Life Skills and Sport for Development and Peace

Hello All,

I’m new to Terry*.  I saw a link on the Terry* site for the SDP talk that took place prior to the Olympics, so I am making a huge assumption that people have a general idea of what sport for development and peace is.  If you don’t, there are links throughout this post that might help.

I’m currently working in Lesotho with a SDP programme called Coaching for Hope (Check out this link for information or check out my blog). It is an organization that uses soccer/football to disseminate messages on HIV/AIDS.  It seems like an odd combination, HIV/AIDS and sport, but for organizations working in SDP it is very common. Right to Play is probably the most well known in Canada.

I do not have a problem with HIV/AIDS awareness programmes, but one thing that makes me cringe is that most of these organizations, Right to Play included, will claim that their aim is to teach life skills and promote behavior change. To teach a skill you need to provide someone with knowledge and then they need to be able to apply that knowledge. This is where I feel there is a problem with life skills and it can be illustrated by a Lesotho newspaper article.



The article was about the rape of a 16 year old girl by a man who is HIV positive. The headline itself is unfortunately common, but what struck me was how the man tried to defend himself

“I admit that I chased and stabbed her with a knife. She consented to sex because she was scared.”

His defense was that he did not rape her because she consented to sex as a result of him stabbing her.


If rape is common, if a wife is not allowed to refuse sex with her husband, if a women does not have the power to demand the use of a condom, or if a young man is so poor that his decisions are based on survival, then what can life skills education hope to achieve?

Are life skills and behavior change – two concepts which emphasize individual choice – relevant in situations where there are power imbalances and individuals may lack the freedom to choose?

Because I didn’t want to go way over the suggested post length with my first post I neglected to bring up some other interesting questions: Who decides what life skills are important and in what contexts? Through what mechanisms do people learn life skills in sport and are these mechanisms transferable across cultures? Do life skills and other SDP buzzwords like empowerment and self-esteem carry the same meaning across cultures?

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Shawn graduated from UBC a number of years ago when he completed a Bachelor of Human Kinetics, followed by a Bachelor of Education. Not really interested in toiling away in a particular school district in B.C., he decided to go abroad and ended up teaching P.E. in China. His last year coincided with the Beijing Olympics and seemed like a fitting way to conclude his time in Asia. Through work and travel experiences he took an interest in international issues and development and completed a Certificate in International Development through UBC Continuing Studies. Shawn returned to Canada and worked for a year as a teacher-on-call before deciding it was time to explore his interest in international development a bit more. He is now working in Lesotho (a small country inside of South Africa) on an HIV/AIDS project run by the Lesotho Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (LENEPWHA). The project has a sport-for-development component that is using soccer to reach out to, and provide services for, orphaned and vulnerable children. At the same time Shawn had also applied to start graduate studies at UBC and will officially start his MA this year. His posts will reflect his personal and work experiences in Lesotho, and the concept of sport as a tool in development.

5 Responses to “Life Skills and Sport for Development and Peace”

  1. ElysaHogg

    You’ve related the concept of behaviour change and life skills and related it (to something that honestly, I know nothing about) sport and recreation in development.

    I understand that you’re placing this discussion within the context of HIV/AID awareness programmes. Nonetheless, I feel it’s important, as I’m sure you would agree, to reiterate the importance of providing life skills and behaviour change. That being said, their success is only as good as the environment in which they take place in. Surely any activity, regardless of its principles, will not be beneficial in a society that is unable to provide necessary infrastructure.
    In response to your questions:
    -One would hope that experts with a range of experience and knowledge would effectively choose the life skills important given the context of a development programme. Alas, self-interest trumps rationality again. NGOs, like Right to Play, will inevitably receive more funding and attention if operating in areas of international interest, like the 12 African countries they list and the Palestinian territories. But do each of these countries provide sufficient safety and infrastructure? What about political, social and economic context? Does soccer matter if children are dying of hunger and HIV? Personally, I don’t think it does. I think advocacy for anti-viral drug availability and food aid or agriculture education are more important.

    Lastly, I do believe that buzz words like empowerment and self-esteem carry the same meaning across countries. However, I feel that their value varies within context. As a female, if my main concern is my husband or neighbour raping me, self-esteem will not be my biggest concern. Will it be affected? Of course. But I would rather have resources that allow for my safety and security.

    Kudos to your program, LENEPWAH. Using sport as a way of including a marginalized sector of society in a country that allows for this to safely occur is, in my opinion, an excellent use of this “life skill” activity.

  2. ShawnForde

    I think that the sport programmes like the one I am working on can have some benefit in disseminating messages on HIV/AIDS. I am still not convinced of the whole ‘life skills’ rhetoric though.

    I think we would be deluding ourselves if we said that we knew how to effectively teach life skills through sport in Canada. How individuals and how cultures interact with sport is incredibly diverse. If Elysa and I were to join the same sports programme it is likely that we would have vastly different reactions and perceptions of the process.

    I do believe it is important for people to learn life skills, but I am not so sure life skills can be taught through set curricula.

    I have always liked the distinction that William Easterly makes between ‘Planners’ and ‘Searchers’ in International development. To me it seems like a lot of the SDP field is made up of Planners. We are deciding what life skills are important and we are deciding that we can use sport to teach these skills. We are also defining the meaning that people should derive from sport.

    I think you hit on a key point where you mention the willingness of a society to provide a safe space to play. I think it would be more appropriate for NGOs to work towards that end. Supporting local youth sports systems to provide safe spaces for children to play. If sport can have any ancillary social benefit, shouldn’t it be up to the local communities to determine that?

  3. Kate Cowan

    Interesting post – very relevant questions. I also work in the field of S&D – based in the Caribbean. I think more of a critical question has to revolve around sport itself and does sport itself provide inherent life skills? I fully agree that if the infrastructures is not strong within a community then a sports program may not be the number one priority, however no matter the infrastructure children have rights and children learn through PLAY.

    I don’t think life skills are taught through curriculums but are learned through opportunities and communication with others, therefore I would have to argue that by providing an opportunity to participate in sport programming and encouraging and facilitating discussions – life values will be build and life skills established.

  4. ShawnForde

    Hi Kate,

    Are you working with CGC in the Caribbean? I would be interested to hear what you are up to.

    I think you make a couple of good points. I would add to your point about children having the right to play and say that regardless of the infrastructure, equipment, and local context children will usually find ways to play – However, if it safe for them to do so is a different issue.

    I think you make a good point when asking if sport inherently teaches life skills.

    I still question the need to have explicit discussions on life skills though. I believe I learned life skills through sport, but it was not the result of a coach sitting me down and directly talking about decision making, self esteem, or communication. I believe it was a complex interaction of many factors. To me it just seems forced.

    Why are we not promoting these life skills discussion through youth sports in Canada? I believe that Right to Play has programmes in Canada involving First Nations youth, but I am not sure the life skills rhetoric is pushed in mainstream youth sports. Why do we focus on life skills in situations involving HIV/AIDS, poverty, or marginalized populations? Through imposing life skills – that for the most part we have defined – are we not perpetuating a power dynamic in which ‘we’ are teaching ‘them’?

    I also have to clarify that I am bringing these points up mostly for the sake of discussion. I still haven’t clarified most of these issues in my own mind.

  5. Kate Cowan

    I think you have raised some questions that I have struggled with ever since I entered the field of sport and development. The program that I have been working with has been built around more of a Sport+ philosophy vs. a +Sport philosophy. I have always said that the worst reason for the use of sport is to attract children to an event. When the children show up they are given 15 minutes of activity, the ball is then hidden and the event is turned into a lecture or inactive discussion period on health issues that may or may not be a concern to the community. I call this “hide the ball syndrome” and believe this is a bad example of how to use sport to address life skills.

    I do believe and think that discussions are important but I feel they need to be child led and “appear” to be informal to be effective. I have witnessed some very effective and relevant discussions that start off related to the activity played but lead into a challenge that the children are currently struggling with, I have also witnessed some “forced” discussions that have nothing to do with the activity that was played and do not relate to the child’s life experiences.

    I would like to see some of these discussions idea be introduced into the Canadian Sport System but I feel the first step in doing this would be introducing a life skills session through Canada’s National Coaching Certification Program and then maybe through YMCAs and Boys and Girl Club Training’s.

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