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The Importance of Teaching Young Athletes to Give Back to Their Communities - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

Involvement in athletic programming can instill a number of positive traits and experiences in young athletes. From casual sports activities to highly competitive youth travel teams, playing sports as young people can instill a range of values and opportunities that might not have been achievable otherwise.

For example, athletics can provide a profound platform for teaching young people to value, appreciate, and give back to their communities. This doesn't usually happen by chance. It's important as coaches, managers, volunteers, and leaders to cultivate this priority within your sports environment, team, or organization.

But when done well, teaching athletes the importance of contributing back to their communities can create profound ripple effects that benefit both athletes and their communities alike for years to come.

community volunteer service

Athletics' Natural Bent Towards Promoting Community Health

For most young athletes, their first experiences of sport happened in community settings. Perhaps they were enrolled in peewee soccer or tee ball at the local community center, or simply enjoyed playing games with the kids on the block or playground while growing up. And while sport experiences diversify as children get older to include and eventually emphasize school sports or travel clubs, community sport settings and organizations remain a staple sport experience for many children and adolescents and, for some, continue into adulthood.

Sport activities create natural community development opportunities. The power of sport to connect people and bring them together is well-documented and can be observed in virtually every context and society around the world. Community athletic opportunities can be a backbone of cohesion, relationships, and activity for participants of all types and ages. Sport is a natural conductor and facilitator of connection. Because of this, it can be used to foster awareness, affinity, and support amongst its participants for the communities that house them.

The Power of Influence: Helping Athletes Use Their Voices for Good

Because of this strong natural correlation between sport activity and the local communities in which those sport experiences happen, it takes just a little bit of intentionality to use sport involvement as a way of encouraging athletes to value and give back to their communities.

Every community faces challenges. Your athletes may be well aware of those hardships or inequities. Or they may have never imagined those problems could exist. Perhaps different sections of your local community have differing levels of access to resources like healthcare or quality education.

Maybe your community faces job insecurities, struggles to house or care for its most vulnerable, or is dealing with environmental problems. Members of your community could live below the poverty line or might be unable to attend school or get childcare. Whatever your community needs might look like, athletes - even young athletes - have the power to influence those challenges for good and help alleviate them for the most vulnerable members of your community.

Creating a culture of community contribution amongst your athletes can be as simple as teaching them to look for problems or challenges within their localities and then coming up with ideas for how to address and alleviate them. If you are a coach or sport organizer, here are a few ideas for incorporating this into your sport organization:

Invite a local community member to speak to your athletes about a problem or challenge they face. This can expose your athletes to different experiences or help them know they aren't alone if they can relate.

mentor with kids

Institute a community give-back day or activity during the season. Whether at the beginning of the season, after the season is complete, or in the form of a monthly outing, incorporating a service day or volunteer opportunity in your sports season can be an effective way of involving your athletes in contributing to their community.

Ask your athletes to choose a community need to contribute to over the season. Especially for older athletes, letting them guide the process and investigate needs in their community themselves can often create huge buy-in and often expose you to new experiences and challenges you might not have known about.

How Community Investment Activities Can Inspire a Lifetime of Contribution

Athletes who were encouraged to contribute towards their communities when they were young are often more likely to continue engaging in proactive contribution as they get older. From pursuing careers in exercise science or medical sciences to becoming coaches or volunteers in their communities as adults, young athletes who are taught to contribute back to their communities are far more likely to continue the habit for the rest of their lives.

Articles by Sarah Daren