Too often sport is painted in a bad light – promoting competitiveness, funded by big money, and too focused on the result, rather than the process. While these – and other criticisms – are perhaps rightly deserved, the social power of sport cannot be understated: that’s where groups like Scottish Sports Futures come in.
Scottish Sports Futures, or SSF, was founded in 2000 and has since delivered a series of sports programmes following its vision of ‘[using] the power of sport to inspire young people to make positive lifestyle choices’. While sport is the medium of unification, the charity uses youth work models in its execution. Its award-winning ‘sport for change’ model uses sport as a means to support vulnerable or at-risk young people and supports them from early intervention through to training and employment. SSF’s young people develop community and ultimately, the programme inspires youth to lead safe, healthy, and active lives.
Working in communities across Scotland, it cites its outcomes as increasing activity and volunteering levels, reducing anti-social behaviour, increased confidence and self-esteem, and improved retention levels of health information. Conventional sporting success never appears to be the goal – rather, sport and exercise are a tool in achieving its aims of education around physical and mental well-being, teamwork, goal setting, and active citizenship.
At the moment SSF runs a number of named programmes, including: Jump2It Basketball, Rocks Community Clubs, MEND, Twilight Basketball, Active East, Education Through Cashback, and user-led Ambassador Programmes. While these projects run under the common vision and direction of SSF, they each have individual differences: Jump2It and Twilight, for example, are both facilitated through practising basketball, yet there are noted differences between the two. Jump2It works with schools deemed ‘at-risk’ to discourage unhealthy behaviours, promote healthy habits and balances classroom learning with activity, while Twilight incorporates skills such as goal setting and conflict resolutions.
During 2015/16, Jump2It and Glasgow Rocks basketball club worked with over 8000 primary school children – this led to 400 children then joining extracurricular basketball classes through Rocks Community Clubs. Named after Glasgow’s only male professional basketball team, these clubs are each named by their respective community and compete against each other annually. It’s not just playing basketball these programmes aim to encourage – they actively seek events volunteers and even media volunteers to allow all involved to play to individual strengths and skills. While these clubs are aimed at children aged 7-13, SSF will also seek out local clubs for children who fall outwith this age bracket to encourage active participation.
Above all, the charity prioritises the sustainability of such initiatives. Active East, a project born out of the legacy of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, positively contradicts the criticisms the Games received at the time for ignoring the East End community; rather, it allows teenagers and young adults to develop sporting and volunteering skills tailored to their strengths, with the aim of long-term participation in sport. SSF’s Ambassador programmes also allow participants to receive mentoring to achieve a goal such as securing employment, gain qualifications and leadership experience, and to run events in their local community.
Since SSF’s conception, Glasgow has hosted both the Commonwealth Games and, more recently, the European Championships. They had an active presence at this year’s Championships, hosting free activities at Glasgow Green and basketball coaching alongside Glasgow Rocks professionals. While these events were run by volunteers and ambassadors, SSF also welcomed eleven young Europeans through the Erasmus programme, who assisted in delivering the sports access programme.
SSF brings sports into the heart of the community, for the community, and led by the community. While it aims to encourage long-term activity amongst young people, it uses sport as youth work. This turns sports into a tool for engagement, development, and unity, with the lessons it teaches going far beyond the basics of basketball. By breaking down sport into its core principles, SSF uses it as a social good for change.