Classical Tour of Ancient Greece: Will Squash Ever Make it to the Modern Olympics?

I recently traveled to Greece to expand upon my educational horizon and to deepen my understanding of the field of sport for development and peace. Before flying to Athens I conducted basic desk research with guidebooks and on the internet while consulting a few friends who had prior travel experience in the country. Ancient Greek civilization was not something that was taught in international schools back in the 1980s and 1990s in the Middle East but upon completing my undergraduate government major at Bowdoin College, I had briefly studied the work of Aristotle, Plato and Thucididyes. Of course, traveling to Greece more than 15 years later after graduation meant taking my appreciation for the people, place and culture to another level.

For 3-days, I was a tour group member of Classical Greece that made stops in Athens, Mycenae, Epidaurus, Olympia, and Delphi. The sites that were of most interest to me were Athens and Ancient Olympia. At every stop and corner there was evidence of historical significance. Learning about the details of all the players and events in the Classical Greece period could make for pursuing another educational degree altogether. This is not something that I am interested in doing at the moment, but believe that traveling is one of the greatest educational gifts one can make for oneself. Visiting the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens was moving because in a way it was a pilgrimage for paying homage to my playing and coaching days while helping to find my place in the world.

Tariq Mohammed’s visit to Panathenaic Stadium, Greece 2017. Photo credit: Unknown.

Visiting Ancient Olympia was of even more significance at it is where the Olympic flame for the Olympic Games are lit. I missed watching the ceremony in Ancient Olympia but was able to tour the grounds and see up close the ruins of this UNESCO Heritage Site. The Greeks had incredible foresight to have built such facilities thousands of years ago, but perhaps could do more to restore or renovate them to preserve such attractions today. Like other members of the tour group, I questioned myself. Why did I travel so far to see ruins and rubbles of dirt? As mentioned my approach was from the standpoint of (a) deepening my own understanding of sport for development and peace (b) being a symbolic advocate for squash in the Olympic movement and (c) being a part of something greater than myself and sharing with interesting travelers along the way.

Tariq Mohammed’s visit to Ancient Olympia, Greece, 2017 (Photo Credit: Andy Berbeck).

Through my travels and formal education, I have been influenced by several mentors and teachers which led to taking such a journey. I would like to acknowledge their influence as for doing so would provide greater context for my trip. Thomas Hodgson, former Philosophy instructor at Phillips Academy Andover, Denis Corish, former Philosophy professor at Bowdoin College, Alexis Lyras, Founder and Director of Olympus for Humanity Alliance, and Popy Dimoulas-Graham of Charity Republic, Inc. I am grateful to have been able to take the time to make such a trip and explore a new region of the world for myself and advocate for squash’s inclusion in the Modern Olympic Games.

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Filed under Capacity Buidling, Coaching, Corporate Social Responsibility, Education, International Development, Leadership, Leisure, Olympic, Paralympic, Peace Building, Professional Development, Recreation, Rehabilitation, Squash, Stakeholder Engagement

Having Fun and Keeping the Attention of Student-Athletes

It amazes me how my primary and secondary family members have influenced my explorations in sport for development and peace. When I was 11 years old, my cousin Rosanna Tharakan gave me a copy of the 1987 Pocket Edition of “Trivial Pursuit: Sport – The Authorized Game Book” by Guinness Books (as seen below). I still have the book in my possession today which has traveled with me from various places of residence. I rediscovered the book after cleaning out my basement. What is interesting about this book is that it can help teachers (which Rosanna and her husband happened to be) and coaches (of which I was trained to do) to be better at holding the attention of young student-athletes during practices and matches.

Quizzes: A coaching tool for young student-athletes.

One of the most challenging aspects of coaching for me was keeping my practices focused on skills development while motivating students to be a better version of themselves. I found that there were many in-between moments such as bus rides, sharing team meals and warm-ups, where I felt at a loss on how to maximize my time and energy for teachable moments. In other words, practices and matches can get boring fast for both student-athletes and coaches. Master teachers are always good at knowing what to say to a particular student at the right time. I have still have a long way to go before I reach the master coach level but in the spirit of coach education I thought this blog post would help coaches prepare for the upcoming squash season in New England, so here goes.

Many coaches have developed their own repertoires and are always looking to find new ways of delivering them. Quizzing student-athletes on sport or more broadly about current events at school, in the community or national and international news – during warm-ups or long bus rides may help create a dynamic team to go beyond the acts of practicing and playing to one of social action. For example, in recent months the NFL has given us a lot to consider about the safety of athletes, the roles of players and coaches with respect to national anthems and societal issues such as sexual harassment or gender-based violence. The above book and many others like it are great tools for coaches and teachers to foster team dialogues that may lead to improved performances during practices and matches, enhance team unity as well as create positive social development. Good luck coaches and student-athletes!

 

 

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Filed under Capacity Buidling, Coaching, Community Development, Education, Gender, Leadership, Literature Review, Planning, Psycho-Social Support, Squash, Youth Development, Youth Sport

Managing Expectations and Over-specialization in Youth Sport

This post is not meant to relive my past or prolong my future. Much has been written in academic journals about the negative effects of specialization in youth sports and unrealistic expectations of players, coaches and parents. For example – increased injuries, parental abuse and corruption – all of which can vary, depending on a variety of factors ranging from location of events, league organizers to player participation. I am a firm believer in playing multiple youth sports and then choosing one to focus on in adult years. In my case, I played a variety of sports, one of which was swimming – which I enjoyed throughly thanks to competent coaches, good infrastructure and well-organized leagues.

Saudi Arabian Western Region Expatriate Swim League (WRESL) medals won by Tariq Mohammed 1988-89.

After winning a few swim meets for my age group and going on to break national swimming records, I went through a process of readjusting my expectations and hopes. My parents and coaches provided positive encouragement during my swimming years. I was guided by them to take an alternative route in my sport journey because I did not have the height or reach to compete as an elite swimmer. This was tough to hear for a 12 year old especially when my swimming times were good enough to compete at an international level. Nonetheless, I chose to listen to my coaches and parents who suggested I try a different sport. By turning my attention and focus to squash I was able to continue to enjoy the benefits of playing a sport while balancing my academics. I had the opportunity to play squash in college and the rest is history.

Swimming ribbons and awards won by Tariq Mohammed 1986-92.

I know 30 years later of switching from swimming to squash was a good decision. Both of these individual sports are also lifetime sports. If I were a parent of a young child or a practicing coach today, I would encourage student-athletes to make the right choice for the long run to avoid over-specialization. It can be a tedious and difficult process but if players, coaches and parents can arrive at an understanding where the best interest of the player is put first then they will be able to succeed in the long run. The “professionalization” of youth sports today, in terms of sponsorships, travel teams and increasing adult participation, make it more challenging for parents and their children to arrive at decisions that will benefit them for the long run. If you are a player, coach or parent in a similar predicament – I recommend start having the conversation – to help you arrive at the right decision.

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Filed under Coaching, Community Development, Education, Leadership, Leisure, Literature Review, Planning, Psycho-Social Support, Recreation, Youth Development, Youth Sport

Turning a Weakness into a Strength

Since this blog has the word “explorations” in its title, I find it compelling to share my experiences from the vantage point of the 2017 United Nations International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. I’ve been fortunate to travel to several countries both as a child and adult which prompted me to self-reflect upon my tour of Spain in the spring of 2017. This does not make me a special person, but a traveler in life on this planet we call earth.

The slideshow above shows the magnificent architecture and beautiful countryside of Madrid, the capital city as well as Southern Spain. It is a country rich with culture and history, whose people are warm and friendly. Despite being a non-Spanish speaker and largely thanks to fellow travelers on my tour, I was able to navigate around Madrid and various Southern cities. My trip was a vacation, but I turned it into a project through my work in psychotherapy and volunteerism. I am not a trained therapist nor am I a certified peer specialist, but over the course of my adult years, I have gained increasing exposure to the world of mental health services.

I’ve enjoyed travel through my work and have learned that in many ways it is similar to coaching. It is worthwhile, to focus on the “process” so that the results will show for themselves. Perhaps, one of the reasons why I made the slideshow was to acknowledge and give importance to the challenges of travelers with mental health considerations. Particularly solo-travelers as the issues of navigation, housing, meals and medication adherence may be difficult without a relative or friend to assist.

Explorations are not only for explorers to visit or live in distance lands, but they can also be in one’s own backyard, town, city, state or country. As long as I am able to travel, there will always be something to write and reflect on which leads me to believe that perhaps my dream job would be as a travel writer or blogger.

 

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Filed under Capacity Buidling, Coaching, Education, Leisure, Networking, Psycho-Social Support, Public Policy, Recreation, Rehabilitation, Stakeholder Engagement, Volunteering

Sport and Employment: Do Family Businesses Succeed in the Long Run?

One of the main reasons I chose to work for Reebok’s Human Rights and Business Practices program was to gain practical business skills with the intention of gaining an MBA. After failing in my role to follow instructions, not grasping how human rights principles were applied in business settings and frankly being overwhelmed by the scale to which decisions were being made on factory workers, I realized I was not able to do what was being asked of me, for a variety of reasons. I voluntarily resigned, although at the time, I thought I was being forced to quit. Also, having an undisclosed mental health condition made things difficult.

Though short-lived and with the benefit of hindsight, the challenge and rigor of my Reebok experience was tremendous for a twenty-something former United Nations Volunteer. My first day on the job at Reebok was flying to China for a team meeting to discuss team strategy for our program for business-wide ramifications. It was exciting, confusing and complicated all at the same time. My Reebok colleagues both in headquarters and in the field were decisive and held each other accountable. They were patient with me while I attempted to understand the workings of the Human Rights and Business Practices program and my role. Overall it was an amazing exposure to the intersection of business and ethics. Fast forward to 2017, Reebok is an Adidas owned brand, which Reebok alumni may argue is weaker than before.

Recently, it was fascinating for me, to watch the Youtube video above about Joe Foster, Founder of Reebok and how his family business evolved. This has opened a whole new and meaningful perspective for me on what it takes to run a family business. My own extended family members have their own business and social enterprises (for example, the Dominic family with tourism in Kerala) so it is interesting to observe how other well established families have created wealth over many generations. The Reebok story in the athletics industry, in my humble opinion, highlights what can be highly contentious issues when mixing family members, personalities and profits while striving “to do well, by doing good.”

The Human Rights and Business Practices program which was upholding Reebok’s commitment to corporate social responsibility was also a marketing and communications tool for the brand. Through my past experiences working closely with the Satinder Bajwa, Founder and CEO of Khelshala, I have come to learn about both the challenges and rewards of starting and running a social enterprise. Sometimes, the path or purpose one sets out for oneself is clear, but to walk it is another thing altogether. This blog strives to be linear, but in effect it does not account for all the turns and curves in the road where one has had to learn to adjust expectations of oneself. Many (social) entrepreneurs face challenges in their professional and personal journeys, while attempting to stay the course.

 

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Remembering my Grandfather through Sport for Development and Peace

This month is the death anniversary of Ataur Rahman, my grandfather (on my father’s side) who led a full life and left a tough act to follow. I have referenced in earlier blog posts how both my grandfather and father were football (soccer) enthusiasts in their younger days. My grandfather worked in the public sector all of his professional life and one of his many roles was as the Inspector General of Police.

Ataur Rahman (my grandfather) shaking hands before the start of a police-sponsored soccer match.

Based off the accounts of family members, he was a senior police officer who enjoyed organizing sports events for fellow police officers and was asked to present prizes. This was an effective community building tool as it helped foster friendships among officers and their families as well as improve the morale of officers striving to uphold the rule of law in the state.

Ataur Rahman (my grandfather) in center back with dignitaries and police soccer teams.

I was not born when many of these happenings occurred, but do remember his later years as a Member of Parliament and then as a retired public official. While he was passionate about his work, his family life was just as important if not more. We miss him dearly and know that he is in a better place.

 

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Promoting Volunteerism: How to Recruit and Manage Dedicated Volunteers?

Over the last several decades, there has been a lot of research, training and advocacy about volunteer recruitment and management in nonprofit manuals, websites and handbooks. A more recent strategy for recruiting volunteers and staff to become dedicated personnel is through the creation of online videos. For example, I recently registered and attended an orientation to become part of the 2017 Lowell Music Festival Volunteer Family. Here is a video produced by the Festival volunteers.

I found the online volunteer registration to be easy and efficient, plus the professional guidance and delivery of training from the National Park Service staff before the start of the 2017 Lowell Folk Festival was superb. My motivation for volunteering at the event was primarily to build upon my commitment to volunteerism for peace and development. This is the 31st year in which the Lowell Folk Festival has been running, mostly thanks to many dedicated volunteers and generous sponsors who keep the festival free of charge to the public.

My focus for this blog has been explorations in sport for development and peace, however, I have made occasional references to musical events and concerts as a means for bringing people together in peaceful settings. If you are unable to attend the Festival, many talented volunteers have created a tremendous Festival website with a wide array of information, including compelling music videos of the artists line-up to attract future Lowell Folk Festival doers and goers. I was introduced to the Lowell Folk Festival through my parents, aunts and uncles which brought the event to my attention and have also attended the Lowell Summer Music Series. Both the Festival and Music Series are worth it!

 

 

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