February 28, 2018 Grassroot Soccer

The Power of Sport to Build Leaders

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When you think of disruption, what comes to mind? Do you think of chaos and disorder – or progress and breakthroughs? At Grassroot Soccer, we often think disruption can be a good thing. And in fact, a very powerful thing. Disruption can be about challenging stereotypes, taking on power, and delivering on new and more effective solutions for girls and women.  In accordance with this is the importance of strengthening the leadership skills and decision making power of girls and women to disrupt harmful gender norms and to power progress.  But how?


Sports can and should be used as a powerful tool for challenging social norms and furthering development goals. It’s simple: Sports are fun and can create a unique opportunity to build trust, to engage youth in activity-based learning, and to create safe spaces where young people feel comfortable asking questions, sharing opinions, and supporting their teammates. This includes breaking down stereotypes, improving self-esteem, and advancing gender equality.


Plan Canada conducted a study revealing a strong link between how girls are valued and sports participation, educational opportunities, and their ability to make positive decisions for their futures — avoiding early pregnancy, for example.  On and off the field, sports can play a key role in cultivating leadership skills, decision-making power, resiliency, and the confidence needed to succeed, lead, and deliver for their communities and countries.

Grassroot Soccer uses the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize at-risk youth in developing countries to overcome their greatest health challenges and to develop the skills needed to lead within their families and communities. With over 265 million people playing soccer worldwide, we know soccer can be more than just a spectator sport. Grassroot Soccer interventions are built around a unique curricula combining soccer-based activities and lively discussions to engage learners on topics related to HIV, sexual and reproductive health, malaria, youth development and gender. Through the program, community leaders are also trained to be coaches, mentors, and role models to adolescents – all of which help youth to have a higher sense of self-efficacy, confidence, and knowledge about the risk factors for sexual and gender-based violence and HIV. That means they’re more capable of identifying harmful gender norms, creating a new generation of leaders who know that equal is better.

Entle Lentore, a 13-year-old Grassroot Soccer SKILLZ Girl graduate, knows the challenges of being a female leader – both on and off the soccer field. However, after working with coaches through a Grassroot Soccer program, she learned about sexual and reproductive health, as well as the power of role models to create safe spaces for discussing difficult topics from sex and gender to pregnancy and HIV. Through sport, she has increased her knowledge around health topics and the confidence to have a voice in these important discussions.

Similarly, through  PEPFAR's DREAMS – in collaboration with the Centre for Communications Impact (CCI) in South Africa and FHI360 in Zimbabwe – Grassroot Soccer works  to ensure adolescent girls and young women grow up Determined, Resilient, Educated, AIDS-Free, Mentored, and Safe. Through this partnership, coaches serve as role models providing essential knowledge and leadership to young women during a crucial time in their lives. There is an undeniable ripple effect brought on by strong role models who can not only teach about leadership but show the real power of their experiences to inspire others.

The coaches also become stronger and more confident leaders from the important role they play mentoring adolescents. “DREAMS has given me a new lease on life, and being part of a project that focuses on bettering the lives of young girls makes me feel so proud,” said Coach Onkgopotse. As a single mother of two, 23-year-old Coach Onkgopotse found herself unemployed and struggling to care for her family.  Feeling desperate and without options, she became a sex worker. Grassroot Soccer enabled her to realize there was a way out. She received training in health education, leadership, and mentorship and delivers weekly programming to girls in her community.  It is because of her personal hardships – and not despite them – that she feels confident in her decision-making power and her ability to inspire the next generation of strong female leaders.  “I have learnt that no matter the road travelled, there is always a chance for a better opportunity – I am living proof of that.”

Sport has the power to transform lives and livelihoods. When paired with role models and leadership skills building curricula, it has the power to lift the next generation of leaders with the decision-making ability to power progress for their families, communities, and countries.

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