Defining Sports and Social Change: Sports Programming as a Development Tool

This post, second in a series of three, is by guest blogger Howard Brodwin of Sports and Social Change, a sports marketing firm focused on cause marketing, CSR and social enterprise development.

In the first segment of this series, I talked about sports programming for underserved populations, including sports for people with disabilities and programs for economically disadvantaged communities. Here, I’m focusing on sports programming that operates as a developmental platform to tackle specific social issues. These programs are similar to the ones mentioned in the previous post as both are rooted in providing a sport or activity, however the end goal here is a bit different. Programs in the development space have specific outcomes attached to their programs such as literacy and education, disease prevention, or peace building and reconciliation, and the sports activity is central to initiating that change. Defining Sports and Social Change

While there are many on-going “sport for development” initiatives, what’s also common in this category are programs implemented to address immediate issues that arise during a humanitarian crisis, natural disasters and in conflict/post-conflict zones.

What’s truly unique here are how various sports are used and different approaches taken to tackle a similar problem. For example, the issue of homelessness has been effectively addressed through team sports like soccer (Street Soccer USA & Homeless World Cup) and individual pursuits like running (Back On My Feet). These programs may differ in program delivery, scale, timing and resource needs, but the end goal is the same – ending homelessness.

Here are a few examples of sports programming as a developmental tool:


Project GOAL is an after school program in Rhode Island that combines the benefits of academic achievement with the motivation and self-discipline of sports. Participants work with professional educators to improve their study skills and habits with emphasis on strengthening weak areas of their schoolwork. The program is free however students are encouraged to “earn” time on the soccer field by exhibiting good schoolwork habits.

The Chi Chi Rodriguez Academy is a Public Private Partnership School with an emphasis on homework assistance, life management, social skills, personal grooming, business skills, consumer education, art, and reading enhancement. Golf is a major part of the Chi Chi Rodriguez Academy’s approach as the game helps students learn personal discipline, self-control, respect for others, responsibility, concentration and honesty.

METROsquash students engage in equal parts squash and academic instruction three days a week after school. In addition, the program provides one-on-one mentoring and weekend activities including squash competitions, community service projects and cultural trips. METROsquash draws 5th through 9th grade students from Chicago public schools and provides them the skills, support and knowledge needed to enter top area high schools.


Street Soccer USA operates in 20 cities across the United States, empowering those who are homeless by uniting clinical services and sport programming, and providing access to educational & employment opportunities through a Jobs Academy. Through the SSUSA process, players improve social skills, self-esteem, physical/mental health and eliminate barriers to employment, making them more likely to achieve housing/job placement than their peers. Select program ambassadors represent SSUSA in various amateur tournaments, including the Homeless World Cup, each year.

Homeless World Cup

The Homeless World Cup is an annual, international football (soccer) tournament, uniting teams of people who are homeless. Throughout the year, it supports grassroots football projects and social enterprise development via a network of 70 national partners working with over 250,000 homeless and excluded people by providing support and guidance in football and management skills, to help grow and develop sustainable programs which have a positive impact on the lives of homeless and excluded people all around the world. The tournament creates an opportunity for players to represent their country and to meet and build relationships with homeless people from around the world.

Back on My Feet uses running to help those experiencing homelessness change the way they see themselves so they can make real change in their lives that results in employment and independent living. The organization’s mission is not to create runners within the homeless population, but to use running to create self-sufficiency in the lives of those experiencing homelessness. The program’s success is measured by how many members achieve independence through employment and housing.

In the next segment, we’ll take a look at sports programs as a platform for advocacy, awareness and fundraising around various causes. Sports is a fantastic platform for all kinds of businesses seeking ways to connect around key social issues – game on!

To learn more about nonprofit organizations that may be a good partnership fit for your company, join us in Anaheim, CA on May 1st and 2nd for the Business4Better Conference and Expo where we will explore building better communities together. 

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