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Sport as conduit for ‘at risk’ youth

Monday, February 1, 2016

Success of the Tuesday Night Boxing at Brian Lara’s residence and T&T Red Force successfully defending the Nagico Super 50 title has once again raised the hope of sport being a solution to the social problems beleaguering the nation’s youth.  The general view is that sport provides a conduit for the youth to direct their energies and attention to aid in their holistic development. 

Sport programmes have the potential to serve as a social control strategy of deviance and violence among the youth population. The key to youth development through sport is the quality of the sport programme and the leadership competencies of the administrators, coordinators, coaches and parents. However, it is important that these sport programmes are linked to strategies that are designed to address the social and economic problems in the communities where social deviance and violence is most likely to occur. 

The benefits of sports participation cover a range of important areas of youth development.  The youth can benefit from developing a habit of involvement in physical activity which can extend throughout her/his lifetime. A physical activity habit also has the potential to improving fitness level. In addition, youth involvement in sports can contribute to establishing important prosocial and emotional skills, moral values and high levels of self-esteem. 

However, any attempt to effectively use sports as a means of addressing ‘youth at risk’ requires an analytical framework to assess deviance. Additionally, the collection of reliable data is necessary for effective monitoring and evaluation.  It is very easy to speak about the benefits of sport but quantifying and qualifying its successes requires a strategic approach. 

The LifeSport and Hoop of Life Programmes were heralded as sporting answers. The LifeSport Programme never got off the ground and is presently the subject of a police investigation. An estimated $36M was budgeted for the Hoop of Life Programme over three years. Two burning questions that requires answering is whether this programme achieved its objectives and were these objectives based upon any strategic thinking informed by proper research and analysis?

When deciding upon using sport as a panacea for deviance a number of important questions and issues have to be objectively weighed. Can it be said with assurance that sport is the best means to inculcate important life skills?  Is sport the focus? Is sport a sustainable industry for participants in the programmes? Are there other programmes already existing to which the resources could be combined to provide greater opportunity to the participants? Is the technical expertise of psychologists, social workers etc being used in conjunction with sporting personalities? It must not be assumed that playing sport automatically results in a person being an effective coach or mentor especially when dealing with ‘youth at risk’. How are programmes to be measured in terms of outcomes? Is the implementation approach top-down or collaborative where participants are part of the decision making process? How is the data being collected? How is the data being used in the evaluation of the programme?

If the problems facing ‘youth at risk’ are related to structured economic decline and inequalities in the communities identified, why is there a belief that organized youth sport programmes will solve the many problems? 

As much as the intention may be good, it is important that those who use sport as a means of quieting social deviance, remember that sport is only a tool in the development process and as such must not be expected to produce miracles. Strategic collaborative efforts involving stakeholders are very important, not only to ensure that the best ideas are considered and implemented, but equally important to ensure that there is no duplication and or wastage of scare economic resources.


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