PARK CITY — While sports often seem a gratuitous indulgence, those who’ve played or coached youth sports understand that with the games come some tangible, important and sometimes unexpected benefits that extend beyond the individuals who participate.
The power of sports is so transformative that it led three-time Olympic aerial skier Tracy Evans to found Kids Play International, a charity that uses athletics to promote gender equality in countries that have experienced genocide. This week, Evans has coaches from her program in Rwanda participating in a 10-day exchange where she hopes they will learn from youth sport coaches in the U.S. how to promote gender equality through coaching techniques. KPI will also host a speaker and panel discussion Tuesday, June 21, at 6:30 p.m. on how youth sports can help promote social change.
For Evans, it is the evolution of a program that began with just taking volunteers, including Olympic athletes, to war-torn countries to host free sports camps for children.
“There is so much obviously you can learn through sports and that can be applied in life,” said Evans.
For 10 days, Rwandan coaches will work with U.S. coaches to learn how to become better mentors to both boys and girls.
“They see the behaviors, how boys and girls interact, and talk to the youth about the impact sports has had on their lives,” Evans said. “One of the things I want to accomplish in these 10 days is to better education our coaches on how to develop local sports development programs.” She said Park City was the perfect place because the community embraces youth sports of all kinds.
“We want to explore how sports can be used as a tool to overcome those (social) barriers,” Evans said. “This will also explain why boys are an important part of the conversation.”
The keynote speaker for Tuesday night’s event will be Sarah Murray from Women Win. She’ll talk about how sports can advance girls rights locally and globally and why boys should be involved in the movement. After her remarks, there will be a panel discussion that includes coaches, Olympians and professors from Westminster College. It’s free and open to the public and will be held at Temple Har Shalom in Park City. For more information, go to www.kidsplayintl.org.
“Gender equality is not something that happens overnight,” Evans said. “It’s really about how they can identify good and bad gender norms and cultural norms that are harmful to not advancing girls rights, like who goes to school, who owns land, who gets to drive a car and who is the one who handles money. We’re using sports to actually, well, as the catalyst to teach these gender equality values.”