Unemployment in the United Kingdom affects 1 out of 7 young people, half of whom are young women. That rate is three times higher than the national average for all ages combined. For these young people, unemployment often goes hand in hand with low self-confidence, lack of physical activity, mental health issues or alcohol abuse. Street League was founded in 2003 to use sports as a way to help 16- to 25-year olds find training or employment.
By combining soccer with more traditional classes to improve employability, as well as meetings with professionals, Street League was reaching a clientele that was 93% masculine. Because girls are just as affected as boys by unemployment, in 2014 the charity decided to develop a special program for them. For Lindsey MacDonald, who works on the program, “It was not enough to just paint our logo pink! We had to transform our approach, listen to what young women needed and wanted so we could find the best response to their expectations.” That is how “Dance Fit” came to be.
Dancing to hold their heads high…
The choice of dance in all its many forms was not a random decision. For Sophia Chitty, a Street League instructor, its benefits go well beyond sports and affect self-esteem: “We work on body language and posture… Facial expressions, for example, smiling or even how to walk across a room. In the beginning, some girls are very shy; they don’t talk and they keep their heads down. Then little by little, they blossom, stand up tall and look you in the eyes. Their whole attitude changes. We know that body language is a major part of how we present ourselves to others, especially in a professional setting.” Basra Khan, a 22-year old woman who participated in the program, agrees: “For example, we learned ballet and we worked on how to carry ourselves. That was really good for me. It helped a lot in interviews.” Most importantly, Dance Fit inspired her to hold her head high, both literally and figuratively: “It helped restore my self-confidence. When you’re unemployed, your self-esteem takes a really big hit. With dance, we learned how to go outside our comfort zone: to try, to never stop trying and to never give up.”
… and learning how to accept help
Sports are also a way for Street League’s staff to earn the young women’s trust and to teach them to work as a team. Paired with individual support from mentors, it’s a winning formula. “Becoming more self-assured and working with my mentor to update my résumé, prepare my job applications and get ready for interviews…all those things are what helped me find another job,” notes Basra, who was recently hired as a case worker at an employment center. Lindsey MacDonald explains: “Sports work as an accelerator in interpersonal relations. If you take a group of people and have them play sports together, they have to get to know one another, communicate and trust one another pretty fast. Then, when we do group work, they are far more productive than if they were just sitting down next to each other in a classroom. Because they have forged a bond.” That is what happens between the young women and the team at Street League.
Dance helps build the self-esteem of young women who are often sorely lacking it, while helping to create a group dynamic that will further them on the path to employment. As with other sports, communication, discipline and teamwork are the foundation. Street League’s work also echoes a UNESCO objective that calls for integrating the values of sports in teaching as part of its Values Education through Sport* program: “Sport can teach values such as fairness, teambuilding, equality, discipline, inclusion, perseverance and respect.”
Street League is delivering concrete proof that the approach works in the field. For the 2016-2017 year, the association worked with 1,553 young people. Today, 16% of its beneficiaries are girls, and it aims to reach 30% by 2018-2019. Most importantly, 67% of those girls went on to find jobs, enroll in training programs or pursue their studies.
reporter for Fondation CHANEL
- Unesco / Values Education through Sport http://www.unesco.org/new/fr/social-and-human-sciences/themes/physical-education-and-sport/values-education-through-sport/
- Unesco infographic: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002463/246351f.pdf