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Making the most of opportunities: Harnessing the potential of youth – and the MOVE Congress

Young people comprise one of the most engaged groups in grassroots sport. At the same time, they are some of the most underestimated contributors to grassroots sport organisations. John Downes and James Gregory from StreetGames in the UK and Laska Nenova from WOW SPORT in Bulgaria are three people who believe that giving young people more opportunities to make decisions, take responsibility and feel a sense of ownership when they’re working in grassroots sports organisations and clubs will not only keep them engaged, but could inspire them to become social entrepreneurs. That was their shared message at the MOVE Congress 2013.


“Stop believing young people are only good at distributing flyers!” Nenova told participants at the ‘Grassroots sports organisations and young entrepreneurs’ workshop, presenting one example of how youthful energy and dedication is often misconceived and misused by organisations.


Downes also presented a ladder model showing how organisations tend to use young contributors – who are often volunteers – from (at the negative end of the scale) manipulating them and using them as “decorations”, to consulting them for feedback and input, to involving them in directing activities and making decisions at the top level. Finding a comfortable and valued place on this figurative ladder, and knowing that they have the mobility to climb it, gives young people a clear pathway that they can use to develop entrepreneurial skills, he said.


Adopting strategies to harness the potential of youth requires a careful balance to ensure that both the organisation and the young person get the most of the young person’s willingness to get involved and help out. Sometimes this means assigning roles and responsibilities; at other times it is simply a matter of letting them decide how they want to contribute.


Gregory and Nenova agreed that flexibility is key, and that allowing young people to experiment and learn from their mistakes is an important way to keep them motivated.


What it ultimately comes down to, according to Gregory, is creating an environment that values and empowers youth in grassroots sport and combines the “Right place, right style and right people”. In fact, this is a great recipe to get anyone active, he said.


There’s always room for more ideas to get people active – MOVE Congress inspires youth experts

ISCA member StreetGames was represented by three speakers to the MOVE Congress 2013, Gregory, Downes and Kerry McDonald, who presented in the ‘Engaging socially disadvantaged groups in sport and physical activity’ parallel session. While Gregory and Downes spoke about the strategies they used to keep young people active in grassroots sport, they also said they looked to the MOVE Congress for new ideas and inspiration.


“I’m expecting some really good examples of great practice,” Gregory said. “[For example], how it’s easy to get people to move and how people can overcome challenges to make more people move as well. So I’m ready to take it back to the UK and make people move more.”


Downes was excited to spread the word about StreetGames’ Doorstep Sport Clubs programme for socially disadvantaged youth aged between 14 and 25 at the MOVE Congress 2013 Open Market Fair.


“Maybe there are other organisations in other countries that can join together and create a kind of ‘Doorstep Sport’ movement across Europe,” he said. “Hopefully we can add to that and bring some learning for that [from the Congress].”


StreetGames aims to create 1000 Doorstep Sports Clubs as part of the UK Government and Sport England’s 2013-2017 Youth Sport Strategy - Creating a sporting habit for life. But who knows how far and wide the initiative will stretch using the MOVE Congress as a stepping stone to other markets?



Read more about StreetGames’ Doorstep Sports Clubs