Indigenous Sport Innovation in South America

I recently returned from a 2 week tour of Southern Peru with stops in tourist destinations such as Cusco and Machu Picchu as well as the Sacred Valley. This was my first visit to a South American country and I chose Peru for a number of reasons. First, old friends and colleagues inspired me to visit, second, I was fascinated by Machu Picchu and third, I wanted to use up my vacation time wisely. Hiking up to Machu Picchu has always intrigued me.

Machu Picchu, Peru – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There were several highlights from my stay in Peru, but I would like to focus on the most striking issues relevant to sport for development and peace, that I was  fortunate to witness. Throughout my travels in Asia and Africa, I have had little experience interacting with indigenous people, but while in Puno, Peru a visit to Lake Titicaca‘s Uros island gave me a glimpse of the impact of modern life (including sport and recreation) on the Uros people.

Uros people on Lake Titicaca, Peru Photo credit: Tour company, 2017.

Traveling with a group of Western tourists, we were taken by boat from Puno to Lake Titicaca where we visited Uros island. When we arrived on the island we were greeted by a warm elderly woman dressed in bright, traditional attire who guided us to a semi-circular seating area. After being seated on reed benches, she gave us an overview of life on the island of Uros and its culture with the aide of a translator.

Interestingly, the island itself is made of reeds which are grown and stacked to produced a floating surface which is finally completed by playing sports, such as soccer and basketball to make the “ground” compact. This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of turf, especially in a remote region of the world. The Uros are connected to the modern world by modern communication and transportation systems, yet they retain their culture and way of life with a touch of sport.

 

 

 

 

 

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Harnessing Star Power for Sport and Philanthropy

Sport and philanthropy is a decades old practice for many professional athletes, both active and retired.  As ambassadors of their sport, the athletes establish family foundations or have supported the work of existing philanthropic organizations through their charitable work.

An international development project which allowed me to gain first-hand exposure to sport and philanthropy was while helping to organize a fundraiser in 2002 for the Harvard Dominican Initiative. The premise was to leverage diaspora for philanthropic efforts, to reap rewards for community members both in the homeland and adopted countries.

Hall of Fame pitcher, Pedro Martinez of the Boston Red Sox is one example – of many professional athletes – who has given back to his native country – the Dominican Republic – by raising funds and awareness for a variety of social and economic issues. Pedro’s generosity and appreciation towards baseball fans was demonstrated when he donated hundreds of Red Sox tickets and personally autographed baseballs to help raise money for progressive causes. All attendees of the event co-sponsored by Harvard, received a baseball autographed by Pedro Martinez.

Pedro Martinez, Hall of Fame pitcher of the Boston Red Sox autographed baseball. Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2017.

Professional athletes and celebrities bring star power to philanthropy. They can help fuel donations to important causes and help bring about positive social change to communities at the local, national and international levels. This is considered a best practice and a win-win for stakeholders. Essentially professional athletes and professional ambassadors remind us of the importance of good stewardship to help balance people, planet and profits.

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Do you have an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Tennis Coach?

Before I learned how to play squash, my Dad introduced me to tennis as a kid. Recently, my Dad, a tennis enthusiast, shared a link to an innovative sport technology product – Coach T. This simple design, but easy to use technological innovation has lots of potential. To learn more about this product, check out the video below from Yanni Peng, Founder of Coach T.

As a certified squash coach who taught squash novices and beginners at Phillips Academy Andover, Concord Academy and Commonwealth School to name a few, I think Coach T could be customized into Coach S (squash). This would not replace a traditional human coach, rather supplement on-court coaching time with portable technology that a student could use on his or her own time.

In the meantime, to help make Coach T a reality for tennis enthusiasts, Yanni Peng and her team at Coach T, are conducting a crowdsourcing campaign for the “first AI tennis assistant. To make learning tennis more efficient, flexible and save you money.” I am happy to spread the word about Coach T.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Evolution as a Developmental Coach

Today happens to be my Mom’s birthday and the month in which Mothers are celebrated, among other national and international awareness activities (such as Mental Health Awareness Month). To readers of my blog, I hope you have a few minutes to read this post.

I’ve made a couple of references to my parents on this blog largely because I know it is thanks to them and many others, that I am able to stay healthy, volunteer my time with causes I care about and explore new places and things.

The video above is a culmination of my journey in squash. I have enjoyed every moment of playing, coaching and volunteering in squash at various levels, as well as being a team member on winning and losing teams.

I plan to stay physically active with and without squash, as it definitely keeps me well and balanced. Thanks, Mom and Happy Birthday!

 

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Keeping it Real in Spain?

My paternal grandfather and father, were both good amateur soccer players in their youth. While on a recent vacation in Spain, I was staying close to Real Madrid’s stadium. I must admit I did not intend to blog about the La Liga, Spain’s premier football division largely because I did not know much about the teams. When I found out that my hotel was near the stadium, I decided to take a walk around the Madrid neighborhood to see for myself.

Visit to Madrid, Spain, 2017. Photo credit: Unknown.

Like many Americans, sports coverage in the United States is mainly focused on the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. Major League Soccer in the United States has grown significantly and U.S.Soccer team has had some strong performances in previous World Cup Championships. In Europe, soccer is the sport that captures the public interest with international soccer starts like Real Madrid’s Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Messi. The best of the best players in developing countries sometimes make it into the soccer leagues of Europe and North America.

Economics drives the investment in sport stadiums like Read Madrid’s and other stadiums around the world. From Wimbledon to Fenway the infrastructure to compete and maintain in such stadiums costs millions. Many parts of Asia and Africa are prohibitively expensive for the public to bear such an investment (considering other competing demands) which is why only the best of the best players from developing countries make it to play in the West.

Squash is a minor sport relative the world’s love of football so my walk through this Madrid neighborhood, helped me to keep it real with more perspective on the urban squash movement.

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How does One Learn to Improvise?

When I was coaching high school squash I found myself often repeating the same training exercises and drills with students to build strong fundamentals. This was largely due to adjust for skill levels and therefore as students showed signs of improvement in their matches, I would like to believe that I began to improvise more. Perhaps not enough, though in my opinion.

Having spent a considerable amount of time away from squash practices, I have found other areas, most notably in jazz performances where improvisation is almost the norm. For athletic coaches in the Boston area, I strongly recommend attending the Mandorla Music Series in Somerville’s Third Life Studio to listen to world-class musicians at very affordable prices, in support of important humanitarian causes.

John Funkhouser’s Quartet (featuring Greg Loughman, a Bowdoin College faculty member) and John Kordalewski Trio featuring Carlos Pino & Kesivan Naidoo are two shows I was fortunate to watch and listen to live. Given the intimate setting, the musicians were very approachable and generous in sharing their love for music. Above is a song titled “The Deep,” by Professor John Funkhauser‘s Quartet, who have a cache for creating eclectic sounding instrumental jazz music. Improvising in sport and music, definitely go together.

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Revolutionizing Squash Through Outdoor Modular Courts

As a squash enthusiast, I am very excited by a new initiative from T-point, a private squash company to make squash accessible by investing in outdoor modular squash courts. This is an innovative architectural design that I am yet to see in reality, but is very appealing from multiple perspectives such as an amateur player, coach and administrator. Words do not do justice to the concept, so please watch the video.

As you can see there are several possible sites for such a court. One may ask, how does this help advance sport for development and peace in relation to sport of squash?

In developing economies in Latin America, Asia and Africa such courts may help attract a wider base of players rather than private clubs, help generate interest in professional aspects of the sport of squash and enhance community-building activities and well-being of villages, towns or municipalities. All in all, a high-end squash solution with long-term health, educational, economic and social benefits for individuals and society. Can’t wait to see the roll out of T-point courts!

 

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