Sport & Play: The Saving Grace
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”
– Nelson Mandela
The challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown have highlighted the critical importance of sport and play for youth. For many children, the pandemic has made it extremely difficult, or even impossible, to move and play. This has not only affected their physical health, but their mental health as well. Some, especially those in underprivileged neighbourhoods or those without a positive home environment, rely on their sport, their team and the community it provides, to give them a safe haven . Many also rely on their sport and their team to stay connected socially and to provide them with positive social interactions. For those without strong adult influences at home, sport has the added benefit of providing a positive mentor relationship with their coach.
Through involvement in sport, youth find joy and learn valuable life skills. Sport challenges them to be the best version of themselves through discipline, hard work and a thirst for excellence. They also learn to recognize that even those on opposing teams deserve their respect, as they too strive to be their best.
The life-changing effect that sport brings makes it vitally important for youth sport organizations to find ways to engage with the kids they support during these challenging times. To do so, many organizations have had to get creative in order to find new ways to connect with their kids. One such organization is the LA84 Foundation which has rallied their sports partners to make inspirational videos to help kids stay active, even during home confinement. The Foundation has also mobilized its network to get sporting equipment into the hands of kids so that they are encouraged to move and play. Without organizations such as the LA84 Foundation that are going above and beyond to support youth in their community, these children would not have access to sport and all of the benefits that sport provides.
“Sport is a fundamental human right that every child should have access to.”
– Renata Simril
Live Like You Play Podcast: Renata Simril Discusses the Power of Sport & Play
On this month’s “Live Like You Play” podcast, David Eades speaks with Renata Simril, President and CEO of the LA84 Foundation. Founded in 1984 as the Amateur Athletic Association, the LA84 Foundation was created with the surplus funds from the 1984 Olympic Games hosted in Los Angeles. The foundation focuses on grants, infrastructure development, research and convening – to ensure that all young people have equal access to sport. But Renata maintains that the LA84 Foundation is bigger than sport; it’s a “youth development” organization.
To date, the Foundation has served over 3.5 million youth. While this is an important achievement, Renata believes that the true testament to the Foundation’s success are the inspirational stories of the kids they serve. Caylin Moore, a Rhodes Scholar and PHD candidate at Texas University, is one of the LA84 Foundation’s greatest success stories and a shining example of how children thrive when they are given opportunities that create positive affiliations.
Caylin had to overcome incredible odds to get to where he is now. Raised by a single mother who had been physically and sexually abused; and a father who was in prison for murder, Caylin and his family were homeless four times. He found an outlet in football and his involvement in sport changed the course of his life. But it wasn’t sport for sports sake that made the difference; it was the community around sport that helped him to succeed. Sport exposed him to opportunities outside his community; it brought him joy and self-respect, and helped him realize that success could come with hard work.
“Sport teaches us that there is a direct correlation between hard work and success, whether that success just comes in the form of self-improvement or in victory on the field.”
– Renata Simril
Renata knows first-hand the positive effect that the joy of sport can have on youth. Growing up in a mixed-heritage family with limited means, sport helped Renata find her tribe. She calls sport her “saving grace”, crediting it with helping her build her confidence, providing her with a safe space, and connecting her with school in profound ways.
Involvement in sport teaches many of the lessons that are so badly needed to navigate the current social climate. Those who support social justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter, understand one of the fundamental principles taught in sport: that together, when working towards a common goal, we can do incredible things. Sport teaches us to respect ourselves and our opponents; to play fairly.
Renata shares that one of most inspirational moments in sport for her was during the 1968 Olympic Games when John Carlos and Tommie Smith held a fist in protest during the national anthem to speak out against racial injustice and systemic racism.
“This inspirational moment reminds us of the role we all have to play to speak up and speak out when we knowingly see something is wrong and unjust. That people aren’t being afforded the equality and the humanity that everyone [deserves]. If we go back to faith, we have to believe that all people should be equal and have the same opportunities to become our best selves. This moment is a reminder of the work we have to do every day to strive for a more equal and just world.”
We hope that this month’s podcast will inspire you, like Renata, to find joy in sport and to translate that joy into your everyday life. Importantly, let’s harness the transformational power of sport to help all of us to become the best versions of ourselves.
To listen to the full podcast, click here.