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Student-Athlete Development

Female Basketball Coach

Sports-based Youth Development

In the 1990s, positive youth development (PYD) shifted common views of young people from “problems to be solved” to assets in communities and resources to develop. PYD focuses on the strengths of young people and the active promotion of optimal human development. The 1990s also saw the global rise of sport for development/good and increased involvement of international agencies, notably the UN, which published reports, passed resolutions, and opened offices dedicated to sport for good in the early 2000s

In America, a growing patchwork of grassroots organizations that deviated from traditional sports by combining academic and other developmental programming proliferated throughout the 1990s and 2000s. These developments converged in June 2006, when a group of out-of-school time sports programs met for a summit where the term sports-based youth development was created, providing a name for the intentional coupling of sport with PYD that focuses on youth holistically.

Sports and Development

Combining sport with interventions for social good is an increasingly popular approach to solving important problems. The last 30 years has seen rapid growth, attention, and investment in the field, which has been referred to as sport for development or sport for social development and peace, positive youth development through sport, and sports-based youth development, among others. Sport as a change agent has proven to be very adaptable, used by programs ranging from those emerging from large scale humanitarian crises and global conflicts to programs focused on the improvement of a small group of people. The commensurate intervention outcome areas are also diverse, including, but not limited to, academics, physical health, mental health, gender equality and inclusion, cognitive skills, non-cognitive skills (i.e. motivation, conscientiousness, perceptions of self-worth, social skills), employment, positive relationships, social/community cohesion, reduced crime/anti-social behavior, etc.

Benefits from participation in regular physical activity and sports have been well documented. They include long-term health benefits, life skill development, academic achievement, and improve well-being. Physical activity can lead to greater physical and mental health, such as cardiorespiratory fitness, stronger muscles, lower body fat, and stronger bones. Favorable relationships exist between physically active youth and cognitive functions like memory, processing speed, attention, and executive function, as well as improved academic performance and mental health than their less active peers. Not to mention a decrease in risk factors and the development of chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, playing sports can support youth in developing higher levels of psychological well-being and life skills such as goal setting, time-management, and interpersonal skills. These findings, while focused on components included in SBYD, are more often focused on school sport, competitive sport, and other more general youth physical health experiences than they are on specific SBYD programs.

Economic Development

Sport is not a new element in economic development cooperation. It has been used in an ad hoc way to reach development-related objectives as far back as the 1920s.

For example, within the United Nations, humanitarian aid workers have tapped the potential of sport as a means to improve the conditions of victims of conflict and natural disasters for many years.

The UN International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Olympic Committee signed an agreement to collaborate as far back as 1922.

However, sport was largely underestimated as a major tool in humanitarian programs and was rarely used in a systematic way.

More recently, there has been a fundamental shift. Today, more and more national and international development organizations are using sport to add to their approaches in local, regional and global development and peace promotion programs. This is done in close cooperation with sports organizations most of the time.

Despite recent progress, the systematic use of sport and physical education for development is still in its early stages as many remain unconvinced of the impact sport can have on reaching development and humanitarian objectives. Despite some reservations, sport and development has emerged and continues to evolve because of major international policy developments.

"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. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair."

Nelson Mandela


“SEL should be infused into SBYD…SEL should be integrated into all of the program components. However, SEL is not going to work unless staff are properly trained in and model it. That must be a priority.”

Merideth Whitley- Adelphi University

Basil Mitchell, Program Director

"We get caught up in how the elite pros and  programs do things, but the coach/player relationship is where the power is."

Santrecia Mitchell, M.S., Director of Operations

“SEL is at the center of what we’re trying to do. SBYD can impact soft skills, goal setting, confidence, self-efficacy, and can power things in other parts of life."

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