02 Apr

When one thinks of  sports, what kind of characteristics come to mind?  Perhaps, physical fitness, competitiveness, winning and losing.  While many of these attributes contribute to the excitement and enthusiasm for sport,  I challenge you to think beyond these borders.  To think of sports in terms of welcoming, inclusivity, community,  common language and culture; the exact characteristics that global nomad families are searching for in transition. How can sport provide all these characteristics?

If we are to characterize two of the biggest challenges of global nomad families in transition, we would speak of language and culture.  Sport has this amazing inherent quality of offering a common language of sport and a common culture of a game.  To best characterize this, I would like to give an example.

I was walking through the gyms at my children’s school this year and fell upon a group of young boys playing indoor soccer, a common sight in a school gym.  However, on closer look, I was hearing languages very unfamiliar to me, including Arabic, Urdu and Farsi.  Upon speaking to a supervisor there, she explained that the majority of the participants themselves do not understand each other.  But yet, here they are having fun, laughing, smiling and playing a sport together, needing only a ball and some goals.  The common language of sports is all that is needed to bring together such diverse language groups.

It addition to language, global families in new transitions are constantly encountering questions of cultural norms and expectations in their transitions.   Countless energy is spent on understanding very simple cultural norms such as saying hello.   But when arriving to the field or in a gym, and the whistle blow to start a game, players no matter what culture you are from,  simply start playing.  In general, the culture of sports is common all over the world.  You have a ball and a field, with the same lines, and rules as where they come from.

But, even though a common language and culture may be inherent characteristics of sport, not all sport organization are interested in or are successful in creating a welcoming tribe and community.  How can a sport organization this? The model that I would like to refer to is a sport organization called the Brussels Sport Association (BSA) that I feel is very successful in creating this diverse community.      It has over 1000 member families from 38 nationalities, speaking 25 different languages.

One of the most special characteristics of the BSA, is that it offers all members of the family a chance to find a community together.   There are so many elements of global transitions, which are focused on individual members of the family and their transitional needs, such as the work environments for the worker and school environments for the children.   But, the BSA succeeds in helping with the transitional need of community for the whole family.   This is done mainly through the wonderful volunteerism ethos of the organization.

The organization is founded, functions, and is shaped on the volunteerism of its members.  It is quite impressive when you understand that this community offers over 600 boys and girls the chance to play sports with 200 volunteers running the program yearly.

So, on a typical afternoon, you will see the children on the field on in the gyms thrilled with being active and playing sports, you will see enthusiastic positive parents volunteering to coach the team on the sidelines, another parent volunteering as team parent and a sibling helping to referee the game.  This family community atmosphere extends off the field at the BSA also, with additional fun family event day celebrations.

But, how do you ensure that this wonderful volunteer family community welcomes a diverse population? Firstly, it is important to understand that diversity in your volunteer base fosters and encourages diversity in the participants.  The common language of sports, extends from the participant level to include sport coaches also, to help enable a diverse volunteer base.     Sport can welcome coaches of different nationalities who may not be fluent English speakers as so much is communicated on the field through action and behavior, rather than through spoken language.  Diverse sport coach volunteers can be welcomed in this wonderful community celebration as language barriers are softened.

At the BSA, we work to find, target, and recruit families of various nationalities to coach our teams thus making the program more welcoming to these diverse families.  Our coaches are the most visible volunteers in the organization.  If children and families see members of their cultural community helping to run the organization, they will feel more welcomed as participants.

Finally, there are the BSA participants themselves!  At times of transitions, where children may be struggling with language or the fitting in, sport offers them a common language and common culture to belong to.

I encourage you all to search out your community through sport.

Lisa Murawsky presented this topic at the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Conference in The Hague, Netherlands on March 24, 2017. 

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