I’ve gotten questions recently from a number of PSI’s country platforms on how to incorporate sports into their product promotion and communication activities. Rather than trying to answer myself, I thought I’d pass on a few thoughts from someone with more practical experience in the field: Ousmane Gbane, who manages JHU/CCP’s Sports for Life (SFL) program in Côte d’Ivoire. SFL Côte d’Ivoire recently won an AfriComNet Award for Excellence in HIV/AIDS Communication in Africa, for which it was recognized as the best multi-channel communication program of 2008.
What is SFL?
SFL is an HIV prevention program that targets in-and out-of-school youth age 10-14 in Cote d’Ivoire. Launched in August 2006, the program is based on five core activity areas:
- Small group activities using the SFL life skills curriculum;
- Individual reflection using Extra Time, an SFL workbook that is modeled on soccer magazines popular in Cote d’Ivoire and elsewhere in Africa;
- Community outreach activities conducted by participating young people (and their SFL “coaches”);
- Mass media programming utilizing local celebrities (including Ivorian soccer star Yaya Gnegnery Toure); and
- Large-scale soccer tournaments between SFL “teams.”
What sets SFL apart from other sport for development programs is its integrated, multi-channel approach, which means that young people are exposed to key program messages through many different channels at the same time. The involvement of celebrity ambassadors is also important, as it helps lend credibility to the program in the eyes of parents, trainers, and private sector partners.
When is it most appropriate to use a sport for development approach?
Sport for development is most effective in a context where young people are really passionate about sports, and where there are local stars for a particular sport that can be used as role models. The approach can be used in in-school or out-of-school settings, as well as during vacation periods, when many other youth-serving programs are not active. Developing and implementing a sport for development program doesn’t necessarily require a huge amount of resources, so it can be launched in settings where resources are limited. Indeed, this is often where a sports program is most appreciated, as it provides young people with a healthy, active way to occupy their time.
What are the three most important lessons you’ve learned in the course of your experience implementing a sport for development program?
Using sports to tackle a serious subject like HIV/AIDS can make the learning environment lighter and more fun, and help combat stigma and discrimination around the disease. It allows for the organic development of self esteem, helping young people build their confidence both on the field and off. We have found that having young people conduct outreach activities with their peers, parents, and other members of the community has been a particularly valuable way of building this confidence and helping to solidify values and a positive group identity.
Gadgets and other materials are important for young people, as they are considered a sign of belonging and group identity. Neglecting this fact may mean that young people lose motivation over time.
Intensive training, supervision, and monitoring of coaches or facilitators is essential, especially if they are not accustomed to active, participatory learning approaches or HIV prevention programming (SFL recruits PE teachers to do much of its coaching).
One criticism of sport for development programs is that they don’t effectively reach girls or young women. What advice could you give to sport for development programs that would like to enhance girls’ involvement in their activities?
It is harder to recruit girls than boys, but girls aren’t opposed to participating in sports programs. Scheduling activities during school vacations – when there is often little for girls to do – can also help boost participation. Tailoring your program to a sport popular among girls is another way to interest them. Finally, involving parents early and often can help ensure that they support girls’ participation in program activities.
To learn more about SFL Cote d’Ivoire, check out their website. The site includes campaign materials and key program tools, as well as an overview of how the SFL model has been used in other African countries. Other organizations working in sport for development include Grassroot Soccer, Mercy Corps, and Right to Play. For more resources, see Street Football World or Sports and Development.