Sport for Development starts with Leadership Skills Training

hockey MalawiCan sport really contribute to development? I believe it does. And mainly in building leadership skills amongst youth, because it enables them to take control over their (professional) lives. That is what I’ve learned working 4 years for a Dutch – Zimbabwean sport for development programme.

It starts with the love of sports
Mutare Haarlem Sportleaders (MHS) in Zimbabwe started more than 10 years ago with sport leaderships skills training. Which means learning by experience: learning sports skills as a player (know the game and the techniques), as a coach (be supportive and lead a team), and as a referee (know the rules). What’s more, the sports-leaders-to-be acquired on-the-job experience by founding and leading sport teams in their favourite sports and organising community sports activities in their neighbourhoods, which at the same time provided good leisure time for the children around. Altogether, it has built a strong basis of sport leaders who have heart for the job. And this is exactly what guards the quality of projects that involves sports for development.

textboxSport for social goals
Many sports programmes for development use sports for social goals: health education on hiv/aids, women empowerment, or peace programmes. MHS also started sports programmes on social goals, but only once they had developed a basis of good sports leaders.
These social programmes for sure resulted in more women attending sports activities, and female sport leaders role modelling for other girls. And it resulted in more acceptance of disabled children. Still, it is hard to give exact facts & figures. For example: was it really the result of the Kicking Aids Out activities that the level of awareness around hiv/aids increased in Mutare, or was is due to all the other health care programmes, or a combined result? This is why many feel that sport programmes cannot be that important for development.

The true result is leadership skills
I feel, more important than sports for social goals, are the skills that sport leaders learn along the way. MHS’ sport leaders have grown as sports players, have learnt life skills and a healthy life style, but also developed themselves as leaders. Not only as coaches at the sport pitch, but also in their personal lives: most of the sports leaders I still meet on Facebook, do have a job, set up a business or taken up a formal study, which is a incredible result in a country with a formal unemployment rate of over 95%! I believe it is the leadership skills through sport that made them develop skills like self-confidence, take control over their own life, and to find opportunities and act upon it!

Becoming independent at organisational level
Of course a strong sports organisation that acts on several social levels (education, employment, social programmes) needs a financial input too. Sports management, such as management of the organisation, strategic planning, monitoring & evaluation, and to connect with sports organisations (inter)nationally was developed over the years.
One of the hardest challenges for MHS to become an independent NGO – and they were really ready for that after 10 years time – was financial sustainability. We jointly designed an income generating strategy, amongst which was the setting up small sport businesses. Like a fitness centre in one of Mutare’s townships, which is still effective and provides a living for 3 people!

Kicking Aids OutInternational support
What’s more, the love of sport is worldwide. It might enable to link up around the world, used for youth exchange programmes – e.g. become an actual global citizen while busy playing sports – or global support from international sport-loving organisations.




Also published as a column at the International Platform for Sport and Development website: May 2013


5 Responses to “Sport for Development starts with Leadership Skills Training”
  1. Kalekeni schreef:

    Please, check out my website at and let me know if there is room to work together. I have relatives and friends in Netherlands. I come from Malawi and related to the President of Malawi-Joyce Banda. Several coaches from Netherlands are visiting my project in July.

    I look forward to hearing from you soon.



  2. Claire Jansen schreef:

    Een reactie via LinkedIn groep ‘Sport&Zaken’ van Claire Jansen (sport coordinator):

    Ik kende het project via enkele collegae die er als student hebben meegewerkt (via het CIOS Haarlem) het heeft deze studenten veel inzichten gegeven in hun ontwikkeling en de kijk op het leven. En de locale mensen daar geeft het ook kansen en meer, het mes snijdt aan twee kanten. Dat vind ik zeer mooie resultaten. Alle winst om mensen op te leiden, enthousiast te maken en te ontwikkelen is geweldig. Ondanks alle politieke onrust.
    Petje af.

  3. Eliot Chapuka schreef:

    From the Facebook group: Mutare Haarlem Sportleaders (MHS)

    Cees Versteeg (Consultant Sports & Development): ”[..] Between 2002 and 2005 I was working with MHS in Mutare. […] The development into MHS later on also taught me that ‘learning by doing’ is essential. Now I have worked out this concept in a practical sports leaders skills training and I am travelling these days to Burundi, Uganda and recently also to Ghana to train young people to become a sports leader. And once they are a sports leader, I truly believe and I see in reality that these (sports)leaderships skills contribute indeed to further development in and outside sports for many of them. ”

    Eliot Chapuka (board member MHS):
    Leadership skills and sport for development are two co-related topics it is difficult to tell which comes first. […] I would also say that the 2 happen simultaneously as you rightly stated that its an on the job learning experience. Leadership skills can be seen as a product of sport for development. In most cases it is an objective through capacity building. An example is today we have sport leaders in national and provincial associations of different sport disciplines having started from grassroot activities. Take handball for example: Manicaland Mutare in particular being a powerhouse in Zimbabwe so as the youths developed their leadership skills, the sport was also gaining ground.
    These sports have benefited from the activities of these sport leaders whilst they developed their skills and are now recognised at provincial and national level. Thus I would say there can’t be sport for development without leadership training skills though I can’t say it should be the first as leadership training is a process.

    Eliot Chapuka (board member MHS) and agrees upon by Brain Maadza (coordinator Kicking Aids Out programme):
    You also questioned the effectiveness of Kicking Aids Out and I would say the impact of KAO can’t be evaluated isolated from activities by other organisations. However what I am sure of is that KAO presented a refreshing method of info dissemination moving away from the lecture type which had become monotonous. KAO is more interactive, involving children or participants were direct participants with room to ask questions in a playful environment, were the participants are free to express themselves.
    It is difficult to know whether it increased knowledge about hiv but what am sure of is that we reached out to many children.

  4. From the Facebook group: Mutare Haarlem Sportleaders (MHS)
    I think the same as well, sport really contribute to development, it has changed me. The role I had as a sports leader shaped me to be what I am today, being positive about myself, setting personal goals, knowing what is good and bad. Above all networking and being a motivator. That’s the good about sport!!!!!

  5. Nice article! Great results!

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