Imparting Employability Skills through Sports Activities

Imparting Employability Skills through Sports Activities

Unemployment is increasingly becoming a global problem. More and more young people are completing their education to find themselves without work. There are about 38.1-million people of working age (which is 15 to 64 years) in South Africa and of this number, 16.5-million are employed and 6.1-million are unemployed [1]. “But perhaps most concerning, is that it’s especially high for South Africa’s almost 10 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24” [2].  For this group, unemployment sits at 50% [2].

This predicament is not unique to South Africa. Other countries include Burkina Faso, Syria, Senegal, and Haiti [3].” Most of these are developing countries. In fact, Developing countries made up the top ten of the countries with a high unemployment rate in 2017 [3]. The most affected population within those countries are young people.  

In the event that young people do have the necessary education, as is the case in South Africa. What can further be done to improve the employment chances of these young people to ensure that they are competent and skilled for the labor market?

Governments are constantly developing new policies in an attempt to curve this predicament. This article does not seek to discredit any of them. The use of Sports as a tool of imparting employability skills through various sports activities is the focus of this article. This approach extends to how young people can start their own enterprise since employment opportunities are limited in most developing nations.

This concept (the use of sports as a feasible solution to combat unemployment) can be simply termed as Sports for Work (or Sports to work). What do you think of this concept? Do you agree that Sports can aid in the reduction of youth unemployment? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

The Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), together with German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and the following persons and institutions (listed below) collaborated and developed a comprehensive manual titled the Sport2Work Manual. Collectively they seem to believe in this concept.

This specific manual was developed for Kenya but It can easily be adapted to other nations, such as those listed in the introduction. Read on to find out how.

The Sport to Work Manual

The Sport2Work Manual is the education material that teaches the approach of fostering employability skills through various sports activities [4].  You can read the full manual here or simply find it in our toolkit page.

In an attempt to combat youth unemployment, the Manual uses three pillars to impart employability skills to the youth.

  1. Developing Employability Competences on the Field
  2. Developing Employability Competences off the Field
  3. Helping players find work

Employability Competences through Sport

The manual is designed to assist TVET teachers to develop the employability competencies of TVET students through sport. Sports coaches and youth agencies can use it in a similar way. It uses the enthusiasm of young people for sports to empower them with employability competencies on and off the field.

Being competent, as defined in the context of the manual means “being able to perform in a specific context to a required standard” [4]. Competencies are a mixture of skills (to be able to do something with your hands), the application of knowledge (putting your mind to work) and attitude (the way you behave and the values you follow)[4].

Connections are recognized between sport and employability competencies by the manual and an intentional connection is made. These competencies are divided into two: Technical competences, and social competences.

Technical competences may include:

  • Having a relevant qualification or degree;
  • Good computer skills;
  • Having a driving license;
  • Having a technical skill like welding or painting.

And others. These are specific to a profession or job.

Social competences may include:

  • Being able to relate to and interact with other people;
  • Ability to work on your own;
  • Verbal and written communication;
  • Working as part of a team;
  • Working under pressure;
  • Being flexible and adaptable;
  • Having good time management.

And others. These enhance the ability to perform in work and can be trained in Sports.

Four main Sports specific competencies can be developed through sports participation. These competencies aid in the development of players and can be trained and developed through Sports.

These are:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Technical and
  • Tactical skills.

By enhancing these four competencies, players do not only improve their sporting skills but also – and often without realizing –  develop a range of social competencies that are directly transferable to the workplace as employability competencies [4]. Sports2work facilitators are trained to help young people to transfer and implement these skills from the sports field to the workplace.

However, because employment opportunities are limited in most developing nations. Young people must also be trained and encouraged to start their own enterprise.  Participation in sport also develops skills which are needed to embark on an entrepreneurial venture. Sports participation helps to develop:

  • Motivation;
  • Self-confidence;
  • Communication;
  • Good decision-making;
  • Successful cooperation;
  • Goal orientation;
  • Self-responsibility;
  • Self-discipline;
  • Adaption to the market demands and creative solutions.

Usually when companies are faced with several applications with the same qualifications. It is often the applicant’s social competencies that become the deciding factor in who is offered the position. This is one of the ways in which participation in sports increases the employment chances of young people.

Bridging Social Competences from Sport to Work

In a previous article, we stated that simply playing sports does not guarantee that young people will automatically develop specific social or technical skills. The coach, trainer or educator has to make an intentional effort to impart the desired outcome from the session or lesson. Therefore, the Sports 2 Work manual uses a specific approach.

A social competence gets developed in the sport context and is translated during the reflection at the end of the training session into an employability competence [4]. This is one of the best ways to test the effectiveness of the program. It is rather complicated at first so we’ll simplify it with an example. As done in the Sports 2 Work manual itself.

Practical application.

A coach aims to develop the players’ communication competencies for better sports performance and higher work capability. The coach chooses passing competences as the technical objective as communication is a natural element of passing.


During the introduction, the coach states the objectives of the training session and the expectation towards the players to focus on the development of their communication and passing competences.

Practical exercises

The coach gives instruction, encouragement, and correction for quality communication and passing in different sport situations. This is during play and the coach will be trained to do this in a natural way that does not interrupt the flow of the game.

At the end of the session, the players will go through a reflection.


Step 1: The coach asks the players to give examples of when communication had an impact on today’s sports activities.

Key questions: When does a player or a team have to communicate to be successful? What different types of communication exist? When does the absence of communication have a negative influence on the activities?

Step 2: The coach asks the players to give examples when communication is needed during their everyday life.

Key questions: Where and when does a player have to communicate? What different types of communication exist? When and where did a player need to communicate to achieve something? Did the communication competencies that the players learned during sports activities help them to communicate better in their everyday life?

Step 3: The coach asks the players to give examples when communication plays an important role in the workplace.

Key questions: Where and when do employers have to communicate? What different types of communication exist? Give an example of a profession and ask for types of communication within the given working environment.

The rationale is that “If a player is able to develop and use social competences successfully on the sports pitch repeatedly, the player will also be able to revert to these social competencies in a work environment!” [4]. This is very practical. The more a skill is repeated the better the skill is developed. This applies to everything learned.

The above is a simple and practical example of how Communication can be trained through a sports session. Multiple session will be needed until the players and coach are comfortable and confident with the competence.

During the development process of the Sport2Work Manual, the authors of the education material had to restrict the number of employability competencies and determine the primary competencies for the demand of the Ethiopian labor market [4]. Any other nation can and should do the exact same thing.

Developing Employability Competences on the Sports Field

The manual aims to provide guidance to sports coaches on how to develop employability competencies through quality sport training sessions [4]. The manual provides a detailed guide of training sessions. These are very useful; you might want to peruse through them yourself. It is however too long to be included in this article.

It outlines the:

  • Time of a session, which changes with each training phase. (How much time per phase)
  • Phases of each session and what to do during that phase and
  • Instruction for each phase, which most guides you so that everything flows during the session.

Trained coaches who have experience in designing training sessions should be comfortable with this. You will find a nice diagram in the manual just in case you want to brush up on designing coaching sessions.

You are not compelled to follow the style of a coaching session in the manual if you have your own that works great for you. You can simply adapt it.

Just remember that we are seeking to integrate the coaching of employability competencies throughout the sports training session as opposed to coaching some sport, and then alongside it, coaching employability competencies [4].

During a sports training session, the coach will be using a range of coaching skills including:

  • Questioning and listening to players;
  • Teaching skills;
  • Providing feedback;
  • Encouraging and motivating players;
  • Observing, analyzing and making decisions.

The coach will be using all these competencies to coach, not just the technical sport competences but also the social competencies that are transferable to the workplace during the session.

Example: if the Social competence is Communication. The coach will:

  • Ask the players how they can communicate with each other during a game.
  • Teach them how to use their voice in the field.
  • Provide feedback to the players on their communication on the field.
  • Encourage the players to communicate with each other.
  • Observe how the players are communicating on the field.
  • Analyze the activities and make decisions on how they can better help players to communicate more effectively while playing.

During sessions that aim to develop both technical sport competencies and transferable employability competencies, the coach is working on both sets of competencies alongside each other throughout the training session [4].

Having a closing team circle with players is crucial to enabling players to talk about the events of the training session [4]. It is also during this closing phase that the players will reflect on the session. Coaches should use the closing team circle as the main space for reflection but may also use the breaks between activities to make intentional connections with the players [4].

In case my summary is to brief for you. Chapter four of the manual has four sample training sessions for four sports – basketball, football, handball and volleyball.

Developing Employability Competence off the Sports Field

Employability competences can be developed through sport both on and off the field. Off the field, young people can develop:

  • Leadership skills;
  • Project management;  
  • Excellent interpersonal skills;
  • Communication skills;
  • Organizational skills;
  • Time management skills;
  • Good team working skills and
  • Adaptability

When implementing a Sport2Work Project, it is recommended that the facilitator provide youth with the opportunity to participate in at least one Sports Leadership Project. The manual has a guide on how the coach can delegate these leadership roles to young people.

Beyond the field

Organized sports requires the participation of individuals who help manage, administer, organize, coach and officiate, creating an environment for players to participate and enjoy their preferred sports. The following are some of the roles that support participation in sport:

  • Coaches;
  • Referees and other Technical Officials;
  • Club & Federation Official & Administrators;
  • Sports Event Organizers;
  • Sports Team Managers;
  • Sponsorship Managers;
  • Sports Science & Sports Medicine Support Personnel.

The Sport 2 Work manual gives Young people the opportunity to practically experience these careers and potentially pursue them if they wish. This is done during the program.

Those who wish to pursue careers in Sports should be intentional about it and make the facilitator aware so that the facilitator can delegate roles to them at any time during the program. That way they will get practical exposure to the field they wish to pursue.

Helping Young People Find Employment or Start their own Enterprise

The last part of the manual focuses on helping young people find employment. In this final chapter, some ways that the coach or teacher can help young people to find work are explored. One way of doing this is by engaging with potential employers in order to connect them with their players or young sports leaders.

Because sports attract young people to gather in one place. This provides an opportunity where youth organizations can:

  • Host job fairs where employers talk about their organization and opportunities;
  • Host events to which potential employers are invited and where young people can demonstrate their abilities;
  • Create work experience opportunities with employers.

Young people who participate in the Sport2Work Project can develop their employability competencies on and off the sports field. They will have a high level of awareness of their competences and should be better placed to sell themselves to a potential employer [4].

Should they decide to take an entrepreneurial approach, developing their own business idea, rather than seek direct employment, they will have developed competencies that will help them better sell their business idea and meet the challenges of being self-employed [4].

Young people can decide what type of business they want to establish. For those whose wish to start an enterprise in sport. There are many ideas available for them to choose from. They include:

  • Becoming a sports coach
  • Using sport as a tool to develop life skills in your community, promote healthy behavior, etc.
  • Sports events
  • After school programmes
  • School holiday programmes etc.
  • Start a fitness or physical activity programmes such as walking or running clubs.
  • Adventure Camps
  • Boot camps
  • Fitness clubs
  • Sports clubs

These are just a few ideas on how you can use the training in the Sports 2 Work manual to start a part-time social enterprise in a sport which may develop into a fulltime enterprise [4]. The enterprise doesn’t have to be within the Sports or Social context.

The manual also has information on how young people can compile a curriculum vitae (CV) and how they can fill job applications. It further provides guidance on how to prepare for interviews should young people be successful.

Young people that have taken part in the Sport 2 Work Project will have an advantage. They will be used to speaking in front of others and be more confident in communicating verbally [4]. The coach or teacher can also help young people prepare for this experience by conducting mock interviews using role-playing.

Bringing it all together.

Young people can learn technical and social competencies through sports on and off the field that can increase their chances of getting employed or starting their own business. These competencies should be specific to the needs of the labor market of a specific country or community.

A trained coach or educator teaches these competencies through sports in a way that does not interrupt the fun element of sports and games.

The project, which involves young people, coaches, and the commercial industry work together to educate, train and then place young people into jobs or if they desire to, helps them start their own businesses.

The Sport 2 Work manual is already being applied to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian State Minister for the TVET Sector and the State Minister for Youth and Sports have already given the manual a thumbs up.

What you think of this concept. Do you agree that Sports can aid the reduction of youth unemployment? Please share your opinion below as we learn from you just as much as you learn from us. Also, don’t forget to share this article using the social icons above with people who share similar interest. Subscribe for more content. Until next time. Keep moving.

[1] Statistics South Africa, “Unemployment drops in fourth quarter of 2018,” Statistics South Africa, Pretoria, 2019.
[2] L. Patel, “A South African case study: how to support young job hunters,” 5 February 2019. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 22 February 2019].
[3] The Statistics Portal, “The 20 countries with the highest unemployment rate in 2017,” The Statistics Portal, 2017.
[4] German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Sport2Work, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, 2017.
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Thando W. Dlamini, BA

Sport Development and Exercise Science Practitioner

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