The Social Dimension of Muaythai – Youth Development Project in Belgium

In 2008 youth organization JES vzw started a sport project in regarding fight and dance for the Flemish Minister of Sport. The mission statement of the project is to strengthen vulnerable youth in sportclubs in Antwerp. Muaythai is a sport which attracts an enormous potential of social vulnerable groups, more than other sports. Because of this remarkable quality JES decided to cooperate with these muaythai clubs. Now, in august 2010, there is a cooperation with a total of 8 muaythai clubs.

For JES the sport itself is not the only aim. More than that, the project focuses on the social dimension of these clubs. Young club members come to the club for different motives: fitness, but also being together with peers, to canalize aggression in a healthy way, some youngster train to one day be instructors themselves.

In order to explore this social function of the clubs, a number of edge conditions have to be fulfilled. A healthy policy and a special attention for the extrasportive is therefore essential. This project focuses especially on these elements; from the fore-part of a volunteer group that organizes a weekend for the club, to giving workshops in education of food and power training or the development a magazine with tips and tricks for the youngsters and trainers.

One of the main themes in the project’s approach is the giving of responsibilities at the youth. “We strongly believe that by giving responsibilities at the club member in an accompanied way, the result is a win win situation” says Pieter Smets, responsible for the project. “By doing this, the trainers don’t have to do all the work, and in the meantime the adolescents learn to deal with responsibilities in a safe environment which encourages them to explore their qualities. Later they can maintain these qualities in other domains of life (i.e. work).”

In order to make his approach succeed, the project has a professional worker who is at the disposal of these clubs. In each club there are other needs and focuses. The consequence is that there has to be worked at different levels. In one club the worker accompanies a volunteer group, in another club he joins the board meeting of the club, or makes team-building moments happen, the organizing of workshops healthy food and power training.

All these actions have in common that they always must have a long term durable impact for the social dynamics in the clubs.

Besides the individual working with the clubs the project also offers a covering program with an offer on what clubs can subscribe. An example is the organizing of the ‘sport+weekends’. On these weekends several youngsters of different clubs come together for teambuilding, but also to discuss about the sport and to experiment with responsibilities in an informal way; the set up of a training, discuss about technical but also pedagogical questions concerning the teaching of their sport.

A very important target is also the trainers. For them the project developed several educational courses. The main themes who come back are power training, healthy food and mental coaching of youngsters.

In the same way of thinking JES and the federation establish the more formal course of ‘assistant trainer’. By following this course, young assistant trainers get some background of the sport and learn some of the pedagogical an technical skills which they can develop in their further entraining career.

The importance of durable partnerships has an important role for the project. The Bkm₂o, the Belgian Federation of Muay Thai, is therefore strongly involved in the fore-part of this project. Their role is to think about how these products, methods and outcomes can be taken over at the long term in order to have an impact at the sport. Result is that this federation is becoming one of the most renewing and progressive federations of Belgium. But as long as the sport will not be recognized as a sport (which is at this moment the case), it will be a difficult task to give these sorts of projects a structural endurance and long term impact.