The Power of Sports and Play: The ASEAN S4DPL Project

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The Power of Sports and Play: The ASEAN S4DPL Project
Phunyanuch Pattanotai
Country Director Right to Play Thailand Foundation

“The ASEAN S4DPL Project is very effective for the youth in the community and it made me become open-minded. I call this the most precious experience of my life,” says Wai Yan Thant Zin, Myanmar youth leader, reflecting on her experience being part of the ASEAN S4DPL Project.

Southeast Asia is a fast-growing and vibrant region, where more than 30 per cent of the over 655 million population are youth. By 2038, it is projected that the youth population will reach 220 million in total. Towards the end of 2020, 58 change agents from ASEAN Member States, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Senior Official Meeting on Sports, and Right To Play gathered to celebrate the achievement of the ASEAN Youth Sport for Development, Peace, and Leadership (ASEAN S4DPL) Project. Through this Project, 44 project outreach initiatives are implemented in nine ASEAN Member States and Norway by youth leaders, which further empower 530 local youth leaders and positively impact about 6,500 children, youth, and adults in their local communities.

Can you describe the work that Right To Play Foundation has been doing since 2000? How does the power of play protect, educate and empower the youth?


Endorsed as an official partner associated with ASEAN since 2016, Right To Play shares the same notion that sports is the key to sustainable development and a tool for peace and social cohesion. We both believe that sports and physical activity can lead to crime prevention and minimisation of risky behaviours for at risk youth. For more than 20 years, Right To Play has relentlessly worked to protect, educate, and empower children and youth to rise above adversity through sports and play. Right To Play is the global organisation that uses the transformative power of play through different types of play (sports, games, creative play, and free play). With its headquarters in Toronto, Canada, Right To Play Thailand Foundation has been operational in Thailand since 2007 and implemented programmes for the most marginalised communities, including youth-at-risks in schools, refugees, migrants, and young people in detention and rehabilitation centres using sports and play as an innovative and dynamic learning tool within a comprehensive and holistic approach to education and life skills development.  

What were the objectives of the ASEAN S4PDL project, and how were they achieved?


The ASEAN S4DPL Project’s goal is to develop life skills and leadership for ASEAN youth leaders so that they can promote a sense of ASEAN Community, promote a healthy lifestyle, and improve crime prevention through Sports for Development and Peace. What we were expecting from this Project are three main things: (i) improved facilitation and leadership skills among ASEAN youth through sports and games; (ii) increased technical skills in regular sports; and (iii) outreach project initiatives implemented in local communities by youth leaders using sports. We would like to see “by youth and for youth movement” in the Southeast Asian region and beyond. 

In line with the aforementioned, the design of overall training programme focuses on increasing leadership and facilitation skills through sports activities while equipping Right To Play unique learning methodology of Reflect-Connect-Apply (RCA) questions to develop life skills such as leadership, self-confidence, empathy, decisionmaking, and communication through sports and play. Meanwhile, besides technical training on traditional and regular sports, the project trained youth leaders in the essential skills of project management, such as project proposal development, reporting f inancial expenses, and communication via photography. As a result, youth leaders can successfully develop and implement their outreach project initiatives employing sports and play to address a wide array of social issues in their local communities, including inclusion of persons with disabilities, education on gender equality, prevention of body shaming, promoting a healthy lifestyle, and peacebuilding. 

How would you describe the Youth Leaders and the initiatives they chose for their communities?


The ASEAN S4DPL participating youth leaders are diverse in experiences and background. Some of them already work for particular NGOs or organisations with clear objectives and target groups. Some of them are professional athletes, and some of them are young people with potential and aspiration to make a positive change to societies.

Thus, the training programme provides knowledge of the sports and play for development that allows youth leaders to explore the roles of sports and its creative ways to address different issues in the ASEAN Community. They learned how sports and play could contribute to individual and social change from real-life stories, and exchanged knowledge of social issues/concern of local communities with other youths from ASEAN member countries and Norway before developing project proposals.

Upon returning to their respective home countries, youth leaders have a few months to develop project proposals involving local communities, with remote coaching from Right To Play staff so that they can finalise their project initiatives. The initiatives that were subsequently chosen are based on the socio-cultural context of their home communities, their interests and related work experiences, or their capacity to acquire resources and to reach target beneficiaries.

How did the youth leaders successfully implement their tasks despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic?


As the situation with COVID-19 continues to develop through the year, ASEAN S4DPL project adapted, by using online tools to continue rolling out activities with youth leaders, and keeping a strong network of future change makers and supporting them to successfully organise projects at their home countries.

For the youth to roll out their project initiatives despite the COVID-19 pandemic, modifications to project activities have been made depending on each country’s situation, including arranging activities in small groups with social distancing practice, utilising online tools to complement actual activities, or designing virtual activities to complete project implementation. Some of the young participants brought what they learned to adapt their project to the current situation. Examples are as follows: “Move it Move it with Yoga” initiative by Selva Raju S/O Arumugam, a Singaporean youth leader who shifted his project online for participants to relieve stress, improve memory, help to sleep better, and boost overall mood through yoga; “Bright Health Media (Stay tune for your evolution)” initiative by Wai Yan Thant Zin, our youth leader from Myanmar to ensure a happy and healthy time at home during the 2nd wave of COVID-19 among university students with virtual platform, and deliver essential knowledge of physical and mental fitness.

For Right To Play, since physical gathering is limited, we continued to deliver our mentoring/coaching remotely using WhatsApp, LINE, and Facebook Messenger. 

ASEAN S4DPL Facebook Group was created to maintain people-to-people connectivity and harmonisation of ASEAN youth. Online sessions were conducted on different aspects, such as non-violent communication, photography, COVID-19 programme modification, Digital Communication and Advocacy Campaign, and Sport & Play in ASEAN Community to ensure the success of youth-led initiatives implementation.

Sports and play can be a great tool for all of us to stay healthy and mentally strong.

With the prolonged pandemic and limitations in mobility, play, and physical interaction, how can governments, communities, and youth continue developing skills through sports and play?


Building community resilience is key for ASEAN to thrive through the prolonged pandemic. COVID-19 kept children and youth away from schools and universities, and the uncertainties it has brought only added to their stress and anxiety. Sports and play can be a great tool for all of us to stay healthy and mentally strong. The success of ASEAN S4DPL shows that even with limitations caused by the pandemic, youth in the community can come together to arrange online sports activities, such as yoga at home or advocating the use of sport and play to maintain health.

Local communities can encourage youth activities using free spaces in communities. They can schedule different activities for small groups, for example, aerobic classes on Monday-Tuesday, football on Wednesday-Friday evening, drawing/painting on Saturday afternoon, and knitting on Sunday, and so on.

Governments or local authorities can support the youth and local communities by ensuring safe spaces for sports and play, and giving them access to hygiene and sanitation facilities and personal protective equipment (i.e. hang gels and face masks). It may also be useful to tap local TV channels, radio channels, YouTube, and other available media outlets to ramp up ideas or support for community-led activities that encourage people to stay active at home.