Stephen is One Young World Ambassador from the Republic of Ireland. He works as a Project Engineer for Arup and is also a Hurler for Glen Rovers and Cork often performing in front of crowds of 80,000 people upwards. Hurling is a 3,000 year old Irish sport and one of the fastest games in the world. Stephen is passionate about the power of sport to instill values and change lives.
I decided to write this article because I have been actively involved in sport from a very young age, and, to be honest, sport has made the person I am today.
My journey to attaining the success in my sport and my professional career as an Engineer for Arup had a lot of ups and downs - but what’s important is the principles of discipline, hard work, leadership, teamwork, courage and passion always persisted even through the bad times. Sport fast tracked my understanding of these principles and many more. It showed me the importance of effort, self-awareness, self-belief and how every mistake is meant for you and there is a lesson that can be learned. I was able to use my approach to sport as a method of achieving success in every area of my life. I applied all these characteristics and values to achieve success in school, college, professionally and personally.
How sport breaks down barriers
When I was 14, I was the subconscious leader of my gang of friends. One day, we happened to come across a gang of around 15 French foreign exchange students the same age as ourselves. They were wandering around an estate we were passing as we headed to the shop. Immediately the reaction from my friends was fear, but they didn’t want to show fear, they had reputations to live up to and people they felt they had to impress, so they started to abuse the exchange students.
As the leader, I didn’t know what to do. If I tell them to stop – I lose my position as leader and they see me as afraid, weak and soft. If I join in – I go against all my core values. I knew the right thing to do was to tell my friends to stop, but I wasn’t brave enough and my insecurities as a 14 year old kid wouldn’t leave me do so. I could see how scared the foreign exchange students were and I knew I had to put an end to this.
What was I supposed to do? Frightened 14 year old kid that I was. Boom….A light bulb blew up in my mind…..sport…..soccer! I turned to my gang and told them that we should play the French in soccer, I then tell them to stop and relax and to let me go and discuss this with the French. I approach the French; frightened, they back off. The leader of the French comes to meet me, we discuss, shake hands; a soccer match it is. A wave of relief took over as the rest of the French find out that it was only a game of soccer we wanted and not to further abuse them. A few hard tackles go in at the start, then we let it all go, enjoy the game and just have fun. The exchange students had very little English and were going home to France two days later but we all hung out together for those days – night and day - and we really made a connection with them. Through sport we literally broke down barriers and let all the fear and insecurities go. It united France and Ireland, it united 30 kids. Amazing.
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Nelson Mandela's message on sport
Sport participation can help build character, encourage emotional growth, and teach players and spectators the value of honesty, respect, teamwork, dedication, and commitment. My story is a great small example of this but an inspiring and remarkable example of this is how one of the world’s greatest ever leaders and my hero, Nelson Mandela, used sport to unite people and transform South Africa.
Nelson Mandela once said;
“Sport has the power to change the world, it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
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I have come a long way since that insecure 14 year old kid. Currently I am a Sky Sports Living for Sport Athlete Mentor. This programme is a part of Sky Academy and uses current and retired sporting athletes to inspire young people between the ages of 11 to 18 to develop a range of personal qualities that will enable them to lead happy and productive lives. The project is free for schools to access and currently runs in all parts of the UK and Republic of Ireland. I would really encourage every school to get get involved in this amazing programme.
My experience as an Athlete Mentor is a very fulfilling role, I get to help school kids increase their confidence, get better grades, understand more about themselves, help each other out in life and they learn so much more. I get to give back all the skills I attained through life and sport. Recently I was at a school where a child who I would have identified as being very low in confidence, approached me with tears in eyes and thanked me as I was leaving the school.
It's about changing and saving lives. It's about really building a society, a nation, a country. Sport has something to offer people at all ages. For everyone out there who feels afraid to give it a go or think they’re too old I challenge you to overcome those reckless thoughts and go for it – be brave – set an example.
I hope that any parents and youth who happen to read this article will remember just how glorious sport is. Parents need to realize how sport can have an immeasurable impact on their children. Parents; always encourage, never criticize your child’s performance. It’s key to keeping them involved and key to their enjoyment. Young people involved in sport need to remember how lucky they are to be harnessing such great experiences and to remember that every fall in sport as in life involves a great learning experience. Everyone goes through hard times, makes mistakes and fails - grow through it, relax, enjoy sport, and enjoy life.
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