“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language that they can understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” Nelson Mandela
This is one of my favourite quotes of all time, and it is one that I will always come back to. The power of sport was central to Mandela’s political beliefs. He harnessed his power as a global leader to employ sport to unite his people and to redefine a country’s image.
Sport is a language all in its own, it can speak to people in a way that perhaps words cannot. Far beyond the physical benefits garnered from sports, it can play a significant role for a more inclusive, safer and peaceful society. Through its educational values and worldwide network, it can be utilized in many ways. Sport can help bridge cultural and ethnic divisions, create jobs and even businesses, encourage tolerance, reinforce social integration, and additionally support healthy lifestyles. It can unite people in a genuine and fearless way and can help in the journey to achieve wider human development goals.
I am not suggesting that sports alone can solve all of our global issues. They can, however, generate numerous positive effects and can be a valuable tool in kickstarting the quest for development. When people are on the sports field together there are no hierarchies, there is no gender discrimination, everyone is wearing the same clothes and being treated in the same way. This has very powerful effects.
The Use of Action Sports
Action sports have a real potential in the world of sports for development. They are not sports that promote winners or losers, they all have a very creative element, and for the most part they are gender neutral (i.e. men and women participate equally). They encourage participants to compete alongside one another, learning from each other, supporting each other, without the feeling of competition. This allows people to feel a sense of accomplishment that is purely based on their own skill development.
Action sports support many opportunities for individual empowerment through skills mastery, in addition to beneficial social skills. They provide unique opportunities for social dynamics – men and women participating together, or generally very mixed groups of people coming together with a shared passion. Additionally, these sports tend to teach people a deeper understanding and respect for their surroundings (oceans, beaches, mountains etc.).
Traditionally, most sports require some sort of umpire or referee to control the game and the players. For the most part, action sports are self-regulating and will use a peer to peer mentoring system. This is an extremely beneficial way to teach not only cultural etiquette, but respect, and communication skills.
Here are 10 amazing companies using action sports to promote change:
The Wave Project uses surfing as a tool to bring people together. They have a proven surf therapy programme which helps young people to feel less anxious and take a more positive outlook. They also run beach school projects to encourage children to feel more engaged in education.
Their mission is to teach people to dismiss any negativity and focus on what they can do, as opposed to what they cannot. They use surfing and the ocean as their tools, helping people to recognize that they can rise above any challenge. The Wave Project have projects all over the UK, including in Wales and Scotland.
Surf Action is based in Cornwall and supports veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), physical injuries, or those who are having a hard time re-adjusting to civilian life. Surfing has proven to be powerful tool in the quest to improve psychological wellbeing. Many veterans have found a new lease of life. It is a charity run ‘by the veterans, for the veterans’.
How to help: Help out this fantastic organization by donating, fundraising, volunteering, or they are always looking to forge links with businesses who support veterans and could provide employment opportunities for participants.
One Wave Is All It Takes works on the premise that whether you are riding a wave for the first or for the thousandth time you will never forget the feeling of freedom and joy. Every week OneWave holds ‘Fluro Friday’ sessions to raise awareness about mental health. They dress up in the brightest outfits they can get their hands on and surf, swim and do yoga. They wear fluro clothing as it also has the ability to make people smile, and it engages people to ask important questions about mental health. One Wave’s Fluro Friday’s are free and open to anyone.
How to help: You can donate to One Wave, or you can start your own!! Fluro Friday’s are started by people all over the world. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will get back to you as soon as they can!
Snow Camp turn young lives around through skiing, snowboarding, life skills training, qualifications and work experience. Their goal is to engage inner-city youth through snow sports and in turn deliver life skills training, nationally accepted qualifications and even work experience in order to strengthen their incentives and drive and helping them to find work in the snow sports industry and beyond. They have found that given the opportunity to take part in snow sports acts as the motivator to both engage and maintain a real involvement with them. All of their work takes part at artificial and indoor snow sports centres in the UK.
Free Movement Skateboarding is a non-profit organisation based in Athens, Greece. Founders Will Ascott and Rybu Mateja met while volunteering for ‘Skate Pal’ on the West Bank. They had both experienced the many positive impacts that skateboarding can provide, from gaining self-belief to building an amazing community of friends around a shared passion. Since January 2017 Will and Ruby have been establishing connections with similar projects running inside refugee camps, community centres, squats, within the local skate community and with other international skate charities.
SkatePal is a charity organization that works with communities throughout Palestine teaching kids how to skate, how to build skateparks and more importantly providing safe spaces for locals to get together and ride. Locals constantly battle with economic blockades, tear gas, and the relentless threat of attack. There is an extremely young population (more than 50% of the occupied territories are made up of people under the age of 21) and they have limited social, educational or recreational opportunities. SkatePal chose to use skateboarding as they believe it to be one of the most inclusive sports in the world, it eliminates any pre-conceived divides between class, rage, age, religion and gender.
The Surfers For Autism mission is to “unlock the potential of people with developmental delays, and to support advocacy for autism issues and scientific research.” They focus on rejecting any stigmas by using public education and awareness and bringing communities together through volunteering.
They run regular events where each surfer is offered a very safe environment where between two and four highly skilled surf instructors will guide them into the water. Surfers and their families are treated to a catered lunch and there are plenty of further activities at no cost. These activities range from stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, live music, face-painting, games, bounce houses, fire engine tours and much more.
How to help: Sign up to volunteer for one of their amazing events! You can also make donations via their Facebook page.
Boarding For Breast Cancer was founded by Lisa Hudson, Kathleen Gasparini and pro snowboarders Tina Basich and Shannon Dunn in 1996. B4BC was inspired by a young female snowboarder who was tragically diagnosed with breast cancer at a very young age and lost her battle. The goal was to set up an organization in her honour to help spread awareness and to emphasize the importance of early detection.
They promote a healthy, active and sustainable lifestyle as the best means for breast cancer prevention. B4BC inspires people to make positive choices that encourage lifelong wellness through outreach, prevention, sustainability, and support programs.
How to help: Don’t just help out, get involved. B4BC is an amazing organization and they run a number of events, check out their upcoming events! B4BC are always on the look out for volunteers at their events. They are also accepting donations, and if you are still on the look out for Christmas presents (like me!) check out their awesome range of products !
Skateistan was founded by an Australian traveller in Kabul in 2007. What started as a couple of friends with a couple of skateboards has blossomed into an industry leading programme that inspires youth and adults alike daily. Skateistan is an international initiative that combines skateboarding with educational outcomes. They are now working in Cambodia and South Africa too, reaching thousands of youth. Through their work of empowerment and education they are creating leaders that in turn make a better world. Skateboarding is a very gender-neutral sport, and 40% of Skateistan’s students are female. Since it’s conception Skateistan has grown exponentially and runs a series of programmes for youth. They are a fantastic company and one well worth checking out.
How to help: Donate, host a fundraiser, join the citizens of Skateistan, sign up to volunteer or check out their products, 100% of which go back to Skateistan. (Check out their amazing book, it makes a great Christmas gift!)
First Descents offers outdoor adventures, skills development to young adults fighting cancer. Participants in the programme have the opportunity to surf, climb and paddle beyond their cancer with a range of free programs. Additionally, First Descents provides people with a chance to connect with others who are going through similar experiences. “Our participants experience free outdoor adventure programs that empower them to climb, paddle, and surf beyond their diagnosis, reclaim their lives, and connect with others doing the same.”
Sport provides many lessons beyond physical fitness, it can promote self-belief and confidence, it builds interpersonal skills among people, it can break down gender boundaries, fight discrimination and even raise awareness about issues. It can help communities to overcome differences and can even help the healing process for populations dealing with trauma. Sports brings joy and fun and it can alleviate negativity. It is a language all on its own and we don’t need to be able to speak the same verbal language in order to enjoy sports together. Sports teach us to celebrate play and to celebrate ourselves and others around us, for many it is a creative outlet that has numerous mental benefits.
Let us know if there are any sports organisations that you help out with or even run, we would love to hear your stories!