By Denis Margalik ( Western University)
What does it mean to play? What impact does the nature of sport provide? Ask anyone, and the most common answer you will receive is its ability to unite others. Just by observing the Olympic Games, it is evident that the power of sport lies in its ability to unify people, as athletes of various talents, cultures, countries, values, and beliefs are brought together to be watched and admired by the entire World. Then you have the FIFA World Cup, where just for a moment in time, it almost seems as if all the World’s conflicts are put on hold. Every sport has its own set of competitors, its own titles to be won, and its own hoard of loyal and dedicated fans. Sport itself has the ability to influence us all, and it creates a power and emotion within us that is rarely seen by anything else.
Being a World-competitive figure skater myself, I have been able to experience how sports can change and impact a person. Representing Argentina, a country where this ice-gliding, jump-twirling, artistic sport is usually unheard of, I was fortunate enough to put myself, and my country, on the World skating map. Throughout my career, I have been grateful to have opportunities to make friends in many parts of the World that I keep in touch with to this day, and I have developed many skills made on the ice, that I can apply off the ice as well. Despite the presence of language barriers and cultural differences, I was able to witness, first-hand, that the familiarity of sport was enough to fuel and maintain lifelong friendships.
Recently, Nexos Comunitarios, has implemented their “Kick-Off” program, which is a new educational approach focused on generating both cognitive and non-cognitive skills by using soccer in communities suffering from poverty. Nexos believes that through soccer, skills such as leadership, teamwork, resilience, fairness, effort, respect, responsibility, and compassion are strengthened, and allow for the transferring and application within the classroom.
During my time in Cuncani, I worked with Western University and Nexos, and was given the opportunity to work alongside the children there, helping them develop these important character traits and presented them with the chance to become closer with their community members. Using different soccer drills and game scrimmages, quick progress was observed. From their soccer skills noticeably improving, to the way they interacted with each other, they incremented their way in better being able to work as a team in order to achieve the main goal of soccer-to score. Their friend bubbles expanded to include more of their classmates, and sportsmanship became contagious. Eventually, these traits were observed directly in the classroom, and ultimately improved their ability to learn inside as equally as they did out. And although we may not have spoken the same language, we were able to use soccer to convey the universal language of play and laughter, which resulted in easily connecting with each of them for all of us to have a great time.
Arriving in Cuncani gave me a culture shock to remember. From the state of their living, to their lack of resources, all I wanted to do was help as much as I could. It was inspiring to see how the only thing they needed to bring light and energy into their lives, was the bond with their friends, which through the Kick-Off program was shown to be strengthened.
Through personal experiences, it’s easy for me to remember the many positive ways I was able to integrate what I learned through playing sports to my everyday life; it made me treat others better and helped me become a better person overall. With the help of Nexos and the Kick-Off program, I look forward in seeing the same impact and opportunities sports has provided to me to the children and families of Cuncani. From gaining many new transferable skills, friendships and senses of unity, I know that the power of sports provides much more than just the chance to compete. And seeing the spark of joy within the eyes of the children every time a soccer ball was spotted on sight, allowed me to realize that the power of sport had at least one more gift to offer: happiness.