What types of sports projects can I volunteer on?
The most popular options for gappers are projects involving football, rugby, athletics and hockey, though keep in mind there are others to choose from, including basketball, tennis, netball and cricket. Some projects are not themed on one specific sport, rather a mix of two or more disciplines.
Trying to work out which sports project is best for you can be a little confusing simply because there are so many to choose from. The easiest way to whittle down your options is to ask yourself which sports you have a natural inclination towards and which countries you would love to experience. Perhaps you’re a football fanatic and have always wanted to delve into the heart of India, in which case a project coaching football in Madurai could be for you.
The more passionate you are about your chosen sport and the more interest you have in a particular place, the more effective you will be as a volunteer.
Thinking of the bigger picture
Having said that, it’s important to keep in mind that working on a sports project is about so much more than simply teaching youngsters the basic rules of any particular game. You will become a mentor both on and off the field and lead by example. You will become a friend. Some of these kids live in appalling conditions with no one else to turn to, so you should be fully prepared to lend a shoulder to cry on now and again. Through your encouragement you can help these children develop lifelong skills and attitudes which can be applied far beyond one particular sport, such as the importance of working as a team and general self-belief.
Day-to-day life on a sports volunteering project
If you are coaching something like football or rugby, the chances are that the kids will already have some knowledge of how to play, so you’ll be involved with helping to organise games, refereeing matches and giving pointers on how to improve. You could also be in charge of putting together community tournaments where kids from different schools in the area play each other. If you’re involved with a lesser-known sport, like tennis, you could well end up teaching the kids how to play from scratch, which can be hugely rewarding for you as you watch them discover and develop a new passion.
On most sports projects your work will extend well beyond the field of play. You could have the opportunity to teach local kids English, not necessarily in a classroom setting but through general interaction, and you’ll almost certainly find yourself beginning to pick up the local language, too. You’ll probably be based in a homestay, which will allow you to become fully absorbed in the community, living just as the locals do, and you could end up making friends for life.
Football projects abroad are hugely popular with gappers. This is the most popular sport in the world; it has a following in almost every country and the basics are very easy to pick up and teach. One of the great things about football is its simplicity – essentially all you need is a ball; the pitch and goal posts can be easily improvised – and this makes it an accessible sport to kids even in the poorest and most ill-equipped areas. You can find football projects in many different countries, including, Ecuador, Hungary, Brazil, Ghana and Australia, to name just a few.
Although rugby doesn’t have the same worldwide following as football, there are still plenty of opportunities to coach it on your gap year. Projects can be found in countries like New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina. Similarly to football, rugby is a simple game to learn and doesn’t require specialised equipment, making it an accessible sport to impoverished communities. One of the great things about rugby is the absolute necessity for teamwork, which can have wider benefits in creating more cohesive societies in the long term.
Another sport which is really catching on in developing countries is basketball, which has experienced a revival in popularity in recent years. These days emphasis is placed less on physical attributes (i.e. height) and more on nurturing players with other skills to offer, making it a much more inclusive sport. Like football and rugby, there is a strong emphasis on teamwork and a healthy channelling of aggression.
Racquet sports and athletics volunteering
These kinds of projects can include coaching hockey, cricket, tennis, and track and field activities, and although they are more dependent on community resources than the above, there are still plenty of projects available for you to work on. Volunteering on these projects could take you all over the world, from India to Ecuador to Argentina. Like all sports projects, there is an emphasis on developing individuals and teaching skills which can be applied both off and on the field, such as teamwork, fair play and self-discipline.