Youth sports as tool for national development
Nigeria is a country possessing distinct national boundaries, national sovereignty and a somewhat nebulous national identity. Sadly, we lack the vital critical mass in fundamental nation building tools, essential in ensuring our success and viability as a homogeneous entity. The most important of these ‘tools’ is unequivocally our human resources. I have always maintained that effective nation building efforts must include the active involvement of the youth, under the guidance and auspices of cogent, well articulated and wide reaching government driven programmes. Such measures will help ensure that our youths develop into patriotic citizens and an effective labour force possessing the right work ethics, all of which are indispensable to creating a conducive investment environment and sustainable development.
Many of the necessary core character building values can be imbibed through effective and structured sports programmes. It is imperative to take up active sports from an early age, as lessons learned from engaging in sports can be extremely positive as well as character defining and life changing. The human being is a tripartite entity having a body, mind and spirit. Sports are a unique and effective vehicle for enhancing and harmonizing these distinct compartments. Sports are also among the foremost human endeavours and activities which contribute to the holistic development and well-being of a person.
There are numerous mental, physical and psychological benefits of sports. Sports hone cerebral activities such as concentration, analytical and critical thinking , creativity, mental acuity and goal setting. Physical advantages include enjoying a superior quality of life and longevity by maintaining a healthy body, as a result of which many serious illnesses can be avoided. Participating actively in sports produces and enhances necessary key developmental psychological elements such as self-confidence, self-esteem, healthy ambition and positive gratification. Conversely, negative psychological conditions such as depression, inferiority complex, anxiety, despair and insomnia can be avoided. Furthermore, innumerable social benefits and skills can be derived from embracing a life of sports at a very early age. We all agree and evidence abounds that today’s youths are beset and inundated with real threats and dangers which are inimical and detrimental to their development as successful human beings, who will fulfill their innate God given potential, be a credit to their families and communities and useful contributors to the society at large.
These negative influences include drugs and alcohol addiction, gang affiliation, criminal conduct and myriad forms of anti-social and disconcerting conduct. To an appreciable extent many of these worrying behaviours and lifestyles which are destroying our youths, can be shunned through their active involvement in sports programmes. Sports can serve to inculcate useful social skills in the youths of our diverse society, such as ethnic and religious understanding and tolerance, a work based rewards mentality and the importance of giving back to the community as role models and youth ambassadors. Team sports are equally important as they foster dedication, accountability, selflessness and leadership skills. In team sports every member regardless of the magnitude or minor significance of their role, is personally and collectively responsible for the success of the team.
In addition, team players learn the importance of empathy, support, interdependence, camaraderie, dispute settlement and unity. In a global world of ever shrinking resources and opportunities, work place competition is increasingly fierce. In order to succeed these days individuals need to be demonstrable over achievers and have to distinguish themselves from the rank and file. I strongly believe that the strict discipline and extremely important skills learned from sports are easily transferable to other areas of life, including academics, professional careers and community development and national service. The core character building mind sets and life skills will not only stand out and mark the individual for success, but will help in shaping sterling values vital to nation building.
Finally, the roles of government, community and family cannot be understated in achieving the above mentioned objectives. It is my urgent and impassioned plea to these integral institutions of society to step up to the plate and become actively engaged in formal sports programmes for youths. By doing so we are sending a loud, much needed and much overdue message to our youths that they are important and we care about them. Parents and family members, it is no longer excusable to say that you are too busy to encourage and oversee a credible, regular and safe sports programme for your children and wards. Even if there are no structured programmes in your neighbourhood, it is not too difficult to meet with like minded parents and create a programme, which indeed other neighborhoods could emulate. To community leadership namely, local government and religious authorities, I would say enough of the apathy and inaction.
It is now time to galvanize and plow back some of the resources at your disposal to protect and develop our youths through community sports programmes. To our State and Federal Governments, I issue the challenge that in as much as the newly elected President of the United States of America, is a thorn in the flesh to many, let us take his one commendable political objective to heart and put “Nigeria First” by esteeming, respecting and investing in the nation’s most prized asset, our youths and future leaders, through the establishment of appropriate and befitting government youth sports programmes.
Ms Irene Fowler is a Harvard-trained international lawyer