It is hard to put into words the power that sports hold. Sports give opportunities to find yourself, to make friendships and build relationships, to build character, to build life skills and morals, to travel, to learn… the list goes on and on. Growing up in America, I am accustomed to what I thought was a wide range of sports. I played competitive basketball and soccer growing up, watched baseball and football quite a bit, and have been around other sports like lacrosse, field hockey, ice hockey, track and field, softball and volleyball my entire life. In Ireland, I have been introduced to a wide array of sports that I am not accustomed to, including rugby, Gaelic football, pickle ball, and cricket.
When I joined the Sport Changes Life program, I knew I would be using my knowledge and experience with sport to help others become better versions of themselves. I have witnessed teenage boys with drug or alcohol issues come in to play soccer with us on a random Monday night- which helps them stay out of trouble by getting them off the street. I have seen the Northern Ireland dilemma in real life- Catholics and Protestants putting their issues aside and coming together to play a match. I have seen the power of sports in much older lives as well, like the 50+ group we play badminton and pickle ball with twice a week, or the 99 year old who is still active through the sport of boccia. For me, experiences like these in sport humble me, and make me aware of just how powerful sport can be. Just think of how incredible it is that a sport can get a teenager away from a bad situation for a night or can keep a very elderly person physically able.
And for me personally, everytime I am with these groups I not only get to see the power of sport in action, but I also get to learn a lot of new things myself. I have learned how to play (and am perfecting my skills in) pickle ball, badminton, boccia, and even cricket. (I also am now a fan of watching rugby and gaelic football, which I find so fascinating.) Being a competitive athlete for so long and playing basketball at such a high level, there is no better way to humble myself than stepping back and realizing that a 99 year old may actually beat me in a game of boccia. I’ve learned so much about different sports since I’ve been here; I get to interact with new people all the time and am subjected to how they have grown up in a culture of sports that is different from mine, and for that I am really lucky! Although our sport cultures our a bit different and we are from different parts of the world, sports generally have a way of bringing people together. Honestly I love sports more than just about any other thing in the world, and I am having a blast learning about the different ones in the Irish culture. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll start my own pickle ball or cricket club in the states! Gonna have to stay tuned for that one… cheers!!