A Rewarding Experience

The next time a parent gives you an earful about how your program operates, be thankful. That’s right … thankful.

Admittedly, overseeing a youth-sports program comes with a truckload of frustration, but it’s also an enormous privilege to be at the helm of something that has so many life-changing consequences for children.

I was reminded of just how lucky recreation professionals are here in the United States while on a recent trip abroad.

I do quite a bit of traveling–but often to places that certainly don’t make any travel agent’s list of must-see destinations. And that certainly goes for this one.

I visited Quiche, a city in northern Guatemala ravaged by gangs and still trying to recover from a decades-long civil war in which hundreds of thousands of innocent people died. The city is currently wrestling with a youth population that relies heavily on drugs and crime to fill their never-ending hours of free time.

Since gangs are created out of boredom and the need to belong, and violence is only the aftermath, I truly believe that Quiche–like many underprivileged regions of the world–has a rampant drug problem because of non-existent sports programming.

Starting To Get It

I was thrilled to hear that the United Nations recently passed a resolution titled, “Sport as a means to promote education, health, development and peace” at its 65th General Assembly.

The resolution, introduced by Monaco and Tunisia, encourages the use of sports as a vehicle to:

• Foster development and strengthen education

• Prevent disease

• Empower girls and women

• Foster the inclusion and well-being of persons with disabilities

• Facilitate conflict-prevention and peace-building.

“The continuous commitment by the world’s nations to promote sport as an efficient policy tool and its capability to be used as a catalyst for development and peace is key to the success of initiatives at the grassroots level,” says Wilfried Lemke, the UN Secretary-General’s special adviser on Sport for Development and Peace. I couldn’t agree more.

Sister Searing

Sister Virginia Searing, head of the Barbara Ford Center in Quiche, is part of that ever-growing contingent across the globe that is seeing the true value of sports and the powerfully positive role they can play in a community wrapped in despair.

During my visit, she told me that after spending the past 18 years there watching young lives spiral out of control, she believes the missing piece to the puzzle is sports.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is on board as well. It has been using sports as a means to promote understanding and peace in the developing world. The agency reports that there is growing understanding that sports programs are powerful vehicles to advance development in countries like Guatemala.

So, although overseeing youth sports programs is by no means an easy task, it is an important one. I thought it was worth reminding all of you just how vital your role truly is every day.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via e-mail at fengh@nays.org. To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit www.nays.org or contact Emmy Martinez at emartinez@nays.org or (800) 729-2057.

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