Sports Volunteer Programs Abroad
Over the last decade there has been a pronounced increase in the number of organizations working within the field of sports for development. These actors include small NGOS working to teach life skills to youth or marginalized groups through the mechanism of sport, to larger groups like Grass Roots Soccer, which uses soccer (football) to teach youth about HIV and preventive measures, to large development institutions like the United Nations.
There is a general agreement that the term sport for development refers to programs focused on sport as a tool for development and which are not only aiming to increase sporting participation and the skills which are labeled within ‘sports development’. Sports of all variety are rather viewed as a tool or mechanism to create social change.
As such, there are many ways to get involved, particularly as an intern or as a sports volunteer abroad. The field of sport for development is still viewed as being very young and therefore there are many types of groups joining which makes it more difficult to set definitions for the field.
In order to get the most out of a volunteer abroad experience with a sport for development organization it is imperative to find an organization that is working to use sport in an area that is of interest to you. For example, if one is interested in conflict resolution and learning how sport can be used as a tool in communities dealing with or recovering from conflict, then it is advisable to do the research and find groups which do prioritize using sport to create peace in their communities.
Or if one is more interested in how sport can be used to foster gender equity, again, doing research beforehand is important. Many groups do overlap within these goals and often one will find an organization that expresses its mission of using sport for conflict resolution, gender equity and teaching life skills.
Many organizations have profiles on key platforms in this field and perusing these platforms for an organization that fits one’s interest is an important step. Start with the International Platform on Sport for Development, Beyond Sport Members section, and Streetfootballworld Network to learn how different organizations are using sport as a tool for development. One will see that as mentioned above, sport includes all types of sports across the spectrum and that the development objectives vary from organization to organization.
In terms of volunteer positions within organizations, the details of the position are normally dependent on the objectives of the organization. An interested candidate can expect to find opportunities to be a:
- Volunteer coach of the program’s sport and to work with youth or assist the local coaches in capacity building.
- Communications officer responsible for assisting with online marketing materials, writing the newsletter and updating the program’s social media platforms.
- Research assistant who is responsible for providing greater understanding of a specific issue and then helping towards the development of a curriculum or program to address that issue through sports.
- Monitoring and evaluations specialist to help the organizations have a better system in place to track their programs, communicate their impacts and improve their activities.
- Teacher who can teach the youth life skills or other skills in the sports environment or in the classroom setting.
These volunteer abroad positions can be short or long term, depending on the organization’s needs. More often the organizations ask for at least a 2- month commitment from the volunteer. The volunteers can expect to have to fundraise to cover their costs.
Some organizations will cover the expenses once the volunteer has arrived at their site and only require that the volunteer pays for their travel and travel related costs, such as visas, passports, etc. Many times the organizations use the terms interns and volunteers interchangeably and both typically mean that the individual filling the position will not get paid.
An example of a long- term one-year volunteer position is with an organization called Grassroots Soccer. The organization works in several South African countries. The intern can expect to be involved in logistical and program support and to gain experience in international health/education, HIV/AIDS prevention and youth development through sport.
In order to be a volunteer, the candidate is advised to fundraise $10,000 to cover travel costs, insurance, living costs, and anything else. The organization helps the interested applicant in raising the funds by sharing best practices and materials, however, it is up to the volunteer to raise the designated amount of money.
Sport for development organizations exist all over the world. It is important to note that there are sports volunteering opportunities in many countries and that many of the larger actors in this field have opportunities in their main offices while also providing volunteer opportunities in the sites where the programs are run.
Street football world supports sport for development organizations all around the world and at one of their main offices, they provide paid internships for applicants interested in being involved in research, communications, IT, and finance and partnerships.
It's essential to look into the required languages for the positions and the required skill set for one to land the position. If one doesn't want to leave their country for the volunteering position, it is also possible to find volunteer positions domestically. For example in the USA, there are organizations working mainly in larger cities that also use sports as a tool for development.
In Chicago, there are at least a handful of organizations that provide opportunities for volunteers to get involved with their programs. For example, America SCORES empowers urban youth through a sports based program that integrates poetry, team work and civic engagement or service learning. They also provide volunteer positions for professionals who want to be engaged with youth in their communities.
Many of the sports for development organizations which are working to address issues related to health, disease prevention, gender equity, and conflict resolution are located in Africa and South America. There are recently more organizations forming in the Middle East that are also using sport for social change. Although, there are certainly organizations that fall under the banner of sport for development in Western countries, the majority of programs are located in the global South.
Planning Your Trip
It is key to start doing research about the field. With a simple search of ‘sport for development’ one will be exposed to both academic articles and reports about the impact and challenges of this field, websites of the major players in this field and manuals and best practices from these major stakeholders.
In order to find the organizations that are offering the volunteer opportunities, it is best to start on the larger platforms, find the groups that align with your interests and then search them separately. Many organizations are present on social media, particularly Facebook ,where they post their volunteer opportunities and often their most recent updates such as videos, photos, etc.
The following are great resources for a comprehensive search into the field:
- International Platform on Sport for Development: This site contains a great overview of the field of sport for development including the history of the field, the definition of major development issues addressed in this field, research into this field and information on the various organizations. There is also a specific section dedicated to volunteer and employment opportunities in this field.
- Streetfootballworld Network: This organization supports a wide range of network partners that are using football specially to address various social issues. This site shares profiles of their partners and highlights the most recent news from their partners. Also, this site offers great resources and publications about the field of football for development.
- Swiss Academy for Development: This site offers an insight into projects that are using sport for development in various ways and of which are monitored closely by the academy. This site offers free downloads of reports in the field and covers interesting topics related to how sports can be used in conflict ridden areas as well as how sports can be used for female empowerment.
- Sport for Development Debate: This is a great resource that looks into challenges in this field and also which includes many types of voices from the field. The ebate discusses everything from the impact of the field to the lack of research to the benefits sport can have in a program reaching hard to reach youth. It gives a more realistic picture of the field because it encourages participants to share their challenges and failures so to find solutions together.