By Sheila Dixon and Grant Jarvie
“The program is a family and they work together to give girls ‘TWO’ The Way Out using basketball”.
“Where I come from it is really rough ……, it’s hard not to get involved in the streets. If it were not for basketball – I would not be here”.
Local and Global Poverty
As a local and global phenomenon, poverty, together with its eradication, remains a challenge of enormous proportions, despite levels of extreme wealth in parts of the world. The answer on how to eradicate poverty remains illusive. Attempts to redistribute wealth, develop capabilities, improve life- chances and narrow the inequality gap, all involve a raft of measures and the struggle to find out what works where and when and under what circumstances.
Typically, poverty is understood to be a lack of resources, but it can also mean inadequate outcomes or lack of opportunities (Mckendrick, 2016). It is not the same as income inequality or multiple deprivation, but it is closely related to both issues. Renewed attempts to think of poverty have been forthcoming (Banerjee and Duflo, 2011). The UN offers a Multidimensional Poverty Index while local contexts, such as Scotland, use measures such as the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.
The relationship between sport and poverty has been historically linked and yet contemporary social activists, policy formulators and parliamentarians often remain detached and aloof about the opportunities facilitated through sport.
Sport and Poverty
The relationship between sport and poverty is complex:
• Sport can be an escape from poverty;
• Sport assists with social mobility:
• The ghetto thesis suggests that poor living conditions foster tough sportspeople who can succeed and escape;
• Sport helps with educational achievement;
• Sport can carry social messages to raise awareness;
• Barriers to sports participation exist for those experiencing poverty;
• Sport builds capabilities, including confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy:
• Sport helps to provide a degree of normality when all around seems not to be normal;
• Children living in the poorest households in some countries may never experience sport;
• Sport contributes to the poverty of opportunity; and
• Poverty exists, not just in areas of multiple deprivation, but also in affluent areas, but the experience of sport in these two contexts might be different.
Some Basketball Voices
The study drawn upon in this blog gives voice to one inner city programme aimed at providing African-American girls and women alternative choices through basketball.
To some extent this research compliments similar studies and the disparities of gender, race and class that have influenced opportunities available to African- American girls and the long term benefits of participating in positive sport programmes like basketball.
The research supports the ideal youth development-specific sport programmes can provide young black girls with an outlet for physical activity but also provide them an avenue to challenge the norms and stigmas often placed on them while providing them opportunities to learn, grow and expand their social capital.
The work of Olushola et al (2013) identified four key components in developing a successful a youth programme that aimed to cater for black girls: (1) family; (2) education; (3) discipline; and (4) civic engagement (Olushola, et al., 2013).
Furthermore, the study concluded that sport must exist beyond the context of physical activity to combat the challenges that young minority girls face. Sport is flexible and can be incorporated as a tool to achieve the goals of youth development programmes (Olushola, et al., 2013).Yet as a social tool box the complexity of the sports offer requires a knowledge of what works, where and when and under what circumstances. In an of itself it is not a solution but it does offer the opportunity to develop capabilities in Sen’s sense of the term.
This girl’s youth basketball programme was established in 2004 in upstate New York. It is one of many basketball programmes – Peace Players International, Gainline Africa Basketball – that aim to further enable girls and women on the margins.
Listen to these basketball voices as some of the testimonies supporting this one New York local based programme for girls.
The philosophy was simple; the programme would be looked at as a “family”. Those individuals who were associated with the programme were a part of the family and that family extends to any and all people who had come through the programme (e.g. players, coaches, parents, sponsors, supporters, …
During observations, team huddles would finish with a “shout” on a 3-count in which all members of the huddle would shout “Family”. Huddles could happen as many as four times in a practice session and as much as ten times during a game
“The programme is a family and they work together to give girls ‘TWO’ (the way out) using basketball”
According to the director, they and others in the “family are able to make it work” meaning the programme and the demands of the programme, because they have built relationships in the community that affords them the chance to work with the area’s basketball trainers and use certain facilities at their disposal. One participant said:
“being able to train in different facilities helped us to get used to playing in different environments and allowed us access to equipment such as shooting guns that you only see in college practices which we would not have access to and are way too expensive to purchase personally”
The programme went beyond being just a basketball programme, one said:
“The programme made us better people and young ladies. It helped us get free money too, and by free money I mean scholarships. But, we had expectations to meet. There was a certain decorum we had to have as athletes of this programme… respect for ourselves and others. And learning that would be able to take us further than what basketball could ever do.”
On Staying Out of Trouble
Alumni participants who had come from particular backgrounds such as living in low income, single family neighbourhoods where crime and deviance was heightened believed that the programme and the sport kept them out of trouble.
“I believe, if I did not play in the programme, I would not have seen different than what I was surrounded by in my neighbourhood and most likely would have fallen into those same surroundings and not attended college”
On Social Capital
The primary social capital element that the programme focuses on is advancing educational attainment which is the greatest challenge that many individuals face. However, in order to optimize individual development capabilities, the programme must address the concerns of its players being females in sport.
The education attainment objectives in the programme are put forth through basketball yet the programme does not have the ability in and of itself to address all the potential scholastic challenges that individuals currently deal with.
The potential benefits of finding what works best and under what circumstances through, in this case basketball are not to be ignored-
Life, learning and work
¬ Improved confidence and self-esteem
¬ People are better equipped to make positive
choices in their lives
¬ Young people’s learning experiences and
¬ People develop their skills for life, learning and work
¬ People progress into learning, training, volunteering
¬ Increased connections and cohesion within communities
¬ Families have positive relationships
¬ Communities experience reduced anti-social behaviour and offending
Deficit models of culture, blaming the poor for their poverty, ignoring structural reasons for poverty and not acknowledging specific contexts are not options. Nor is the observation that while governments change and policies change more often that not the levels of need in many neighbourhood communities remain the same.
There is sufficient, consistent evidence to support the need to look at both an area approach to social interventions involving neighbourhood sports programmes, along with the call for more flexible, free, adaptable, informal, safe and interactive neighbourhood sports provision, if the thresholds on sports participation are to be lowered and the barrier of poverty is to be removed to allow increased access to sport for young people, the marginalised and the excluded.
Childcare, pre-school and extended school provision and serious investment in early intervention are some of the interventions that have been aimed at making a lasting difference. One of the most valuable lessons to be learned is that understanding the context is key to determining which tools in the social toolbox of sport can help and support the local context. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Basketball More than a Game
Basketball is not a solution but it provides resources for some individuals and communities. Classic studies of mid-night basketball leagues in Chicago and other cities have been careful to qualify grand claims and yet education through basketball studies have suggested change is possible on a number of fronts where basketball is a means to an end.
The basketball voices from this one New York based Basketball based programme testify in part to the potential of sport for change being be a part of communities that can create positive learning environments for individuals who face challenges based upon complex interactions, in this case of of class, gender and race.