I’m sitting at a cozy four-seat kitchen table in the apartment of a fantastic and exceedingly hospitable friend in Fairfax, Virginia (D.C. metropolitan area). Why? Thanks to a random email sent a few weeks ago, I was invited to be a fly on the wall during the culmination of an incredible international sports endeavor happening in D.C. this past weekend. I’m still blown away by the people I met, the ideas and plans presented that will enact changes in communities all over the world, and the incredible opportunity it was for me to be a part. Here’s the rundown.
The program I connected with is called the Global Sports Mentorship Program. It is co-sponsored by ESPNW, The U.S. Department of State, and the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. Essentially, the program brings a small number of international delegates (totaling 17 and representing 16 countries this time around) to the States for about 5 weeks. They spend a week in orientation, then about 3 weeks placed in mentorships around the country (spending their time with top representatives from organizations like Google, ESPN, NCAA, the San Antonio Spurs, Fox Sports, the PGA, Gatorade, Under Armor, and the list goes on), then a final week or so in Washington, D.C. to present their unique “Action Plans” detailing how they plan to inspire change in their communities when they return home.
The program receives ample applicants from all over the world and candidates are thoroughly vetted. The final group truly represents top talent across a wide range of professional career paths. Several of the participants this year are national-level journalists, editors, or sports broadcasters. Several work for their national sports federations across a wide array of disciplines ranging from basketball to boxing. Many were (or are) professional or national-level athletes. Many have already started their own nonprofits, run their own organizations, or have key elements already in place to implement their ideas (grant funding, established partnerships, copyrights or 501c3 entities in the works, etc.).
Though the group ranged widely in interest, origin, strengths, and stage of their idea’s development, they shared common denominators: Each participant is eager to learn, capable and professional, burdened for the problems in their own countries, and are taking (or have already taken) the leap to facilitate change.
My involvement in all of this merely caught the tail end of the program — the participants’ culminating presentations this weekend. After their week together and then three weeks apart as they worked alongside their elite mentors across the country, the whole group gathered in D.C. for their final week to present their Action Plans to each other and to any of the mentors who could attend.
I arrived at a YMCA less than a mile from the Mall on Saturday morning and accompanied a group of laughing, friendly, boistrous women into the upstairs meeting space where we would live for 14 of the next 48 hours. What a time we had. Staff members and facilitators clearly were athletes and understood athlete group dynamics. Dance-offs were memorialized. High-fives were ample. Smiles were contagious. Jokes and teasing provided a near-constant backdrop to the content we were there to deliver and digest. And the room almost palpably glowed from the aura of the elite, the experiences of the visitors, and the passion of all to achieve significant change.
I got to spend a weekend fraternizing with women keenly passionate about sport and its ability to facilitate social change, supremely qualified and capable to enact it, and who had spent the last month arming themselves with the ideas, action steps, networks, and support to put the pedal to the medal. My kind of group. I cannot wait to see where the connections lead. I cannot wait for my chance to foster this rowdy busful of new relationships. I cannot wait for the day when I can step alongside some of these fantastic people and assist in their endeavors. What a great weekend.
I will be in the D.C. area with friends and family this coming week, and then will jump into a car with a new friend and his family as we travel across the state on Sunday to Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Virginia. Until the next adventure,