Source: ICRW/David Snyder

Cricket is the most popular sport in India
Source: ICRW/David Snyder

The implementation of any international development program is the tipping point on the scale of effectiveness. Planning and follow-up are important as well, but proper implementation is absolutely key.

In this case, ICRW implemented the program in partnership with Mumbai Schools Sports Association (MSSA), an organization Apnalaya, and Breakthrough, with financial support from the Nike Foundation. Cricket was chosen to be used as the agent for change because of its widespread popularity in India and predominance as a male sport. According to a program leader, it is important to establish something that is appealing to young men, and sports fits that criteria very well.

There were two divisions of the program: a community based division and a slum-based division. 26 coaches and their teams agreed to participate in the community program, where most of the schools were private with middle to upper socioeconomic status. The slum division composed of 16 total teams, comprised of low socioeconomic participants. Spanning different communities, the program was assessed comparatively across these differences, and uniformly across the power of sport to inflict social change in all circumstances.

The mentors were young male cricket coaches, who are highly respected by young boys and men in India. Using mentors that can relate and garner respect from the audience is a key part in implementing a program. According to one of the players, “Coach is everything.. We will do anything for him…”. Clearly, you can see how coaches are much more than just instructors, but more like role models for athletes. Feroz Moideen, a representative from the Family Violence Prevention Fund, says that Parivartan is the,

“first extensive evaluation to highlight the role that coaches can play in the off-the-field lives of their athletes.”

It was important that the mentors and leaders were willing to talk about issues of violence towards women with transparency and honesty, without feeling embarrassed in front of other men (as most Indians might).

The effectiveness of the program was assessed by measuring “changes in perceptions, attitudes and behaviors related to gender equity and violence against women and girls among athletes exposed to the program.”

All mentors were given a kit with a card series, reference handbook, and a diary. The cards included discussion topics about respect, behaviors toward women, insulting language, etc. Planned group sessions on a weekly basis were the basis for intervention, and involved discussion, games, and films and supplementary materials such as posters, pamphlets, and brochures. The mentors were trained for the process, and received training throughout as well.

From 2008 to 2012, Parivartan was implemented in the two divisions in Mumbai. The general goals were:

  • Raise awareness about abusive and disrespectful behavior
  • Promote gender-equitable, non-violent attitudes
  • Teach skills to speak up and intervene when witnessing harmful and disrespectful behaviors

A summary report of the program, Engaging Coaches and Athletes in Fostering Gender Equality: Findings from the Parivartan Program in Mumbia, India was published in May 2012 by ICRW and Futures without Violence.

Data collection:

Athletes completed a survey at baseline and at follow-up (1 year later), which examined attitudes towards “gender stereotypes and roles, boys’ control over girls’ behavior, and violence against girls as well as violence based behaviors.” Coaches and mentors both completed a survey at baseline and at followup (1 year later) about attitudes toward gender stereotypes, men’s control of their wives’ behavior, and justification of wife beating,” according to the final report. Six in depth interviews and two focus group sessions were held as follow up as well. Female relatives of coaches and mentors were interviewed to document perceived changes in the coaches’ or mentors’ gender-related attitudes and behavior

Findings indicate positive changes in both the mentors/coaches, and athletes involved in the program. Results show that “training and ongoing support can equip coaches and mentors to deliver an innovative program to young male athletes which can improve the athletes’ gender related attitudes and behaviors”. The program can also inflict positive change on the attitudes and behaviors of the coaches/mentors involved as well.

The findings are very encouraging, yet in order to have a sustained impact, a continued investment in the program and effort needs to be institutionalized in the existing structures and reinforced throughout multiple channels of communication.

Source: ICRW/David Snyder

Source: ICRW/David Snyder

Action inspires Action. 

The Parivartan program spurred a mobile interactive campaign to further promote the same ideals. This campaign uses sports amongst other tools such as dance and trivia to educate youth on how to stop and prevent disrespect of women.

Furthermore, Parivartan Plus will build on the same principles established in the goals of Parivartan and include girls, tackle issues of sexuality and the AIDS epidemic, as well as sustenance on alcohol and drugs.

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President Obama Congratulates Student-Athlete Champions at the White House on Monday

Today I’m so incredibly proud of my brother that I have to share this with the world:

Today March 10th, 2014, my brother had the privilege of meeting President Obama. Justin is a junior studying Sociology at Duke University. He plays on the men’s lacrosse team and last spring they walked away from the season with the NCAA Division I Championship title. President Obama invited his team over to congratulate their accomplishment.

Justin (left) and his two teammates after receiving their rings.

Justin (left) and his two teammates after receiving their rings.

The special thing about college sports is that the athletes aren’t professional, but instead they are full-time students. Student-athletes. School comes first in that name for a reason. They don’t have contracts or endorsements, yet they wake up early, put in the hours and hard work purely for the love of the sport and team. They juggle academics and athletics like champions, literally. It’s a special drive that college athletes have, unlike others, and for these champions today that drive got them to the White House. If this isn’t a perfect real-life example of empowerment through sport, then I’m not sure what is. Let’s take a look back and see how far sport has gotten my brother and his teammates, amongst the other NCAA Champions who were at the White House today as well.

Around age 3, my dad put a lacrosse stick in Justin’s hand. Over the years, he experimented with soccer balls, basketballs, swimming pools, and skis. Along this journey, he made memories and friends that are guaranteed to last a lifetime. Most importantly, he learned confidence, how to work within a team, and the joy of achieving a goal. Through age 18, he played basketball, lacrosse, and football year-round on his middle school and high school teams. Justin excelled in school due to his learned commitment to hard work and dedication to success.

His early exposure to sports taught him how to be a teammate, a better sister to me, and a leader. His hard work on the field and in the classroom turned the head of Duke University men’s lacrosse coach John Danowski, amongst other top program coaches. These coaches aren’t just looking for great players, they are looking for great people. A college athlete isn’t just about sports, but about representing the school and the program, reflecting the principles on which the school is based and growing with the experience.

Just about three years later, today, he is shaking hands with the President of the United States. I’m not going to go as far-fetched to say that sports are the only thing that brought Justin to this point in time, but I know for sure he would not be the man he is today without sports, and he certainly would not be meeting the President.

Duke celebrates semi-final win over Cornell in 2013 before going on to win a national championship 2 days later.

Duke celebrates semi-final win over Cornell in 2013 before going on to win a national championship 2 days later.

How did winning a national championship get him here?

In his address to the champions, President Obama said it is more than just winning, but learning how to handle adversity and overcome obstacles. President Obama invited multiple NCAA Championship teams over to celebrate their remarkable commitments, achievments, and the example they have set for others. He particularly commended the women’s athletes for paving the way for his daughters and nieces, setting an example that women can compete on the same caliber as men, on all levels.

 “Our country needs young people like you to keep giving your best and to keep bringing out the best in those around you. That’s how we keep making progress and moving forward, and that’s why we’re all looking forward to seeing what all of you accomplish in the years ahead,” Obama said.

“A title that means not just performing your best when the spotlight’s on and the game is underway, but also pushing yourself even harder when no one is watching.” 

The champion spirit: not just the trophies, but the drive and teamwork that put them there.

“At their best, college sports teaches us about giving back to our communities… That’s the kind of ethic that shows this is not just about winning, but it’s about learning how to lift other people up. That’s what makes a true champion, and will serve you well no matter what path you choose”

IMG_5872

In summary, I’m extremely proud of my brother’s accomplishments, and happy to see how far he has come and eager to see where he is going. Not only him, but his entire team and all college athletes, for that matter, are role models to all for their commitment to sports and academics. Barely scratching the surface of the insurmountable power of sports to empower individuals and communities, this post sums up the story behind one of my biggest inspiration.

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5 Thematic Groups of The UN Sport for Development and Peace

The mission of this intergovernmental policy initiative is to encourage and promote sport as an agent for change through integration in the development strategies of national governments.

There are five major thematic working groups within the International Working Group (IWG) of the Sport for Development and Peace initiative. Here’s my take on these five groups:

1. Sport and Child & Youth Development 

My favorite focus of this group is the ability of sport to enhance transferable skills and strength through education. Sport has a unique ability to teach through action. One particular quote sticks out in my mind when considering how powerful it is to include sport in youth development and education:

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.” ~Benjamin Franklin

2. Sports and Gender

Women in many cultures around the world lack the opportunities and respect that their counterparts receive. Through sports, communities can foster leadership qualities and self-confidence in women to overcome these unfair imbalances. For example, here is a conversation I had with Diana Lwanaga, a 22 year old woman in Kampala, UG who recently took up the sport of lacrosse that Fields of Growth Intl. introduced to the area in 2009.

When asked how lacrosse was going lately, she responded, “Its not easy to keep up ‘cus when I look around me I have no support, like a fellow girl whom I would call a teammate. Or someone to lean on if it gets hard.”

I followed up by helping her to realize how lacrosse has impacted her life so that she did not lose motivation by the temporary hardship of teammates quitting or giving up. How has it impacted your life?

“Well, [it has] taught me to be a good leader, being a captain, and how to make decisions.”

Anything else? “Lax has helped me get friends, many friends I didn’t know about, and given me high hopes for my future, but they are just inside me ‘cus they are like dream that I want to come true. Hopefully I’ll catch up with it one day.”

3. Sport and Peace

This is often a controversial subject in the area of social development through sport, as many critiques of the tactic fear the competitiveness and rivalry that sports may bring to an area. Through sports, however, communities can unite and find peace through teamwork and leadership.

Take the example of South Africa in 1990 following President Nelson Mandela’s release from jail and the post-apartheid era. During this time, the country was divided between blacks and whites, with extreme hatred and violence plaguing the country from both sides. After attending a Springboks practice (the national rugby team which is mostly white), Nelson Mandela noticed the black South Africans were cheering mostly for England because, in their minds, the Springboks represent prejudice to them. Mandela decided to take action, and reverse this perception in their minds. The World Rugby Championships were quickly approaching in 1995, and were set to be held in South Africa. Throughout the team’s training and interaction with local fans both black and white, the nation gradually united in support of their country’s team.

Nelson Mandela applauds Francois Peinaar for leading South Africa to the 1995 Rugby World Championships, and united a previously racially divided country in the process. (Source: http://static.stuff.co.nz/1264707750/973/3273973.jpg)

Nelson Mandela applauds Francois Peinaar for leading South Africa to the 1995 Rugby World Championships, and united a previously racially divided country in the process. (Source: http://static.stuff.co.nz/1264707750/973/3273973.jpg)

4. Sports and Persons with Disabilities

Although this is a thematic group within Sport for Development and Peace initiative, it has not yet been activated. The power of this group is untapped. To get people who are not disabled to work with disabled persons through sport can disintegrate the boundaries between the two and empower both the non-disabled person and the disabled person. In working with each other, both parties develop an understanding of the other, which posits the building blocks for both to understand others in their communities and handle adversity with an open mind.

5. Sport and Health (this group has also not been activated)

Health is a loose term here. Health can pertain to physical health of society, eradicating disease and promoting exercise and healthy lifestyles. This is especially pertinent to countries like the United States where obesity is rising every year. In many other countries, sport can decrease the spread of infectious disease through raising awareness and strengthening the physical health of the society, making them less vulnerable to the disease and more likely to stave off an infection.

Health can also pertain to the health of an economy, a government, a community, or a country. To run a healthy country, corruption (i.e. cheating, deception, smuggling, illegal transactions, etc) needs to be replaced with a well-run coalition of fair level-headed leaders. Through sport, leaders of this type can be developed by learning the transactional skills of confidence, fair-play, hard work, and dedication. The team is only as strong as it’s weakest player. Sports can instill in leaders the qualities needed to effectively lead a country, and cultivate a healthy community, healthy economy, and a healthy government.

Finally, health can pertain to the mental health of the constituents of a community. As defined by the UN, “Mental health is defined by the WHO as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to her or his community.” Mental disorders downgrade the standard of living in a country, and plague the community with increased economic and social costs including: lack of motivation, isolation, increased mortality, genocide, and many more.

Why does it matter… 

The potential of the UN’s Sport for Development and Peace to improve communities around the world through integration of these five themes into policy recommendation, and more importantly policy changes, is overwhelmingly insurmountable. However, the lack of activation of the final two groups, the lack of coordination in the policy recommendation, and the lack of effective planning is sure to hamper the success. The importance of these five elements should not be overlooked. Although sport is not the sole solution to many of the worlds’ challenges, it’s a viable one to promote change and action.

What’s holding the UN back?

Stay tuned for more posts about the UN’s policy objective and my personal suggestions on how to focus these for maximum effectiveness.

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What would you do with the most powerful tool in the world?

What do all successful people have in common? They can accomplish 10x more than the normal person per day? They can start a business on the side of their multi-billion dollar company, raise 4 kids, write a blog, and found a charity?

Are any of them overweight? Unhealthy? Hating what they do?

HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?

Exercise.

“Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning.” –Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey. (Source: http://www.mylifeatnilico.com/roger-smith-ceo/national-income-life-ceo-roger-smith-on-exercising-the-mind/)

“Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning.” –Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey.
(Source: http://www.mylifeatnilico.com/roger-smith-ceo/national-income-life-ceo-roger-smith-on-exercising-the-mind/)

What happens to your mind and body as a result of physical activity is a mind-blowing asset in any endeavor. Productivity multiplies and successes increase. Busy people swear they don’t have time NOT to work out.

Sure, success is mental. But where does mental strength come from? The strength to stay engaged, innovative, and responsive after hours of meetings, phone calls, and conferences… Successful people know that pushing your body beyond physical boundaries will enhance your ability to overcome mental limitations. Exercise reduces stress, sharpens memory and recall, boosts confidence, and amplifies health.

Exercise = stamina.

“Because the demands of leadership can be quite strenuous, the physical aspects are just as important as everything else”

Continue reading

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Jamaican Bobsled Team: Rise One More Time Than You Fall

The Jamaican Bobsled story proves to the world how all it takes to be left standing is to get up one more time than you are pushed down.

A pushcart derby race and the abundance of talented sprints on the island inspired the Jamaican Bobsled Team’s beginning. Two Americans, George Fitch and William Maloney, married the two ideas into a team consisting of four athletes from the Jamaican military.

Team Jamaica Bobsled was an instant hit as a sunny island competing in a winter sport. However, North American media perceived the Jamaican bobsled team as a joke at first. The team found “cold shoulders and stony faces” from the Federation International de Bobleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) when applying to qualify for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Canada. Their determination triumphed and they finally entered a 2-man and 4-man team.

Garnering support from those who favored the underdog, they were a popular sensation at the 1988 Games, selling tee shirts and chanting their song, ‘Hobbin and Bobbin’ with the other Olympic athletes and fans. They were Jamaica’s first ever athletes in the Winter Olympics. Other Olympians, inspired by their story, were quick to offer guidance, support, and even sleds for the team to compete with.

When it was time for the Games, the Team was more excited than ever. The full attention of the American media (due to Team USA’s untimely elimination from the hockey finals) brought the popularity of the team to its peak. A dark cloud of challenges and hardships followed the team. Chris Stokes was recruited a few days before the race to replace his brother, who suffered an injury while practicing in Canada. Chris had never seen a bobsleigh before, but immediately impacted the team’s start times and lead the team to a competitive position with the top squads. Despite setbacks, they triumphed.

The first run didn’t go so smoothly… the push-bar broke while the driver was running the sleigh up to full-speed. The second run wasn’t any better. Michael White failed to get in the sleigh successfully and was sitting upright during most of the run. They were relieved to actually place 35th in the 2-man competition.

During the next day of competition, the team came out ready to compete with energy and excitement; despite the failure they felt, coupled with banter from the media. With their best start performance, and overall 7th best of the competition, the team reached new high speeds and lost control, causing an echoing crash that filled the arena.

The team had fallen and gotten back up many times. At this moment, however, their dream seemed to be over. The FIBT were proven right: the team was not ready for elite competition. “It was fun while it lasted.” The founders split, with Maloney becoming a member of the Jamaican Olympic delegation and Fitch developing a thriving business and creating the movie “Cool Runnings” about the experiences. The phrase translates in Jamaican as “take it easy, take it cool, and just keep moving along, no matter what challenges you may face.”

From 1988-1993, known as the Wilderness Period, the team suffered a lack of clear leadership and focus. Through continuous failures and loss of respect and support, their dedication persevered, leading them to get up one more time than they had been beaten down.

In 1993, leadership of the Jamaican Bobsled Federation shifted to a focus on serious long-term growth and development. The Head Coach lead the team on an intensive isolated training expedition in former East Germany, and successfully qualified for the 1994 Winter Olympics. The roster benefitted from the addition of Wayne Thomas and Winston Watt, two tremendous athletes and soon to become the best pushers in the world. Other athletes on the roster for the 1994 Games included Tal and Chris Stokes, Ricky McIntosh, and Jerome Lewis. The 4-man team climbed the standings and ended in 14th place, effectively competing amongst the Top 15 best bobsleigh teams in the world, ahead of the Americans, French, Russians, and Italians. On the following day, the 2-team placed 10th, ahead of the former Swiss national champion, which proved to be one of the biggest upsets in bobsleighing history.

“The team had dreamt, suffered, and overcome.”

By now, the FIBT was one of the first to congratulate the team, in contrast to it’s former condemnation of the team after the 1988 performance. The media took back joking comments and replaced them with cheers of respect and honor.

An Olympic medal was now a realistic goal for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games. After much success and hardships, team morale was flanking once again and the dream was fading towards the end of 1997. Chris Stokes rejoined the team as an athlete, stepping down as President of the JBF. Again, six weeks before the Games, the team’s new Head Coach brought a refreshing unity and commitment to the team. Making up for lost time, Jamaica Bobsled performed well and placed 21st in the 4-man competition with the exact same team as in 1994.

The season from 1997-1998 marked the tenth anniversary of Jamaica’s first introduction to bobsleigh. Jamaica’s hosting of the 1999 FIBT’s annual congress signaled how far the sport had come in Jamaica. By the end of 1999, the three remaining active athletes from the 1988 team, Chris Stokes, Dudley Stokes, and Devon Harris retired from competition. Dudley Stokes had been the face and inspiration of Jamaica Bobsled Federation for a decade, and now his era had ended. Chris Stokes recaptured his position as president of the JBF, investing in the future of the team immediately. The first undertaking of the program was an extensive recruitment program encompassing the entire island. The team went on to take gold in three events at the 2000 and 2001 World Bobsled Push Championships.

At the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Late City, Utah, Jamaica’s 2-man team of Winston Watt and Lascelles Brown set an Olympic start record of 4.78 seconds and the team finished in 29th place.  Continue reading

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