At the beginning of September, we started our pilot implementation at Vikingaskolan in Lund. Our main goal is to use handball as a tool to build self-confidence and social skills among children by using the concept of ‘Hand the Ball’. The aim is to trigger the inner motivation in the participants and demonstrate that physical activities are fun and that friendship across age groups, ethnicity, skill levels and backgrounds are possible.

We introduced ‘Hand the Ball’ during the physical education class for the children in the 4th, 5th and 6th grade (age of 10-12 years old). This introduction was followed by activities in the schoolyard once or twice a week during the breaks supervised by our ‘Hand the Ball’ instructors. The instructor plays an important role in ‘Hand the Ball’ by making it an inclusive activity unlimited by the participants age, background, and skill level. The main task of instructors is to motivate and encourage the children to participate in the activities and inspire them to challenge themselves. The instructor always participates in the activities to ensure that everyone is involved and to challenge the participants based on their individual characteristics and skill levels.

The training program consists of individual activities and challenges, activities performed in pairs and other elements done in either smaller or larger groups. The training program consists of coordination exercises, shooting drills, obstacle courses and activities with rebounder and playing elements of street handball. The concept is flexible to the executing environment, amount of people participating, and the equipment being used. The most important component in the activities is the green magical soft ‘goalcha’ ball which encourages participation. All training sessions are developed so everyone is moving a lot and the focus is on the fun parts of the activities, rather than the results.

The outcome of the pilot implementation so far :

After running the project for two and a half months we have noted some difference in the behaviour of the children which we would like to share.

It is notable that we didn´t attract the same children during the introduction during the PE class as we do during the breaks. The explanation may lie in the fact that there are certain underlying norms during the physical education class that suit some people, while others prefer another environment based on voluntary participation.

We found it easier to reach the younger children, they are generally more open-minded, while we must work harder to attract the older children, especially girls.

• ‘Hand the Ball’ as a concept feels very appreciated among the children. It is based on inspiration from many different sports and therefore is easy for them to relate to, and they think it is a lot of fun.

Our presence at the school during the breaks has spread and there is generally curiosity to take part in the activities. Also, children outside our target group have shown great interest in participating.

The instructor in ‘Hand the Ball’ has an important role as the person who has the power to inspire and affect the children in a positive way. At the same time, he/she has can adjust the exercises and make it an inclusive activity for everyone.

As the children begin to adopt the concept of ‘Hand the Ball’, they understand that the activities are built on their own engagement, creativity and initiative to challenge themselves and develop the activities together.

It shows that the children are confident in the context and motivated to contribute, take responsibility, be open-minded and receptive to change and develop. They come up with suggestions on how exercises can be performed and developed depending on the environment and what is available from the surroundings. Some activities can be perceived as organized chaos, which indicates a high level of commitment and great ingenuity by the children.

Team-spirit has increased among the children, everyone is welcome to participate and are being encouraged to join the activities by the others, regardless of age, ethnicity, or skill level.

The concept of ‘Hand the Ball’ has had a positive outcome in the everyday activities during breaks in the schoolyard. We have seen a tendency for the children to develop the games differently than before in a more inclusive way to get everyone involved, which is a really positive outcome.

The joy of the moment is consistent and there is a lot of laughter during the activities. We have found that the children appreciate that we are doing activities with them, and we have noted that the self-confidence of the children is growing. They are interested in showing what they have come up with, or what they (now) can do (after practicing)- which they do with pride.

During the period of the pilot activity, we have engaged with more than 200 children at Vikingaskolan in Lund. In our experience ‘Hand the Ball’ is a great concept to build self-confidence and social skills among children and the key to its success is the role of the instructor and the green soft magical ‘goalcha’ ball.

By using the concept of ‘Hand the Ball’ we contribute to the well-being of the participants by fostering better physical and mental health through sport activities. We shift focus from competition and results to the social and activation element of the game and make it an inclusive activity unlimited by participants’ age, gender, experience, and skill level. We achieve social inclusion and contribute to the welfare of the children by using ‘Hand the Ball’ as a tool.

The sports department of the GO! atheneum Ieper is highly motivated to commit itself to the Sport!Op!- project. A team of 7 senior students have been working very hard on integrating vulnerable young people into society in sporting and social terms. Together with their mentors Renato Brion and Björn Vanisacker they have approached three different target groups.

The first of these groups are the refugees from the Fedasil asylum seeker center in Langemark-Poelkapelle. To promote and disseminate sports, the seven students organized a cricket match for the young adults and some games for the children at the center. For these events, our students travelled to the center, as due to limited mobility it was difficult for the refugees to come to our facilities. In addition, some women are not allowed to participate in sports in public areas because of their religious beliefs.

The second group of participants is the OKAN class, which is a class where non-native speakers can go to school and learn Dutch. This group is highly motivated and have got to know and play all kinds of sports. On a weekly basis we provide a different sports experience where some sports students are the coaches and other participants in the activities. Autonomy is the keyword in these lessons, the students and the other participants help to decide which activities we need to provide.

We wanted to reach more vulnerable youngsters, so we expanded by contacting the ‘De Mote’ primary school. This school is located on the campus of the atheneum, where vulnerable children are a large part of the population. In the near future we will also start up activities for this group. We think it’s important to teach these children all kinds of sports at a young age, so they can discover their talents.

So far everyone has been driven to participate in the sports activities. We are convinced that the integration of our students in the sports culture of the vulnerable youngsters will provide positive outcomes for general inclusion. Another big help is the fact that we have a lot of facilities and cooperate with the local football club KVK Westhoek.

Through the local needs assessment, it was recognised that in the western part of the city of Zagreb there is little on offer for kids who want to do sports. The only thing available is football, which targets mainly boys. The problems arising from this lack of sport offer are:

-Exclusion from sport of a substantial part of the child population who are not interested in football

-Exclusion of kids whose parents don’t have the time, or the means to take them to different sport activities in other parts of the city

-Lack of organised physical activity outside regular school hours

-Children are deprived of socialisation that comes through participation in sport.

During the first SportOP! local working group meeting a few ideas were given as how to best address these problems. In the end HAŠK Mladost in collaboration with its field hockey section has developed a program to offer a new sport activity in cooperation with two elementary schools.

The program is being implemented through organised sport activities. Participation is free of charge and the activities take place twice a week with educated and experienced coaches. This is a structured sport program for enhancing physical, motor and coordination skills. Proven sport training methods are used to help children learn how to act in different social situations. The biggest benefit is that activities are organised in schools immediately after the end of school hours so there is no need for parents to take the children to training sessions. Additionally, the parents know that the children are in a safe environment with organised activities and adult supervision.

NGO “Marathon” Sarajevo, within the Erasmus+ project Sport!Op! and in collaboration with SOS Children Village BiH and Athletic club Novi Grad, implements activities which use athletics as a tool to promote and develop social inclusion of children without parental care. But what are the fundamental improvements which benefit better social status of these children? Taking into consideration the fact that children without parental care often deal with different forms of life traumas and therefore are “overwhelmed with feelings of abandonment, rejection, worthlessness, guilt, and helplessness which leads to depression and anxiety” (Folman, 1998), it was natural that we, as an NGO which organizes running school and running activities in the local community, try to pay attention on those negative emotions and try to influence them through sport.

Studies show that individuals who engage in light or intense physical leisure activities have lower rates of depression, anxiety or comorbid depression-anxiety. It is shown that the intensity of physical activity does not appear to be important but the activity itself is what produces positive effects. (Physical activity and common mental disorders, Cambridge University, 2018).

Furthermore, the researchers investigated possible factors influencing the link between physical activity and common mental disorders and identified 3 key factors of which the social factor (number of friends and social activities) stands out as the most important in moderate reduction of mental disorders.

According to the analyzed results, factors such as social support and social engagement may partly explain this relationship between physical activity and the reduction of symptoms of depressive disorders.

According to the Evaluation of the Recreational Racing Club in 2017, almost all participants who completed the running school program and participated in the final sports event, expressed greater satisfaction with their quality of life, and thus the improvement of their general psychosocial condition.

Guided by the previously mentioned research and by good examples of programs for the implementation of social inclusion based on sports in public running schools, NGO ‘Marathon’ Sarajevo started activities with the aim of improving children’s physical fitness, social skills, position in the local community and general mental state (which had been disturbed by life traumas they had been through).

Enes Hatibović- Child Development Associate working in “SOS Children’s Village Sarajevo” said that he noticed significant improvement in general behavior and positive thinking of children involved in the project. He reported the positive results of activities, particularly the fact that organized training enabled children and young people to develop their social skills, sense of belonging to the group, their mental and physical abilities and a competitive spirit and love for sports. Furthermore it enabled them to adopt work habits and respect rules.

All the above mentioned contributes to raising children’s self-confidence, positive self-perception, which ultimately produces better social acceptance and involvement in both the local and wider community.

After several months of training, significant progress was seen within the group of children who took part in project activities. Most noticeably in respect for group rules and authority, responsibility, a raised level of concentration, discipline, communication quality and clear expression of personal states and feelings.

These results achieved show that the Sport! Op! project activities carried out in Sarajevo, BiH undoubtedly join a number of good practices which confirm the connection between physical activity and its positive impact on common mental disorders. Moreover, there is an improvement in the quality of life and personal self-perception as a valued member of society, thus reducing the risk of developing anxiety and depression disorders.

As said by Selma Kukić- NGO “Marathon” Team leader: “Research and examples of positive practices are the starting point for each of our activities. However, the satisfaction of the children which can be seen during the training we organize, the attitude they have and the pride and smiles they share when mastering each exercise, are what confirm the ultimate goal of the project in a more honest, simple and convincing way than any statistics”.

Last week Sport!Op! Project partners met in Sarajevo in the Steering Commitee. The project has resumed face-to-face meetings with two working sessions that have served to know the different pilot actions that are developing given the situation generated by the Covid-19. In addition, it was defined how the results of these actions will be evaluated.

The meeting also served, precisely, how a methodological handbook will be generated, coordinated by University of Barcelona. This document will gather the experience of the pilot actions being developed by project partners and will offer methodologies to promote social inclusion and equal opportunities through sport.

Visit to local agents

The meeting held in Sarajevo was organized by the NGO Marathon Sarajevo. This entity works since 2007, but our desire to promote a healthy lifestyle, while building a healthier and more active society, started much earlier. They have been organizing the Sarajevo Half Marathon, a unique sports event that gathers an increasing number of participants from year to year, both professional athletes and citizens who are recreational and amateur sportists.

The meeting also served to get to know the two local entities involved in Sarajevo in the project: Athletic Club Novi Grad and SOS Children Village Sarajevo.

The idea for the formation and launch of this Athletic Club Novi Grad arose after the Municipal activities to build a new athletics track and other sports-recreational and educational facilities on the site of the Municipality of Novi Grad Sarajevo, within the military barracks Safet Zajko, now the Center for Education, Sports and Recreation. In the cas, SOS Children’s Villages BiH is a humanitarian organization that cares for children and young people left without parental care and gives them a chance for a happy childhood and a better future.

The purpose of the Sport!OP! (Opportunities for inclusion of vulnerable youth through sport) project is to develop local community-based strategies using sports as a vehicle of social inclusion of the most vulnerable and at risk children and adolescents.

The project will focus on municipalities of small and medium size and takes a multistakeholder approach, in which public, private and voluntary organizations of each region have an interest and a role to play.

Municipality of Granollers (ES) is acting as lead partner of the project, and the University of Barcelona (ES), the Municipality of Grigny (FR), the Atheneum Ieper (BE), the LUGI Handbollsförening (SE), the HASK Mladost (HR) and the Marathon Sarajevo Club (BA) are brought together to create and consolidate a local community-based strategy embracing sporting activity as a primary vehicle for social inclusion.

Our findings to date highlight the needs and the expectations of the different stakeholders (municipalities, sport organizations, children, adolescent and youngsters) involved in the project.

What have we done?

First, we agreed on a conceptual framework to be used as a starting point for the project. You can consider it our hypothesis of work.

We are deeply convinced that sport activities are capable of delivering positive educational & life-skills related outputs when nurtured through a deliberately designed and purposeful educational strategy.

At the same time, we truly believe that those educational outputs have a potential long-term impact on the social inclusion of children and youngster at risk. Just in the way it is showed in the graphic below:

Second, in order to start putting this ideas together, we have already identified some needs and potentialities in order to facilitate (at later stages in the project) to design, develop and carry out a pilot project based on sound methodological guidelines for sport organizations working with vulnerable children and youth.

The University of Barcelona (UB) have been leading this “Analysis of needs and opportunities” activities supported by a team of 5 researchers with significant experience in children development and building of resilience through sport.

Analyzing the needs and benefits of sports activities as strategies of socio-educative action, both quantitative and qualitative inquire have been carried out in each country.

Quantitative inquire

What this has been about?

  • It has been distributing a questionnaire for children and adolescents at risk, involved or not in sport activities, identified as potential beneficiaries of the pilot project that will be carried out at later stages of the project.

What are the objectives of the questionnaire?

  • To understand and correctly assess all the different situations and expectations that potential beneficiaries (children and youth) hold towards sport and physical activity.

  • To assess what weaknesses and strengths the trainers, coaches and instructors have when it comes to build children and youth resilience and life skills.

How many children and youth have been invited to complete the questionnaire?

  • 752 children, adolescents and youngsters in vulnerable situations from the cities of Granollers, Grigny, Ieper, Lund, Zagreb and Sarajevo. The questionnaire has been distribute/shared using a public URL and emailed out to the audience and shared via other social media channels. The questionnaire has been operated through smartphones, Tablet PCs or computers.

During the complementation of the questionnaire an adult has been around to help the children if needed. This adult has been a different person from the trainer who leads the physical activity they are involved with, and anonymity has been protected at any time.

Qualitative enquire:

What this has been about?

It has been about celebrating a virtual participatory workshop with sport managers, coaches, trainers, instructors and volunteers as well as other stakeholders from Granollers, Grigny, Ieper, Lund, Zagreb and Sarajevo.

What are the objectives of the workshop?

  • To understand and correctly assess all the different situations and inequalities that potential beneficiaries face when it comes to access sport and physical activity.

  • To assess what weaknesses and strengths the sports trainers, coaches and instructors have when it comes to build children and youth resilience and life skills.

What have we learned so far?

We have already said that Sport!Op! project is focusing on teaching life-skills based strategies among trainers, coaches and instructors. In doing so, sound training and methodological guidelines will be provided to carry out a participatory experimentation of a socio-educational proposal among different sport organizations.

And when it comes to design this sound training and methodological guidelines, it has been very useful to find out that the expectations and opinions among surveyed children distributes this way:

 

These learning’s, among others, have been of a great help in providing a better understanding of what kind of context we are dealing with when it comes to design a purposeful educational strategy for coaches (aimed at delivering life-skills related outputs among children).

In the upcoming months SportOp! project will continue to work with the partners, remotely and (hopefully) in-person, to:

  • Create a common understanding on why (and under which circumstances) using sport to promote competence in youth has benefits (positive development) and risks.
  • Further shape the pilot projects to be implemented in each country and define their particular outcomes.

Meet the UB Team!

Albert Batalla is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the University of Barcelona. He has been Dean of the Faculty of Teacher Training at the University of Barcelona (UB) between 2008 and 2010.

Ramon Crespo has been acting as an independent evaluator since 2006. His experience in evaluation related work focuses on the areas of youth policy and community development.

Teresa Lleixà is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the University of Barcelona. She teaches the Masters course of Physical Activity and Education and the degree of Teacher Training.

Anna Mundet, PhD in Pedagogy, in the program Society and Education. She has been working in the Department of Methods, Research & Diagnosis in Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Barcelona since 2010.

Montserrat Simó, PhD in Sociology, has been working in the Department of Sociology and Analysis of Organizations at the University of Barcelona since 1999. She is a member of the research group “Creativity, Innovation and Urban Transformation” of the same university.

The partners of the Sport!Op! european project, whose main goal is to create opportunities for the inclusion of children through sport, are conducting the Local Needs Assessment technical meetings. In the case of Granollers, this working session was held in digital format on Monday 26 October. The meeting, led by the University of Barcelona, ​​was attended by about twenty professionals from Granollers: physical education teachers, coordinators, monitors or representatives of different sports organizations in the city and municipal technicians.

The session served to share experiences, evaluate the sports offer and sports facilities in the city and raise challenges such as the promotion of sport from a gender perspective, more information on the benefits of sport for children and young people or more coordination between professionals.

515 online surveys

The meeting also served to report on the results of the online survey conducted in recent weeks to pick up sport needs in the city for children aged 8 to 12. 515 responses to these questionnaires were received. Half of the children and young people who completed the questionnaire practice sport, most of them in a club or organization, but there are a third of those surveyed people who do not usually play any sport and 20% who do not practice sport outside the activity physics in schools.

This first meeting served as the first contact among the partners.