Changing the Trajectory of Life through Sport
Sport is often viewed from the paradigm of health and fitness. Sport (well… most sports) have the capacity to improve many aspects of health. The mental and physical benefits are now ubiquitous in everyday dialogue.
What is not often discussed is the utility of sport to provide mobility up the socioeconomic ladder. In the absence of opportunity, most individuals heavily rely on low-skill jobs in order to move themselves up the socioeconomic ladder. None is more obvious than the immigrant who is unqualified and cannot speak the native tongue (English). Typically, these individuals are forced to take occupations like driving, cleaning, housekeeping and labouring – because these are not particularly ‘skillful’ (I use this term only in the context of their applicability in the country they live, many immigrants are very qualified in their home country).
So, where does this leave us in the context of sport? Sport, when viewed as a job, is a high complexity physical task. There is no language or qualification involved in passing a soccer ball (the act of passing, not the communication part), throwing a punch, or lifting a barbell. And, there is no pre-requisite needed to appreciate the former. Because of these qualities, professional sport can be used as a means of climbing the socioeconomic ladder, sometimes to dizzying heights.
To name a few examples, Manny Pacquiao was homeless and living in extreme poverty. Rising through the ranks of boxing, Manny is now worth $230 million. Cristiano Ronaldo grew up impoverished, and is now one of the world’s most successful footballers. He is worth $500 million as of 2021. They’re extreme examples, of course.
This idea is not without its’ caveats. It is still more likely for those of a higher socioeconomic class to achieve in their chosen sport compared to those in the lower. This is undeniable. With more financial freedom comes luxuries that benefit performance – better options for therapy, calibre of coaching and quality of food to name a few.
But the beauty of sport (and life, for that matter), is that persistence and hard work will always be the key ingredients to success. As coaches, we may only come across a few of these individuals in our lifetime. You’ll know when you meet these people. They’re driven. They’re hungry. And they don’t make any excuses for themselves.
What part can we, as coaches, play in these narratives? The most obvious is the delivery of our services for a subsidised fee, or none at all. This removes the financial barrier – and could be more powerful than ever imagined. The possibilities are endless. A small act of generosity – a free tip, an encouraging word, or even mentorship can be what’s needed to keep a hungry lion going. Much of our role is to improve the health and fitness of our clients, but always keep in mind that there will be a rare few where our impact extends far beyond health. We could be the ones to help them change the trajectory of their life. All it takes is some generosity and kindness.