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  • Norman Brook

How does teaching life skills through sport contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals?

Sport for development and peace (S4DP) organisations seek to achieve a balance in their programming between delivering a quality sports experience and developing the life skills of participants.

Their interest is not just in developing individuals as players but also in equipping them with the skills they will need to successfully negotiate life’s challenges outside of sport. Develop the person not just the player.

Life Skills

Life skills were originally defined by the World Health Organization[i] as a group of psychosocial competencies and interpersonal skills that help people make informed decisions, solve problems, think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, build healthy relationships, empathize with others, and cope with and manage their lives in a healthy and productive manner.

Life skills are not normally seen as a domain, or a subject, but as cross-cutting applications of knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes which are important in the process of individual development and lifelong learning.

UNICEF[ii] views life skills are part of a rights-based approach to learning. Children are fundamentally entitled to quality education that respects their dignity and expands their abilities to live a life they value and to transform the societies in which they live.

Life skills education that helps young people develop a) critical thinking and problem-solving skills, b) that builds their sense of personal worth and agency and teaches them to c) interact with others constructively and effectively, has transformative potential.

Our life skills determine how well we can manage challenges and risks, maximize opportunities, and solve problems in cooperative, non-violent ways. Life skills are defined as a group of cognitive, personal, and inter-personal skills that enhance such abilities.

Life skills learning – whether formal or informal – does not take place in a vacuum, and the ultimate expression of life skills learning – adaptive and positive behaviour – is greatly influenced by the environment in which individuals live, learn and act. For young people, participating in sport for social change programmes can have a strong influence on the values, cognitive, personal, and inter-personal skills that they develop.

Life skills can therefore be a mixture of an individual’s a) personal, intra-personal and cognitive skills, b) their knowledge, and c) their mindset or attitude. What an individual has, knows, believes and values results in what they can do.

Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations is an international organisation that includes almost every country in the world. The United Nations have adopted 17 Global Goals, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.

Everyone has a part to play in taking action to achieve these goals, individuals, communities, national and international organisations. Personal adoption of the SDGs moves us closer to achieving them. Small changes can make big differences. Living sustainably leads to better personal health, greater prosperity in our communities and a healthier environment.

Physical Education, Sport, and Physical Activity can contribute to sustainable development and peace.

The Kazan Action Plan has identified 10 SDGs that sport can contribute the most to. The Kazan Action Plan was adopted by over 100 countries that attended the MINEPS VI conference in July 2017. The plan calls for action to maximise the contribution sport makes to Sustainable Development and Peace and to achieve the following:

II.1 Improve health and well-being of all, at all ages

II.2 Make cities and settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable

II.3 Provide quality education, and promote lifelong learning for all and skills development through sport

II.4 Build peaceful, inclusive, and equitable societies

II.5 Provide economic growth and full and productive employment and work for all

II.6 Advance gender equality and empower all women and girls

II.7 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns and take urgent actions to combat climate change and its impacts

II.8 Build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels

Linking Life Skill Education to the Sustainable Development Goals

S4DP programmes that teach life skills seek to address social issues and to make an impact at an individual or community level. It is the impact at an individual or community level that contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals.

If we take the example of social cohesion which is defined as the willingness of members of a society to cooperate with each other to survive and prosper. Social Cohesion is the extent to which people are co-operative, within and across group boundaries, without coercion or purely self-interested motivation. Developing social cohesion can contribute to building inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities and settlements (SDG 11).

Consider what personal, intra-personal, cognitive skills, knowledge, and mindset would be required to cooperate with each other in communities to work together to build inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable communities.

  • Personal skills such as self-confidence

  • Intra-personal skills such as empathy, communication, conflict resolution and collaboration

  • Cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem solving

  • Knowledge of the community, its structures, and the issues it faces

  • A mindset that people and community matter and that problems can be addressed by working together

Developing life skills on their own may not be sufficient to affect the individual and community change needed to build inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable communities. Change requires individuals and communities to act if change is to take place and this is where S4DP organisations need to create enabling environments and develop personal agency in their programme participants.[iii] Through enabling environments and personal agency young people in our programmes can learn to act, to use their life skills and effect change.

Research around positive youth development[iv] has identified the following three conditions as being important if young people are to develop their life skills and be empowered to contribute to sustainable development at individual, family, community, and civil society levels:

  1. Positive and sustained adult-youth relations (relations between a young person and an adult who is competent, caring and continually available, for at least a year, such as a coach or teacher)

  2. Life skill building activities

  3. Opportunities for youth participation in and leadership of valued family, school, and community activities

This reinforces the role of facilitators in providing life skills education, creating enabling environments where youth can participate and use their voices, and developing personal agency in participants in order that they can take action to contribute to social change and sustainable development.

Contributing to Sustainable Development

S4DP programmes that teach life skills, provide enabling environments, and develop personal agency help young people take personal and collective action that leads to the change that contributes to achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The attached Word document features a table that illustrates how sport when combined with life skills education can lead to personal and collective action that can contribute to the sustainable development goals. The development of life skills can contribute to different Sustainable Development Goals. In the table we feature the 10 Sustainable Development Goals highlighted in the Kazan Action Plan as those that sport can make a significant contribution to.

Life skills developed through sport cont
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[i] World Health Organization. Division of Mental Health. (‎1994)‎. Life skills education for children and adolescents in schools. Pt. 1, Introduction to life skills for psychosocial competence. Pt. 2, Guidelines to facilitate the development and implementation of life skills programmes, 2nd rev. World Health Organization. [ii] Education for Change and UNICEF, Global Evaluation of Life Skills Education Programmes Final Report, New York, 2012, p.1.

[iii] Translating Competencies to Empowered Action; A Framework for Linking Girls’ Life Skills Education to Social Change, Christina Kwauk and Amanda Braga, Center for Universal Education at Brookings, 2017.

[iv] Lerner, Richard & Lerner, Jacqueline & Lewin-Bizan, Selva & Bowers, Edmond & Boyd, Michelle & Mueller, Megan & Napolitano, Christopher. (2011). Positive Youth Development: Processes, Programs, and Problematics. Journal of Youth Development. 6. 40-64.

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