The beauty of sport

Skills DevelopmentYoung people

Footsteps 109 - Youth

Footsteps 109 celebrates the energy and creativity of young people and discusses how to provide the support they need to flourish.

The beauty of sport

Participation in sport can greatly improve the physical and emotional health of young people. It can also increase confidence, promote positive involvement in society and help bring a sense of hope for the future.

Sport provides many opportunities for young people to support each other, on and off the pitch. Photo: Asociación Cristiana Deportiva, Colombia
Sport provides many opportunities for young people to support each other, on and off the pitch. Photo: Asociación Cristiana Deportiva, Colombia

‘Sport builds bridges between individuals and across communities, providing a fertile ground for sowing the seeds of development and peace.’

Wilfried Lemke, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace

Through sport, young people learn key values such as honesty, teamwork, fair play, respect for others and how to follow rules. It helps them learn how to deal with competition, and how to cope with both winning and losing. 

Sport is an attractive activity for young people, and can form a successful basis for peacebuilding, health, education and other programmes.  

Below are some of the main things to think about when developing a sports programme. 

Physical health 

One of the most obvious benefits of sport is good physical health. Exercise can help reduce the risk of becoming overweight, heart disease, diabetes and other medical conditions. 

It is important to teach participants how to avoid injury. This includes warming up properly, building fitness levels gradually and knowing when to stop and take a break. During sports programmes advice can be given on healthy eating, sexual health and the dangers of smoking, drugs and alcohol. 

Mental health 

Physical activity can reduce anxiety levels and increase feelings of well-being and self-esteem. In addition, being able to talk through problems with friends and older role models can help people find their own solutions to the things that are upsetting them. 

For people who have experienced trauma (because of bereavement, war, violence, rejection or a natural disaster, for example), sport can play an important role in their recovery. Exercise, friendships, fun and the chance to talk can all help as people come to terms with what they have been through. 


For people living with disabilities, getting involved in sport can build confidence and self-esteem. Wherever possible, make it easy for people with different kinds of disability to join in. 

Be aware that although some disabilities are obvious (eg limited mobility), many are relatively hidden (eg depression, hearing impairments and some intellectual disabilities). Try to offer several different sports so your programme will appeal to as many people as possible.

In Nepal, young people enjoy playing volleyball at every opportunity. Photo: Andrew Philip/Tearfund
In Nepal, young people enjoy playing volleyball at every opportunity. Photo: Andrew Philip/Tearfund

Gender equality 

In some countries, girls and women are rarely involved in sport. However, finding ways to include people of both genders can enhance any programme. Consider whether mixed or single-sex teams will work best in your context. Try to have female and male coaches so both girls and boys have role models to look up to and talk to. 

Making friends 

Sport is a social activity and is a good way for young people to meet each other in a safe environment. Friendship, and having a common focus, encourages feelings of belonging. Make sure there is plenty of time for socialising and fun, alongside sports and teaching. 

Managing conflict 

Football and other team sports can help young people learn how to manage conflict and keep control of their emotions, even if things are not going their way. Fair play and the ability to follow rules are important life skills. If tensions begin to rise, step in quickly to resolve the situation. Encourage those involved to explain their point of view in a calm manner (without interruption from the other players). This will demonstrate that everyone has a voice, and that their opinions matter. Help the players to decide for themselves how to overcome the problem – perhaps by going back over the rules of the game, or by making it easy for players to have a break if they are getting upset. 


Sporting competitions and tournaments can break down barriers between churches and communities, and between different faiths. Sport at its best provides a neutral environment where everyone is following the same rules and no one is judged according to their background. It allows friendships to form and prejudices to be overcome. 


Sport-based programmes have been shown to improve the learning performance of children and young people, and their chances of getting a job. Sport builds leadership skills and enhances energy levels. It also improves concentration, persistence and self-discipline. Successful programmes encourage a desire to succeed and usually result in greater ambition and improved school attendance.

‘One might ask how significant being a voice for peace on a football pitch is in the grand scheme of things. But it is important to remember that the anger and violence sometimes seen on the pitch are often representative of the way people deal with conflict generally in society. In a country with such strong divisions, football can overcome barriers and cause different communities to come together.’
Ramy Taleb, Foundation for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, Lebanon 

‘Many pastors in Cambodia consider sport to be just a game, not a ministry. Sometimes they do not allow their Christian youth to form a football team in church, or join any sport training. They miss the opportunity to support young people in this way. 

‘I formed a football team but I faced many challenges because I had no skills or technical support. So when people came to play football, they only thought about fun and nothing else.

‘In 2017, I attended training which was facilitated by the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia. I learnt how to set up and manage sports teams (girls and boys) and I now lead the programme much more effectively. I send all my youth leaders to attend the training and encourage other pastors to do the same.’
 Lun Sokhom, Pastor of Kampong Thom Methodist Church, Cambodia

‘It is important to have a long-term commitment, walking with each young person as they work out what is important to them, and the direction they want their lives to take. They often come from very difficult circumstances and it can take a long time for them to turn their lives around.

‘This is not just for Sundays, it is a process. Many years of friendship, guidance and discipleship need to be invested if there is to be lasting change. ‘After 20 years, we are beginning to see some of the young people we have worked with coming back to help as volunteers and teachers. They are now supporting children and young people who are in the same situation as they used to be.’

Yinho Marcella, Asociación Cristiana Deportiva, Colombia