When working in conflict/post-conflict areas where emotions are heightened, be mindful that some sporting experiences have the capacity to develop solidarity or aggression. The outcome depends upon the nature of the competition and the care with which the sport programme is implemented. If designed properly, sport programmes can operate as an outlet for channelling anger and controlling aggression.
Survivors of GBV in conflict/post-conflict areas often report feeling depressed and harbour negative emotions. The positive and supportive influence of teammates on their lives cannot be understated. If an individual feels that they are accepted and valued by their teammates in sport settings, they tend to be more self-confident and motivated to participate. Regular participation in sport can relieve symptoms of hopelessness and worthlessness, feelings typically linked with anxiety and depression.
Sport not only affords survivors the opportunity to counteract these negative emotions, but it also can help girls and women generate expectations of success. Exercise and sport can teach girls and women problem-solving skills and physical strength that can help rebuild damaged self-esteem. Additionally, sport has been shown to be an anti-depressive, a mood enhancer, and an anxiety reducer, thereby acting as a natural, cost-effective intervention for those coping with GBV. Researchers attest to the mood-enhancing power of physical activity such as sport. Some argue that serotonin is released during exercise, which serves to elevate mood, increase feelings of satiety, and lift depression.
Agathe* lives in eastern Rwanda and is a survivor of the genocide. Her husband infected her with HIV while she was pregnant and abandoned her after she received her test results. She felt depressed and isolated and suffered from sleep deprivation, eventually turning to alcohol. She even drank acid in an attempt to end her life. However, she had a child to support and re-assessed her life. She heard about a sport programme (AKWOS) that was operating in her village. Here, through sport, Agathe found an open forum to express herself and purge her negative emotions. She reports feeling free in her daily life.
D.F. Perkins, Parents: Making Youth Sports a Positive Experience (Pennsylvania State University: 2000)
The relationship between exercise behavior and mental health has been examined by many researchers (Byrne and
Byrne, 1993; Folkins and Sime, 1981; Gauvin and Spence, 1996; North et al., 1990; Salmon, 2000; Scully et al., 1998).
* Name changed to preserve anonymity