Why sports can be a game changer for kids in need

By Hayley @ Red Nose Day

Nelson Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to change the world.”

I’ve seen this power in action. During my 20-year career, I’ve not only helped athletes achieve marginal performance gains that have meant the difference between winning silver or winning gold, I have also seen the power of sports to bridge language barriers, reduce discrimination, and empower young women to develop confidence and leadership skills.

Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, a Red Nose Day Grantee Partner, has built their impactful work around this very idea. They support programs that utilize sport as a tool to overcome poverty, violence and exclusion. Children benefit from high-quality sports training as well as other health services and educational opportunities. Using sport as a tool for social change creates essential opportunities for underserved young people to become educated, empowered participants in their lives.

I was invited to join the Laureus USA team for a site visit at one of their projects and see how Red Nose Day funds are being put to work to change the lives of kids in low-income communities -- in this case, in the South Bronx, New York. While I’ve seen some of the incredible things sport can do first hand, this was one of the most powerful examples of sport for social change that I have had the privilege to see.

South Bronx United is a program supported by your Red Nose Day donations. It serves over 1,000 school-aged boys and girls, combining recreational and competitive youth soccer with tutoring and academic enrichment, mentoring, health and wellness, leadership, and so much more. Their primary goal is to help disadvantaged youth graduate high school and attend college on a path to fulfill their fullest potential.

I knew I was going to meet with a group of young people who loved to play soccer. What I hadn’t expected was to be met by a group of young people openly and eloquently sharing their background, challenges, hopes, dreams and how playing soccer for South Bronx United had been life-changing -- or should I say game changing -- for them.

Each young player that we met shared how they had overcome tremendous personal adversity, and opened up about how, with the support of their teachers, coaches and mentors, they learned the importance of honing their academic skills just as much as the those in the field. Their love of soccer was evident, but it was the love of their shared experiences, their respect for their coaches and mentors, and their aspirations for the future that was compelling.

 

Kids from South Bronx United

 

This innovative approach works: South Bronx United’s Academy program has seen a stunning 100% high school graduation rate since 2012, compared to the South Bronx average graduation rate of 51% (NYC Department of Education, 2015).

Your Red Nose Day donations are making similar strides through Laureus Sport for Good Foundation programs in over 50 cities across the U.S., including New Orleans, Atlanta, Chicago, and New York City.

Seeing young people become active leaders in their communities and harness their own potential was yet another reminder of how when we all come together, we can make a difference for those in need. Whether it's in our own backyards, or across the globe, all children deserve an equal shot at being the best they can be. Every dollar and each donation, no matter how big or small, makes a difference and moves us that bit closer towards a just world, free from poverty.

And with that, I leave you with sincere thanks for your incredible support of Red Nose Day’s efforts , and more wise words of Nelson Mandela -- in fact it was his speech, at the first Laureus World Sports Awards, that inspired the creation of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, to use to the power of sport to bring people together as a force for good:

“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 they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”

– Nelson Mandela, May 25, 2000; Laureus World Sports Awards Ceremony

The Red Nose Day Team with members of South Bronx United