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I Can’t Imagine Myself without PeacePlayers

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 3:11pm

Laith Subhi has been with PeacePlayers-ME since 2010

My name is Laith Subhi, I’m 19 years old, and I live in a neighborhood called Beit Safafa in Jerusalem. I’ve been in PeacePlayers since 2010 and I’m a part of the Leadership Development Program (LDP).

At first I joined PPI because I love to play basketball, but after I joined PPI, I found it focused on more than just playing basketball. Coming from this conflicted region, I grew up with the two sides, Arabs and Jews, trying to keep us segregated and not one unified team.

Lately the situation has gotten worse and I don’t always feel safe, especially in Jerusalem. It’s difficult for me to use the public transportation like buses or taxis because I am afraid of being recognized as an Arab and possibly being attacked. This is the same for me walking in the streets alone. Yet, I know the work we are doing with PeacePlayers is important because of the current situation.

Laith (with ball) making a shot at the White House basketball court

I was amazed at the beginning when I saw how PPI could combine the two sides peacefully and without any racism. We were able to put our conflict on the side and just concentrate on the game and enjoy it.

Through the years in PPI I not only made new friends from the other side – Jews – but also I’ve learned that we should not judge anyone by his/her religion or national identity.

The connections and the relations were made stronger between PPI players because of the experiences and the activities we had together like local trips and basketball trainings. But the most amazing experience we had was last month when we traveled to USA for two weeks and we introduced PeacePlayers—Middle East to people. Meeting people who support this organization motivated me to keep on giving more and more to PPI.

Laith (Right) with US National Security Advisor, Susan Rice

One of the characters that inspired and motivated me the most was Susan Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor, who welcomed us in the White House and found time in her very busy schedule to come and play basketball with us. She engaged in conversations with us and motivated us to continue our work. We were amazed were amazed by her attitude towards bringing peace and change to the Middle East.

In those two weeks we put the conflict on a side and enjoyed every moment together. We shared moments together that we will never forget and will be with us forever. I am hoping to go through this experience again in the future.

Laith (far left in red) with LDP members at a US Embassy event in Jerusalem

Maybe we have different languages, religions, and national identities but in the end we are all humans, and each day we learn how to respect each other although we have different points of view. For all these reasons I can’t imagine myself without PeacePlayers. I am hoping through our work that we will be the change in the future.

PeacePlayers International – South Africa: Opening new doors and improving lives, one coach at a time

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 10:43am

PPI-SA coach Gabreila Gokova, seen here running a clinic at LIV Village earlier in the year.

This week’s blog is written by PeacePlayers International – South Africa Coach Gabreila “Gabby” Gokova. Gabby joined PPI-SA in February and has never looked back. Her calming and never say never attitude have been felt not only by the players she coached at Carrington Primary school, but the PPI staff and her fellow coaches as well. 

I started with PeacePlayers International – South Africa in February, and this year was my first time coaching basketball and life skills. Not knowing what exactly I was getting myself into, I was so nervous and scared leading up to my first practice. I did not know exactly what to do. We had workshops and trainings, but the thought of implementation had me underneath the covers. Fortunately one of my mentors, PPI staff member Ryan Douwie, started off with me. I would go to his practices, watch what he did and then he would come to mine to help me out. Now looking back, I don’t know what I was afraid of really because the experience of working with children was just too much fun and amazing. The kids at Carrington Primary School always seemed to teach me something new.  This whole year has taught me a lot about myself, including stepping outside of my comfort zone.

Besides coaching basketball and life skills, PeacePlayers International has opened new doors for me. I had the opportunity to travel to Cape Town and be part of the Laureus Youth Empowerment through Sports (YES) Programme. Without PPI, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity to meet others from across Africa and learn their cultures.

Gabby (back left) and 24th City Wide Champions Carrington Primary School Girls

My favourite moment of the year was the 24th City Wide Tournament.  In my first City Wide earlier in the year, I had no idea what to do and I was all over the place not knowing where to go. I felt overwhelmed trying to help organize 300+ kids. This last tournament was different.  I took initiative to make sure everything went accordingly on my court.  I was familiar with the location, knew the procedure, and the best way to interact with kids I didn’t know.  On top of that, my girls won the tournament. I still remember that last whistle signaling the end of the championship game. I was ecstatic. It felt so cool seeing all our hard work throughout the year paying off.

Working for PeacePlayers International has been such an amazing experience throughout this whole year. I’ve seen myself and others grow. My communication skills have strengthened tremendously. I’m not afraid to talk to people as much as I was before. I used to be extremely shy, but now I am a very outspoken young lady.

I loved every minute of this year. Not only did I learn a lot of things, but I had so much fun with my colleagues and can say they have become more like family to me. I hope more youths out there can find organizations such as PeacePlayers International to help them learn about themselves and open new doors for them as it has for me. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity PPI gave me this year and can’t wait for 2015!

A Sneak Peek Into PeacePlayers International’s #WhyIPlay Video Challenge

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 10:41pm

Giving Tuesday is all about giving back to charitable causes, and #WhyIPlay is key to PeacePlayers’ campaign.

In this week’s blog post, Communications and Development Intern, Matthew Agar, provides a preview of PeacePlayers International’s #WhyIPlay Video Challenge. The #WhyIPlay Video Challenge is part of PPI’s Giving Tuesday campaign,  a global day of giving back to charitable causes.

In the United States of America and Canada, the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us. People are hitting the road to go to big family dinners. Jolly uncles and sweet aunts are stuffing themselves with turkey and pumpkin pie. Most importantly, individuals around the world are hitting the stores and the web to find the best deals on clothes, electronics, and jewelry on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Wait, what?!

Yes, the beginning of what singer Andy Williams called the most wonderful time of the year marks the height of enormous devouring of things many of us do not need. Maybe I am being too harsh here, but is this not the opposite of what we should be doing around this time of year? The story of Thanksgiving tells us that we should be thankful for what we have, not thankful for what we can get. Better yet, should we not be giving to those who are in need, whether that need be clothing or food in the case of the impoverished, or a chance at peace in the case of PeacePlayers International’s youth leaders?  I think the answer in both these cases is yes we should. While helping the poor is very important, the point of this blog post is to show how YOU can help in giving the youth at PeacePlayers a chance at peace.

Starting October 27 at 12:00 am, US EST, PeacePlayers International will be participating in Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday, officially December 2, is a global day of giving to charitable causes. PeacePlayers will be taking part in Giving Tuesday in many ways such as posting on social media and encouraging people to donate to our programs. However, the part of Giving Tuesday that I am most proud to be involved in, and the part I am leading, is a video challenge called #WhyIPlay.

Here is the jist of the #WhyIPlay Video Challenge. Beginning October 27 at midnight, submit a 30 to 45 second video to our WooBox platform. Show us why you play sports. In the same video, and in the spirit of Giving Tuesday, explain how you plan to give back to the sports you love. Enter your video. Invite your friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends to take the challenge (the more people you invite, the more bonus votes you get). Vote for videos you like. Oh, and do not forget to share your video and our challenge on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #WhyIPlay.

#WhyIPlay is PeacePlayers’ way of reaching out to the world to show how sports help make people feel happy with themselves, the people they know, and the environment around them. We want the challenge to be a humbling rather than competitive experience, but at the same time, we know from the basketball court that competition is unavoidable. Therefore, the video submission that receives the most votes and is the most inspiring will be featured as our promotional video on Giving Tuesday. Any questions? If so, feel free to email me at magar2994@gmail.com. Get pumped and get ready to show us why you play!

Friendships are one of the many reasons why our kids play. Get ready and show us why you play!


“I wouldn’t change being a part of PeacePlayers for anything in the world.”

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 1:47pm

Alim with the whole PeacePlayers crew for a bike tour in 2013.

Today’s blog is written by Cyprus Leadership Development Program participant Alim Sancar. She shares with us her experience with PeacePlayers and what opportunities she has taken advantage of over the years.

Alim collects a clue from Coach Ryan during the summer camp scavenger hunt.

Hi! My name is Alim. I’m 17 years old and I’m in my last year of high school. I have been participating in PeacePlayers since 2008. I was introduced to PeacePlayers by my basketball coach when I was in 6th grade and I fell in love with the organisation immediately. Coach Bahar used to take us to all the activities of the organisation throughout the year, so after a while I genuinely started to enjoy being around Greek-Cypriots and having them as my friends.

Alim presents at summer camp.

After 6 years of being a part of this organisation, after meeting hundreds of Greek-Cypriots throughout the years, and having the privilege to know such great people, I realized how much I want there to be peace and unity between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots. The language may be different but our culture is very similar and that is what helps us warm up to each other so quickly. Since I was a child, I wanted to be a part of the old Cyprus where people lived in harmony. I have many Greek-Cypriot friends that I talk to constantly and we have met a few times outside of the PeacePlayers activities which made me feel like they were truly my friends and not just people that I only see when I have to. All the summer camps and the Leadership Development camps are a blast. I feel blessed to be a part of an organisation that can introduce you to new people, enhance your socialising skills, improve your basketball game and teach you about peace and so many other things all at the same time. Also, the coaches and the special visitors of this organisation are exceptional.

My favourite thing about PeacePlayers is that there is FREE FOOD. Just kidding :D My favourite thing is that whenever there’s an activity, I get over-excited with joy and whenever I see my Greek-Cypriot friends for the first time after a few months I feel like I’m seeing my family again, and when we go to the summer camps or LDP camps in Agros I feel like I’m going home. The feeling of belonging somewhere, to something so great and so inspiring is my favourite thing about PeacePlayers-Cyprus. I wouldn’t change being a part of PeacePlayers for anything in the world.

Introducing Courtney Boylan, PPI – ME’s Most Recent Amazing Import  

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 4:37pm

Our newest member, Courtney


My name is Courtney Boylan, and I am the newest member of PPI-ME! I officially started working with PeacePlayers a little over two weeks ago, and I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself and tell you how I was able to get involved with such an amazing organization, where in the coming year, I will be providing support to coaches in Jerusalem and the north.

Courtney played 4 years for University of Michigan.

Originally I am from Minnesota, “Land of 10,000 lakes”, but I have also lived in Maryland, Michigan, Kentucky, and Indiana. I attended college at the University of Michigan, where I majored in Sport Management and was a 4-year letter winner on the basketball team. Choosing to go to school so far from home was one of the hardest decisions of my life, but it proved to be the best decision I’ve ever made.

At Michigan, I was able to earn a degree at one of the greatest Universities in the world while playing basketball in one of the toughest conferences in the country (The Big Ten). I made countless memories and friendships that will last a lifetime, and most importantly: I fell in love. I met Stuart Douglass my first day on campus my freshman year at Michigan, and we have been dating ever since (over 6 years now). The reason I bring this up, and why he is so important in talking about my journey to the Middle East and working for PeacePlayers, is because he is the reason that I am even living in Israel.

Basketball plays an important role for both Courtney (right) and Stuart

After college, I was fortunate enough to get a job as a Division 1 Assistant Coach at Northern Kentucky University, and Stuart set his sights on playing professional basketball. Since last year, Stuart has been playing professionally in Israel, and after two years apart, we decided that the following season I would join him in Israel!

It was such an exciting time for the both of us to finally be together, but it was also very scary. I had to leave my job as an assistant coach, and my friends and family were very concerned about me living in country going through so much conflict, much of which I didn’t even understand myself. But, what I did know was that I wanted to stay involved with basketball.

One of my Sport Management professors at the University of Michigan, who is Jewish-American and has family living in Israel, was the one who told me about PeacePlayers International. After he told me about PPI and I did some research, I knew that I wanted to join them in their mission. PPI isn’t just about basketball; it’s about educating and inspiring children from areas of conflict to create a more peaceful world.

Courtney (right) leading a practice for the Tamra players

As a player and coach I saw first hand how sport, specifically basketball, could be used as a tool to bring so many different types of people together. Basketball has given and taught me so much: discipline, respect, acceptance, self-worth, humility, friendships, mentors, love… and the list could go on. I am extremely excited to be apart of something so special with PPI and hopefully I can pass on some of the things I have learned to members of PeacePlayers.

What I have found out already, in my short time with PPI, is how much I am going to learn. Before coming to Israel, I really didn’t know much about the conflict going on here. I had no idea how big of a deal it really is to have Arabs and Jews playing together on the same team, and not only that, but becoming friends. These players break down countless years of prejudice, fighting, and history, and it is basketball that is bringing them together.

Another Bostonian comes to PeacePlayers Northern Ireland!

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 10:38am

PeacePlayers International Northern Ireland Welcomes a New Member to the family, Shawna Walsh

Name: Shawna Walsh

From: Boston, Massachusetts USA

College: Boston University, BA International Relations
M. Phil Conflict Resolution & Reconciliation Candidate- Trinity College Dublin, Irish School of Economics

Sports Achievements/Accomplishments:

AAU and MetroWest Basketball player, Best Defender Sarah Behn Basketball Camp, Algonquin Regional High School Soccer, Basketball and Softball (ASA League Softball Pitcher, ODP and Premier League Soccer Member) and MVP Varsity Softball

What interested me about PeacePlayers:

Growing up playing three sports (soccer, softball and of course, basketball), I always saw the power in the formation of a team. You find yourself building friendships with people you wouldn’t necessarily have associated with before and form a bond through learning and training. PeacePlayers gives kids the chance to play and interact with others they wouldn’t have necessarily ever met and in an open facilitated platform. In particular, I am most excited to meet these kids, learn from them, and to help create a safe environment for them to learn one of my favorite games!

I came to Belfast to study Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation in what is considered to be a transitioning society. I wanted to be a part of the transformation process through sports because it is an amazing opportunity. Youth will play such a critical role in maintaining peace in Northern Ireland and allowing kids to form a common bond will only help enable change in their communities. The power of our youth cannot be underestimated as a vehicle for change!

Facilitation & Coaching Experience:

Shawna’s experiences have all been about cross-cultural interaction.

My first facilitation experience post university was with the Global Young Leaders Conference which brought high school students from over 100 countries to Washington, DC and New York to learn cross-cultural communication, leadership skills and strategies in international diplomacy, security and development. The program was life-changing seeing these students grow and learn in just 12 days, making friends across continents and taking on civic leadership roles within their communities!

Having spent the past few years working on a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), I have seen first hand that capacity-building in the form of facilitated retreats has proven to be pivotal in helping the overall effectiveness of the development work that is carried out all over the world. Working with teams in an office environment surprisingly has a lot of similarities to what you discover within sports teams such as; the importance of inclusion, diversity, playing on individual members’ strengths and mitigating weaknesses to maximize opportunities as well as the “flow” of work and strategy. I’m hoping that my professional background in facilitation, team-building and leadership development will be helpful in my work as a seasonal coach and as a small part of the very energetic PeacePlayers Team during my time here in Belfast.

Fun Facts: I am…
a UN Nerd, a Boston Sports Fan and all that entails, majorly clumsy and own it, an overly obsessive aunt, a twin, and only slightly awkward.

This One is for Senzo

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 9:16am

Bafana Bafana gets ready to kick off in front of a packed Moses Mabhida Stadium, against Sudan

In today’s blog, Fellow Bryan Franklin reflects on an emotional game at Moses Mabhida Stadium this past weekend.

The news swept across South Africa as violently as the Durban wind in October. On 25 October 2014, Orlando Pirates and Bafana Bafana’s (SA’s national soccer team) goalkeeper and captain was shot and later died after a robbery of his girlfriend’s house.

Fans honouring fallen star Senzo Meyiwa during the match Saturday.
Photo Credit: http://www.newvision.co.ug

This wasn’t supposed to be how the story ended. Like so many kids PPI works with, Senzo Meyiwa grew up in Umlazi. While in Secondary School his coach at the time scraped enough money together to take him and a few teammates up to the Orlando Pirates Youth Academy tryout. Meyiwa immediately impressed and went on to play for the club at the junior level, the U-17 National team and made his debut for the senior level Pirates team in 2006. Up until this point , Meyiwa had lead Bafana Bafana to a first place ranking in its AfCon qualifying group, having yet to surrender a goal.

This past Saturday, three weeks after their captain and goalkeeper had passed away, Bafana Bafana took to the field with a chance to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 2008. In honour of their late captain, the match was moved to Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

From the moment I entered the stadium, the emotion and intensity hit me. Posters had been made to honour their fallen leader, and in an experience unlike any other I had been a part of, the stadium joined together for South Africa’s National Anthem. The Anthem in itself has special meaning to the rainbow country. Adopted in 1997, South Africa’s National Anthem employ the five mostly widely spoken of SA’s eleven official languages—Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans, and English. It’s a beautiful representation of a country made up of different backgrounds coming together as one.

A moment of silence followed the anthem. It was to be the last silence of the afternoon, as right from the beginning, Bafana Bafana jumped all over its Sudanese opponent, scoring twice in the first half. Sudan came out strong following the break, threatening multiple times before finally bringing the spread back to one goal with 20 minutes to play. Bafana Bafana’s defense held strong however, and the final whistle blew with a score of South Africa 2 – 1 Sudan.

As the stadium erupted in cheer and the jumbotron flashed: “congratulations South Africa, qualified for the Afcon for the first time since 2008”, there was no question who this victory was for. The game, and the afternoon were another example of a now famous quote made by Nelson Mandela at the Laureus Sport for Good Awards:

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

New Intern on Living Life for Peace at PeacePlayers

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 9:38am

Matthew (fourth from right) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel.

In his first blog post, new Communications and Development Intern, Matthew Agar, explains how he aims to live a life in the service of peace as part of PeacePlayers International. Matthew is a junior in American University’s School of International Service in Washington, DC.

The famous rock n’ roller John Lennon once eloquently said, “Imagine all the people living life in peace”. When John sang these words, he dreamed of a world without divisions; he envisioned for a world without borders; he yearned for an end to religious, ethnic, and national strife, and he flirted with the possibility of a world without material possessions. John Lennon spent most of the last few years of his life imagining such a world. I want to make it.

My name is Matthew Agar. I am a 20-year old American Jew from Old Bethpage, New York. I study International Studies, Arabic Language, and Economics at American University in Washington, DC. In my studies, I focus on Peace and Conflict Resolution and the Middle East. While my academic experience seems to be enough information to know I am in the business of peace, what I do outside the classroom shows that I am also living life for peace.

Matthew in front of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.

So, what does it mean to live life for peace? Living life for peace has three parts: being at peace with the world, living life in peace with the world, and giving life to peace in the world. Each part holds a special place in my psyche that provides meaning to the work I do inside and outside of PeacePlayers.

First, in order to be at peace with the world, I need to help others. As the new Communications and Development Intern at PeacePlayers International, I feel I am doing my part in healing the wounds of the world (Tikkun Olam in Hebrew) one small step at a time. Sure, the work is not glamorous, but it goes a long way to helping PeacePlayers transform the lives of individuals for the better around the world.

Second, in order to live in peace with the world, I need to work towards bridging the divides that separate me from others. Within PeacePlayers, it means supporting the building of connections between different races and religions in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Cyprus and the Middle East. Beyond PeacePlayers, it means unleashing peoples’ inner angels through interfaith dialogue as Chief Operations Officer of the non-governmental organization International Peace Quest Institute.  The constant piece of my work with both organizations is the need to forgive, forget, and unite with past enemies.

Third, in order to give life to peace in the world, I need to have fun. In my spare time, I have fun by playing basketball, practicing boxing, singing, and writing poetry. One of the most fun jobs I have ever had is in my current role as an after-care counselor for Janney Elementary School in Washington, DC. I get to play games and sports with young children and my co-workers; what is more fun than that! Judging by the fun, witty banter of Adam, Taylor, and Gunnar at PeacePlayers Headquarters my first week as an intern, I can already tell that this opportunity will be my coolest gig yet.

PeacePlayers is all about fun.


A Super Time was had at PPI-NI’s Super Twinning’s

Sun, 11/16/2014 - 3:29pm

Operation’s Team Leader Debbie Byrne with two members from her winning team the “Glendoyners”

Operation’s Team Leader Debbie Byrne shares on how Super Twinning’s are vitally important to the work of PPI in Northern Ireland.

Over the last couple of weeks PPI-NI ran two Super Twinning’s – one for children in West Belfast and one for children from North Belfast. What are Super Twinning’s? It is a basketball tournament where children from the twinned primary schools from that area of the city get together and compete against each other.

Coordinator Casey Tryon with some of the happy participants at the West Belfast Super Twinning.

The West Belfast Super Twinning happened on Wednesday the 22nd of October and had to happen in two parts because of the number amount of children we had in each of the schools.  West Belfast Coordinator Casey Tryon was delighted with how the day went. On arrival one of the children was disappointed that their twinning partner could not come; she said “but we can’t do it without them”.  The little girl was happy again when she found out she was able to twin with another school for the day.

On the 7th of November we had the North Belfast Super Twinning.  Again, it was another fun filled, competitive day.  Coordinator Joanne Fitzpatrick again organized a wonderful day and the kids went away with red faces and huge smiles.  One of the best things for me on the day was that my team won!

Super Twinning’s are a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of logistical organization and we need a lot of coaches to make it work. However, it is absolutely worth the effort! The children who come take on a whole new identity as they compete with the school they twin with against other twinned schools. They cheer on other teams who are part of their twinning and become one united, integrated team. Bridging divides, uniting communities and developing leaders who make a difference in their communities is what we are all about at PPI-NI.

The Super Twinning’s are a great example of the progress that is being made in establishing a new sense of shared community and identity in historically divided areas. My favorite quote from the day I picked up as one child was leaving the Super Twinning. I overheard one girl say to her friends “it’s not about the winning but it’s about taking part”.  How true!!

North Belfast Super Twinning ended on a SUPER high!

Representing PeacePlayers in Qatar!

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 12:55pm


Dimitris proudly wears his PeacePlayers shirt in Doha!

This past week, Cyprus LDP participant Dimitris Charalambos traveled to Doha Qatar for a week and represented PeacePlayers International at the Doha Goals conference. He speaks about his experience and how he is proud to be a part of an organization like PeacePlayers.

Hello everyone! My name is Dimitris Charalambous and I am one of the Greek-Cypriot members of PeacePlayers International-Cyprus. I have been a part of the organization for two years now, but I am not planning to ever stop being a part. I love this organization because it unites Greek-Cypriots with Turkish-Cypriots by doing what we all love, playing basketball!

First time I heard about PeacePlayers was when a friend came up to me and told me I should come to free trainings in my village, so I decided why not go there. When I learned what PeacePlayers is all about I got really into it because I believe we need to live in peace with the north side of Cyprus. We are all the same no matter what religion or country you are from.

Dimitris meets NBA legend and humanitarian, Dikembe Mutombo!

Last month Peaceplayers contacted me and told me I could apply to go to a program called Doha Goals in Doha, Qatar. I applied and I got accepted to go there. The way I saw it is that I am going there to represent PeacePlayers. I am not going for vacation because PeacePlayers are the ones who gave me this opportunity. When I arrived at Doha for Doha-Goals, I arrived with a different group of Cypriots who I never met before but I become really good friends with them. That did not stop me from making new friends from all over the world with people from America, Africa, Luxemburg, Greece, Nigeria, and from many other countries.

When I told people about PeacePlayers they really liked the idea of the organization and they also shared with me things that they do to stop racism in their country or any other problems they have. By talking with all these people I realized that we are not the only ones who want peace in their country and all over the world. Also, we listened to a lot of debates that talked about sport that were very inspiring. So a big THANK YOU to PeacePlayers International-Cyprus for asking me to apply. I learned many things from this trip like problems other countries are facing and how they are trying to bring peace in their country as we are trying in Cyprus and it inspired me to keep going and never stop. Again, thank you for giving me this opportunity and I will never stop supporting PeacePlayers.

Dimitris making new friends from all over the world.

How 2 Weeks in the US Made Us Stronger

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 10:31am

Neta (fourth from left) with her All-Stars teammates in front of Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

On October 6, 30 Israeli and Palestinian youth basketball coaches from PeacePlayers International – Middle East visited the USA for a two-week cultural exchange supported by the U.S. Department of State’s SportsUnited Program. The exchange was the culmination of a two year in-country Leadership Development Program to facilitate a cadre of young Palestinian and Israeli coaches who will work together through sports. After returning home, Neta Daniel, a member of PPI’s All-Stars team which recently won the Israeli National Championship, reflected on her time in America.

Hi. I’m Neta Daniel, 18, from Jerusalem, and I’ve been in PeacePlayers for four years. Right now, I’m part of the Leadership Development Program, and I play for the Jerusalem All-Stars [integrated league teams].

Last month we got back from a two-week trip from the U.S., which were two weeks that I will remember for the rest of my life. I’d waited for this trip all year, and at every LDP meeting, we’d talk about what would take place there, prepared for the encounters we would have, and mostly dreamed about what it would be like.

Neta (left) with Palestinian friend from PeacePlayers, Aysha

All of this excitement was cut short by the events of this past summer. For anyone who doesn’t know, we didn’t have the easiest summer. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict stretched beyond their usual boundaries and became closer to us than ever, as people close to us were hurt, and every few days there was a siren [in Jerusalem], after which we had to run to the shelters.

When it came to the flight, this crazy period had calmed down a bit, but I flew with mixed feelings. I felt that, on the one hand, the fact that we are all flying together shows that our friendship is strong, but on the other hand, I wasn’t sure just how strong, and I was afraid that the situation would be undermined and change, and that being in the U.S. would destroy [our friendships] even more.

I was wrong. In America, I learned to what extent the friendships that I formed in PPI are strong, profound and capable of resisting extreme circumstances such as those we experienced in the summer.

Our friendships only became stronger in the U.S., and every day, I felt like I learned new things about my Arab friends, and about myself, whether it was a conversation we had on the subway or while waiting in line for a ride at Six Flags, a conversation with people from the PeacePlayers board, or even just a conversation before going to sleep – all of these experiences and little conversations are what made this trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Neta (holding ball, front) with her Jerusalem All Star team

The trip was so packed with so many events and meetings. The fun experiences like Six Flags, shopping, an NBA game, accompanied experiences like the activity at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, where we ran an activity for elementary school kids, and the visit to the White House, and visits to the homes of the amazing and special people, each of whom have a special connection to PPI.


Neta (right) on a Leadership Development Program weekend retreat

At all of these events, I met people like Mark and Marty Tuohey, Evan Ryan, Ron Shapiro, The Lipman Family, R.C Buford, Dr. Chad Ford, Brian Kriftcher, Win Sheridan and many more people, every single one of whom inspired me. Every one of them gave me faith in what we are doing in PeacePlayers. Each one gave me motivation to continue to believe in the particular way that I chose to play basketball. Each one of these people made me understand how important and significant this activity, which seems to us so ordinary – playing basketball together – can change awareness, perception, a human being and an entire family.

PPI, Where I Get to Come to Work Every Day and Impact People’s Lives

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 9:00am

Coach Yamkela, out before practice working with some of his kids at Assegai Primary School

This week’s blog is written by Coach Yamkela (Yam) Nako. Yam has been coaching for PPI for five years, and is one of our hardest working coaches. He’s an incredible student of the game, and has a deep passion to not only see his players become better basketball players, but better people as well. 

Hi everyone, coach Yamkela (a.k.a “the man”, “coach Phil”, “the bally in Wentiez”) here. I am currently the coach at Assegai Primary School and the high school coach for PPI’s LDP in Wentworth, Durban.

Firstly I would like to thank everyone from PeacePlayers for a great year of basketball. 2014 was another great coaching year that gave me the opportunity to change and develop lives of players in one of the coolest communities I’ve ever had the chance to work in—Wentworth. I would also like to thank all the parents and the best school rep anyone could ask for, Miss Leroux Webster. Thank you to the PPI Staff and fellows. We said

Coach Yamkela, and the Wentworth female LDP team pose for a picture with Grosvenor Girls High School after a game earlier this year

goodbye to two good fellows Kristin and Kyler, cool people from whom I learned a lot, and at the same time welcomed new fellows Bryan Franklin and Ben Constable, an amazing pair of individuals. Finally I would like to thank my players, we experienced highs and lows, both wins and losses that never failed to teach lessons on and off the court.

This year I had the chance to start something that took my coaching to the next level. In April we launched a Wentworth Leadership Development Programme team. It was an amazing opportunity that gave me the chance to teach/coach players that I had previously taught in primary school. One of my former players, Brent, not only played on the LDP team, but also acted as my assistance coach at Assegai. Then there is Nduduzo and his sister Minenhle both of whom I coached in primary school, continue to carry on the family tradition of basketball on the LDP level.

On the primary school level it’s been amazing to see the growth of one of my now best players, Marcus. Marcus is a boy growing up without a father, and is known as the child who misbehaves a lot in school. When he first came to practice at the beginning of the year, he was constantly disruptive, not knowing how to use the energy and skill he possesses. By the end of 4th term he was leading the entire team in drills during practice, and his

Coach Yamkela, leading the boys LDP team through a life skills activity

maturity and dedication have increased greatly. Then there is my daily inspiration Chloe. Chloe is in grade 5, and is technically too young to be part of the PeacePlayers Programme. But she just wouldn’t take no for an answer. A little under a year later, she not only has the nicest jump shot on the team, but is able to take charge, encourage, motivate and lead her peers, many of whom are older than her. Finally there’s Jade, who as Fellow Bryan Franklin spoke about a few weeks ago, has grown enough to view all races as people. In a quote that comes directly from some of our training in the Anatomy of Peace, “it’s not about the colour of a person skin it’s about their character’”.

When it comes down to it, it’s the kids who make this the best job in the world. I’m honoured to be a coach at PPI, where I get to come to work every day and impact people’s lives.

“Expecting Peace On this Island One Day”

Fri, 11/07/2014 - 10:58am

Cetin over four years ago with Coach Adam!

Today’s blog is brought to you by Cetin Pirlanta, our oldest PPI-CY member and Leadership Development Program participant. He shares his 8 years in the program and what he hopes to do with PeacePlayers in the future. He is the son of legendary PeacePlayers coach, Sevki Pirlanta.

Hi everyone…This is the time for me to share some things about myself and PeacePlayers and why I joined PeacePlayers. So first of all, I would like to introduce my self- I am Cetin and I am 18 years old and I have started my college life this year. I am a Cypriot guy that loves his island very much and expecting peace again this island one day. I have been in this program since It was started so I can easily say that I am the oldest player in this program.

Cetin jumping high for the lay up

First, when I started this program I was an inexperienced small kid and I was worrying about how to get together with Greek-Cypriot  people but now I can easily get talk and play basketball with anyone. This is the one of the values that I learned from PeacePlayers. I am practicing in Iskele (Trikomo). This year I started to coach practices to small basketbal players while also playing with the older kids.

Through PeacePlayers I have learnt how to share, trust, cooperate, and respect everyone, creating friendship and peace. PeacePlayers taught us whatever your religion or language you are talking, it doesn’t matter. The world is small and there are lots of people so we have to live with peace and love to have a great life with great people. Another point for me is having new friends so I will get know another cultures and their countries. PeacePlayers provides us this easily so every one gets to know each others’ cultures from South to North side.

My favorite thing in this program are the Summer Camps. Camps are so joyful and I learn so much from them. At these camps we meet with previous NBA or WNBA players, so this is the biggest adventage for us. By teaching us what they know from their experience and Cypriot coaches teach us many things too. By these camps we will get more experience and meet some new friends. These camps are the reason I met Alexis, a very tall Greek-Cypriot, one my best friend all around the world. We have good conversations and relationship so I can easily trust him with all my heart.

Cetin and Alexis at summer camp many years ago!

Lastly, I can easily invite everyone to PeacePlayers to have beautiful life and increase your knowledge by great coaches. By the 8 years in this program, from the first year to up now, I became a mature person. I hope that I can become a full time coach for PeacePlayers one day. No life without PeacePlayers-Cyprus. So I want to thank to PPI-Cyprus family to get me this point so I promise that I will improve my self everyday.

#itscooltobepeaceplayer as Coach Nicos says!

Our ‘Wee’ C4Ps

Thu, 11/06/2014 - 12:36pm

At the last meeting, the Junior C4Ps received their new hoodies.

Northern Ireland has seen it’s fair share of Champions this year; Rory McIlroy won the PGA Championship, Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlon won gold medals in boxing at the Commonwealth Games and Kelly Gallagher won the gold medal in skiing at the Sochi Paralympics earlier this year. We all have our champions that we look up to, but what better champions to admire than our Junior Champions4Peace (C4P)?

Participants of the Pie4Peace Challenge

Our Junior C4Ps have been very busy over the past few months, organising fundraisers, trips and playing basketball. The group are currently working on trying to raise money for a trip to Brooklyn, NY in October 2015; “Belfast2Brooklyn 2K15”. Through running events such as a Sponsored Onesy Dribble Walk, a Car Wash, Sponsored Shootout as well as our Pie4Peace Challenge, they have raised £1350 so far. The target is £9,000 so we still have a lot of work to do.

Participants of the Shoot-Out Sweep

Over the next few months the Junior C4Ps will take their learning from the 3 Pillars of Champions4Peace and 10 Champions will travel to Brooklyn to share their knowledge and to learn from their partners at the Necelina McDonald Memorial Foundation. Whilst in Brooklyn, the Champions will run a Game of 3 Halves (GO3H) using Gaelic, rugby and soccer for their partners and support them to run a GO3H event using sports from their community (basketball, baseball and American football). As well as introducing the sports the Champions will share their knowledge of community relations and the part it plays in sport in Northern Ireland. The groups will then discuss their experiences and the similarities and differences between them.

Last weekend, the group discussed why they were part of the group and what they believed a Champion4Peace to be.

Here are some of their answers:

“I’m a C4P because I want to be friends with people from other religions and I would like to be a coach when I’m older. C4P is a programme from PeacePlayers to make the next generation of coaches and to prove to people that Catholics and Protestants can be friends.” Ryan McStravick, 12yrs old.

“A Champion4Peace is a person who has an aim to bring peace between religions and cultures, to take away hate and sectarianism from Belfast. I would like to be a coach when I’m older as from a young age PeacePlayers coaches have been my roles models and I think it would be amazing to bring kids together from different communities.” Aimee McMinn, 14yrs old.

“We could be the next generation of PeacePlayers coaches and by that I mean we could make a change in Northern Ireland, in both communities by showing that it doesn’t matter what religion you are, we’re a team” Niamh McNally, 11yrs old.

These young people are the future, future leaders in their community, future coaches for PeacePlayers, future makers of change and bringers of hope. These young people believe in the possibility of peace in Northern Ireland and want to help make it happen. If you would like to help these kids make their way to Brooklyn to spread the hope of Peace, then please head over to our JustGiving page and make a donation: https://www.justgiving.com/PPI-B2B.

One of our Junior C4Ps relaxing in her new hoodie after a game of basketball last weekend.


If the Players Can Do It, So Can the Crowd

Thu, 11/06/2014 - 8:11am

Members of the Jerusalem All Stars Team celebrating after a win. Photo: Fran Meckler

The All-Stars season has officially started! Our joint Palestinian-Israeli teams are challenging the status quo and setting new records by taking their friendships and team spirit into the public sphere by giving all they’ve got to compete in the Israel Basketball Association’s elite youth league. This year, PeacePlayers has six All-Stars teams (including our first boys’ team!), and they are off to a great start.

With the cooperation of Hapo’el Jerusalem, a mens basketball club, PeacePlayers engaged some new boys interested in PeacePlayers’ mission. The introduction of the Jerusalem Boys All-Stars team has come at an important time because tensions are high in Jerusalem due to the increased violence. We hope all our All-Stars teams rise above the difficulties surrounding them by building strong connections and bonds with their teammates.

Nahariya/Tamra All Star team’s first game of the season

Since the start of the All-Stars program in 2010, our teams have come a long way, winning the under-18 championship in their division. The start of the All-Stars initiative was a pivotal and groundbreaking move for this region. By taking the concept of ‘twinning’ and making it into a full time pursuit, PeacePlayers created the All-Stars team. The organization recognized the youths’ need for another step in the direction of building communities, breaking down barriers, and advancing basketball skills. And an integrated team does just that. PeacePlayers—Middle East also has taken into account the limited access to organized sports for young girls. In Israel, only about 25 percent of participants in competitive sport are women, a number lower than the average in both the Western world and the world at large. PPI has been filling the void by giving young women the opportunity to take part in competitive league teams.  The All Stars teams practice and play together at least three times a week, making them a close-knit community.

“Most people who saw us didn’t understand what we were doing. Their reactions were also different. Sometimes I would hear them praising us for what we are doing and other times I would hear the crowd make racist comments.” – Noy, All Stars team member

Jerusalem All Stars Team Narot Alef. Photo: Fran Meckler

When the All Stars program began it didn’t take too much time for word to get around. Having an integrated team, Palestinian and Israeli, makes these players unique. In fact, for the first time Palestinian girls from East Jerusalem played in the Israel Basketball Association Youth League. For most people not associated with the PeacePlayers community having a mixed team was a bit bizarre. Yet, the players didn’t let the audiences’ doubts and bewilderment stop them from reaching the top and even expanding. For Noy, who plays on an All Stars team, her favorite part of playing on a mixed league team is showing people what PeacePlayers is all about. Traveling from city to city, gym to gym means that people, who otherwise wouldn’t, get to witness what PPI is all about.

Nahariya/Tamra All Stars team gather for a huddle after practice

The beauty of the All-Stars program is that the power and team spirit isn’t only for the team. The crowd gets to witness the harmony and corporation first-hand as well. Fans from both teams watch as their players put aside the conflict and engage in a spirited manner, building true and strong connections. And if the players can do it, so can the crowd.

PPI-SA Fights Off Rain to Host 24th City Wide Tournament

Wed, 11/05/2014 - 9:50am

Teams wait eagerly to be set off to their given courts at the 24th City Wide Tournament!

Each year, PeacePlayers International – South Africa holds City Wide Tournaments in both June and November. The June tournament is carried out with the primary focus of bridging divides. Kids play not with the teammates from their school, but instead are split up amongst their peers to play on teams with learners from different communities and backgrounds. November however is reserved for a classic winner takes all event. In this week’s blog PPI-SA fellow Bryan Franklin reflects on the 24th City Wide Tournament.

The rain was threatening and the calls and texts were flowing in.

“Is the tournament still on?”

“Are we still playing today?”

“Is it raining in Durban?”

And for the more brief at heart, “City Wide?”

But there was something in the air Saturday. It was an aura of excitement, and on this day the rain knew to stay away. Sure there were a few sprinkles here and there, but the down pour held off, until the last 2 minutes of the last game of the afternoon, providing a closing ceremony of sorts.

The NBA Africa team, from a community called Royal Bafokeng, located two hours NW of Johannesburg, came ready to play!

PPI-SA’s 24th City Wide Tournament was a historic event that for the first time ever saw two teams from outside the PPI programme—NBA Africa and CAST—enter, and a total of eight different communities represented. In addition PPI staff and coaches were assisted by volunteers from We Are Durban throughout the day.

The tournament kicked off bright and early at 8:00AM with a performance from former PPI coach and current rapper/community activist Mhligo.  The Primary School teams were then split up into 5 groups of three teams. Each team played each other once with the winner advancing onto a single elimination tournament. Due to some necessary schedule re-structuring because of rain, PPI was forced to cut the field down to four following group play, and launched straight into the semi-finals.

On the girls side, teams from Berea, Carrington, Durban and Sukuma Primary Schools advanced with Berea beating DPS and Carrington beating Sukuma to advance to the finals. As for the boy’s side, Addington, Carrington, Durban Primary School, and NBA Africa advanced. Addington took care of DPS in one semi-final, while Carrington squeaked past NBA Africa in the second to advance to the finals.

In the finals, Carrington looked to complete the City Wide sweep for the first time ever, but fell just short. In an epic girls match-up they pulled ahead early and did not relinquish the lead, holding off Berea to win 14-11.

On the boys side they weren’t so fortunate. Carrington vs Addington is a rivalry that traces back to the years before basketball was even invented, and one that has often been compared to Bulls-Jazz from the 90’s or Heat-Spurs over the last few years. The two schools are separated by a meagre 6 kilometres (3.7 miles), and have consistently been the best teams across the

Our Girls Champions: Carrington Primary School

PPI programme throughout 2014. It was only fitting they would face off for the championship. Addington controlled the first half, jumping out to a commanding lead of 10-2 going into the break. Carrington didn’t have an ounce of quit in them however, and eventually narrowed the lead to just 2 points, before falling 12-8.

As a special treat, the two championship teams were congratulated by coaches and players from the KwaZulu Marlins of he Basketball National League. It was a fitting end to a fantastic year for PeacePlayers International – South Africa. Check back over the next few weeks for news on the LDP portion of City Wide as well as reflections from coaches and volunteers.

PPI-SA would like to give special thanks to the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and National Lottery for their support of the 24th City Wide Tournament, and continued support PPI-SA’s programmes. PPI-SA would also like to thank Coaching for Hope and SAPREF for their support of the Primary School and Professional Development Programme’s throughout 2014. It is with the help of these supporters, that PeacePlayers International South Africa is able to bridge divides, change perceptions and develop leaders.

Changing my Perspective in 35 Seconds

Sat, 11/01/2014 - 1:10pm

Toot speaking about her experiences in PeacePlayers with her teammates at the Linkedin Offices in New York

This week’s blog is written by Toot Imbar, a member of the Leadership Development Program, the Jerusalem All-Stars, who was one of 24 members of the recent delegation to the United States, supported by SportsUnited – The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.

I joined PeacePlayers a little over three years ago. Like many, I joined for the basketball and stayed because I loved it. I love going to practices, I love the weekend retreats, I love our joint meals and mostly, I love the people. I stayed because all of these reasons, I participated, I enjoyed, but I never understood the true impact it had on my life until this recent summer and the trip to the U.S that came right after it.

Toot (left) and Aysha having some fun together during their two week exchange in the US

This summer has been tense; I remember the first siren we had in Jerusalem. It was around 8 pm, all of my family was home and we all ran down to the shelter. The protocol states you have to stay in the shelter for at least 10 minutes after the sirens. As we were sitting waiting for the ten minutes to end, I got a text message. The message was from my Palestinian friend, Aysha who lives in Beit Safafa, an Arab village in Jerusalem. She wrote: “Toot, are you and your family doing ok?”

You might think this is just a simple text message. It only takes about 30 seconds to write and another five to send. I think, this simple text message, these 35 seconds, can show just how much PeacePlayers has impacted my life, and many other lives. Through PeacePlayers I learned that there is not one side, or even two sides to this conflict, but many. With PeacePlayers we are creating a new side; a side of understanding, of trust, of compassion, of respect. We are creating a side that emphasizes differences and similarities. It’s a side of peace.

I’m not ignorant; I know that things are very complicated, but I also know that it is up to us to make a change. Every time I’m with PeacePlayers I feel like I’m making a change. Whenever our [mixed Palestinian-Israeli] All-Stars team plays a game, or when we visit each other’s houses, and even when we simply play basketball, I can feel change.

Toot makes the last second shot for PPI’s Under 18 All Stars Team, winning the Israeli National League Championship for the Southern Division:

When we went on a trip to the U.S three weeks ago, I could feel this change during almost every moment. I got to know, and to speak to many people who share the PeacePlayers vision. People were very excited to see us, hear from us and support us. These groups of people inspired me to keep working towards our shared mission. Seeing the dedication of Brendan Tuohey, Chad Ford, and Brian Kriftcher towards a vision taught me how much one can accomplish. So many lives are influenced and changed because of their vision.

But I think the most important thing I learned was something that I’ve been struggling with for the past few months. It is the fact that I am lucky. I was born to good parents, I have good friends, and I’m in a good school. I always have food on the table, I’ve never faced real danger, and I was never lacking anything. I am lucky.

Toot (front, second from left) and her PPI All Stars Teammates with Dr. Chad Ford, Shannon Presti, and San Antonio Spurs GM, R.C. Buford.

During the past few months especially during this summer’s events I was struggling with this luck of mine. How come I get to be safe while others are getting killed, or having their houses blown up, or living in shelters? Am I a bad person for being lucky? Should I be ashamed?

During this trip, I think I understood the answer to this question. I’m not a bad person for being lucky. But I have an obligation that comes with this “luck.” My obligation is to help people who are less lucky; to help spread this “luck” of mine. And that’s what I want to do in life, I don’t know how exactly, but I know that by participating in PeacePlayers I’ve already started to work towards my goal; to make this world, this region a little bit better.

How PeacePlayers International Made Me a Better Person

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 2:26pm

Victor coaching a young Norwegian camper!

Today’s blog is brought to you by Leadership Development Program participant, Victor Petrov! 

Hey guys…This week I just wanted to share with you a few things about myself, tell you about PeacePlayers, and why I love it so much! So my name is Victor “Vic” Petrov, I’m 16 years old, and I’m from Bulgaria. I have been participating in this organization for 3 years now. I’m practicing in Kiti and it is awesome! When I first started at PeacePlayers, I didn’t know much about the organization. I joined only for the love of basketball, but now I’ve learned the real meaning of PeacePlayers, which is respect, team work, friendship, and peace between two different worlds with separate cultures, religions, and ways of life.

Intense game of 1 vs 1

I have learned a lot with the help of PeacePlayers International-Cyprus and the support of my coaches and friends. I participated in twinnings and tournaments where I met new people, made new friends, and learned so much from them. At the meetings, we would discuss different themes such as, peace, respect, friendship, and lots of other things that will help us in the future. One great experience I had was when some of us went to Norway. The first time I was there it was a all boys team made up of Turkish-Cypriots and Greek-Cypriots. We took part in the Norway Basketball Tournament and won the silver medal. The second time, it was a mixture of  boys and girls from both sides of the island who went to help coach a basketball camp. It was just an amazing trip!

My favorite thing to do happens at the end of the year when we have a summer camp and some of the program members and

NBA legend Pat Garrity coaches Vic and the boys at camp

coaches go to the  Argos mountains. We participate in a week program and also fun stuff like movie night, disco night, peace building, and story sharing. Another great thing is that every year PeacePlayers lets us meet coaches from America that were in the NBA or WNBA and we learn so much from them. They not only teach us basketball skills, but also some important life lessons!

The reason that I participate in this program and love it so much is because it helps me learn new things while playing my favorite sport. I have made so many new friends, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, that I can call “brothers” and “sisters”. They have taught me so much about their countries and cultures. I even learned a little bit of their languages. One of the most important things I have learned is that every person is the same no matter where they are from. We are humans and we all need the same thing, which is love and respect from each other. So really, without PeacePlayers, I would be a different person. Special thanks to all the PeacePlayers International- Cyprus members and coaches!

An Young Adult Volunteer Shares his PPI-NI Experience!

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 4:49pm

Meet Will Massey who is currently in the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program. Since September, he has been volunteering at PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland.

My name is Will Massey and I am 21 years old from Iowa. I studied Physics and Religion at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. I love dogs, rock n’roll, and the Chicago cubs.

When I tell people in Belfast that I coach basketball in Ballymena on Wednesdays and Thursdays, they almost always say, “Och, I bet you have had a hard time with that Ballymena accent,” but to American ears a Belfast accent and a Ballymena accent are not so different especially when coming from a child’s mouth.

I came to Northern Ireland with the Young Adult Volunteer Program (YAV) of the Presbyterian

Will with other volunteers from the YAV program.

Church U.S.A. YAV sends volunteers all over the world to partner with local organizations engaged in missions. To my delight, I was placed with PeacePlayers, as well as the Whitehouse Presbyterian in Newtownabbey. Four other YAVs are serving in Belfast this year with other congregations and community programs. Reconciliation is one of the key goals of the church, as articulated by the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Peace Players is committed to this ministry, and how they operate really impresses me.

In Ballymena, I coach three twinning sessions, which excites me, although it strains my voice and my patience. At 9-years-old I may have been just as eager to learn basketball as these children, although it is hard to imagine. Our challenges as coaches are to direct this energy towards learning basketball skills and community relations activities, which ask kids to think critically about identity and prejudice. Coming in as an outsider, I am counting on PeacePlayers to provide me with the right questions to ask, and on the kids to be honest in answering. The answers I get are often encouraging and I like to ask my fellow coaches about the responses I get from the kids on the drive home. I am learning a lot through my partnership with PeacePlayers.  I hope that I am making a positive contribution to the PeacePlayers mission in Northern Ireland by coaching, playing, and educating.

Aside from my work at PeacePlayers, I spend a great deal of my time with the various ministries of the Whitehouse Presbyterian Church, including Boys’ Brigade, Girls’ Brigade, Youth Fellowship, and 50+ lunch club.

My PPI-NI experience is more than just about a t-shirt, it is about the impact that I can make in children’s lives.

We would like to thank  Rev. Doug Baker, who is the Regional Liaison for the Presbyterian Church of USA in Ireland and the United Kingdom. He coordinates the YAV placements in NI and has been responsible for inviting PPI-NI to formally host Will. We previously had a informal relationship with the YAV programme. We met with the group and gave briefings on the works of PPI-NI and we also had another YAV, Patrick Harley, volunteer with us two years ago.

Shaping Brains Through Basketball

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 2:30am

Coaching can create a happier, healthier and more successful adult through basketball

Picture this, you have four hours a week to work with fifteen kids. Each kid has it rough; poor socioeconomic backgrounds, their saintly teachers are overloaded with class sizes and work, and their parents (if present) are fighting an uphill battle between finding work and navigating the complex world of adolescence. So we have four hours to combat twelve years of disadvantages. What do you focus on to give them the best possible chance? Catherine Woulfe, who writes for The Listener delivered a pretty compelling answer in her recent article ‘The age of opportunity’: The exciting discovery of the plasticity of adolescent brains reveals a make-or-break chance to create a happier, healthier and more successful adult. She essentially summarizes the ground breaking work of leading developmental psychologist and Temple University Professor Laurence Steinberg.

When it comes to impacting kids’ lives, the rule is, the earlier the better. If you read to your child between the ages of 0-3, that will have a much more profound effect on the child’s education  than if that was done later in life. In general, that applies to all experiences. As Woulfe puts it “between the ages of zero to three, our brains are exquisitely sensitive to experience. What happens to us during that time has a profound lifetime effect.” It’s widely known that children who experience abuse at a young age will have a permanent echo of that experience throughout their life.  As Dr. Dipesh Navsaria of the University of Wisconsin puts it “If we get the first 1,000 days of a baby’s life right, we’re really going to save a lot of trouble later on.”

As much as Steinberg agrees with this, his research also shows that when children hit adolescence, a similar opportunity arises to deeply impact their futures. With over 40 years of studying tens of thousands of adolescents, Steinberg has developed a new model that suggests adolescence is also a time where the brain is significantly shaped by experiences. If you think of the brain as clay and the hands that shape the clay as the environment, adolescence is the time that the clay is ripe for molding (if you want to know more about the neuroscience behind it, read Woulfe’s article or google neuroplasticity). How the brain will be molded at the end of adolescence is a good indicator on the shape it will stay in.

So what needs to happen in order to mold these flexible brains into happy, intelligent, and creative forms? The answer is exceptionally complex and requires master craftspeople from all angles – parents, teachers, learning specialists, and etc. Experts such as Steinberg have been able to flesh out the dominant features in order to give some very clear answers as to where to focus. Steinberg’s research reveals that mastering self-control, or in more colloquial terms, “their capacity for self-regulation” is the largest predictor of  one’s future success.

The capacity for self-regulation is probably the single most important contributor to achievement, mental health and social success. In study after study of adolescents, and in samples of young people ranging from privileged suburban youth to destitute inner city teenagers, those who score high on measures of self-regulation invariably fare best… This makes developing self-regulation the central task of adolescence and the goal that we should be pursuing.

To illustrate this, Steinberg often references a famous study conducted in New Zealand that measured the self control of one thousand children at age three. The researchers followed the individuals for forty years and self control at the age of three strongly predicted their levels of health, wealth, and happiness regardless of socioeconomic background.

Remember that marshmallow test that went viral with those cute kids that were told they can have one

Toying with of self-control in the marshmallow test

treat now or two in ten minutes when the adult gets back?

Guess what, the kids that showed self control are much more likely to be happier later in life and although the ones that smashed the marshmallow may have been super cute, intervention was definitely good advice.

So how do you teach an adolescence self control?

Steinberg states,  “the most important environmental contributor to self-regulation is the family.” The people who predominantly shape the environment of the youth are their parents. “Parents practice authoritative parenting. Be warm, be firm, and be supportive.”

Research has also shown that Autocratic parents (ones that rule with iron fists) teach obedience. “There’s no evidence that it’s good for kids. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence that it’s not good for kids.” Permissive parents (ones that get walked over or “just want to see their children happy”) tend to raise children that have little understanding of boundaries.

You’re probably thinking, that’s great but how the heck does that help an organization like PeacePlayers International? People often over simplify it by saying “these kids are missing life skill x, y and z” or “teachers are not being held accountable.” When you try and change the course of someone’s life, you’re fighting years and years of poor development. That’s massively difficult to address with a few hours a week of coaching basketball Or even six hours a day of classroom time.

You can definitely provide a strong mentor/support figure in the form of a coach. Especially, if the coach has a

Molding the minds of our PeacePlayers International participants.

strong understanding of principles such as how to enforce self-control. If the coach is really good they can even create drills that are microcosms of self-control. It’s beautiful watching a coach warmly, but firmly, explain to a player why taking that 3 pointer 5 seconds into the shot clock showed poor self-control:
“It was an ambitious shot, but you could have used a lot more self-control. That’s what’s truly valuable. Think about the other options you had. Sam in the corner had an open 15 footer. The point guard was right behind you and could have organized the team. Did they have a higher chance of creating a better shot for the team?”

Social change is HARD and it requires a reshaping of a youth’s environment that is guided by reason and research. Basketball may not be able to change the whole environment, but for four hours a week, it does make a difference.


“The love the coaches have for basketball inspires us to continually improve our game and they taught us how to be a better person on the court as well in our everyday life” 
Christiana Miltiadous, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"I was on the train one day with my Jewish friends and they started making fun of an Arab woman…I told them to stop and that she was embarrassed and that she just wanted to go to work. I then told...
Adiel, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Middle East
"I was scared to death at first. But by the end of the match, I realized we were all the same."
Geina Mdungo, Participant, PeacePlayers Interational – South Africa
"We typically use activities such as art and drama to bridge divides between the youth. We always knew that sport had the potential to do the same, but PPI - ME's sport day went way above and beyond...
Yael Gur, Project Manager, A New Way, Israel
"We find that the PeacePlayers program brings in life-skills in a non-threatening way, and is helping to educate children on the big issues of HIV…We also find that in the PeacePlayers program, we...
Pamilla Mudhray, CSI Manager, Sasol, South Africa
“PeacePlayers has taught me lots of important things, like how to be a good person, a good friend, and a good leader. One of the most important things it has taught me is how to educate the younger...
Nursu Tilki, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"In the beginning I participated for the basketball, but then I made friends with the Turkish-Cypriots. Now we play and we all have fun together."
Evripidis Kardamilas, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Cyprus
"By focusing on the game of basketball and the values of sportsmanship, the youth learn to break down stereotypes to contribute to an environment whereby children who play together can learn to live...
Bicommunal Support Program, U.S. Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus
“I love this organization because it unites Greek-Cypriots with Turkish-Cypriots by doing what we all love, playing basketball!” 
Dimitris Charalambous, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"Through PeacePlayers I have learnt how to share, trust, cooperate, and respect everyone, creating friendship and peace. PeacePlayers taught us whatever your religion or language you are talking, it...
Cetin Pirlanta, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"When you get to know your teammates, it doesn’t really matter what their religion is."
Aoife Doherty, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland
 “Through basketball I got over my fears and the stereotypes that we were taught in school. Basketball helped me to become friends with those guys without even speaking!”
Alexis Georgiou, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
“The reason that I participate in this program and love it so much is because it helps me learn new things while playing my favorite sport. I have made so many new friends, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish...
Victor Petrov, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"It’s hard to live without my parents, but my PPI coach is always there for me. He’s really more like a brother."
Sihle Cele, Participant, PeacePlayers International – South Africa
"At the start [playing together] wasn't weird, but it was different because we would never have gotten the opportunity to go out and meet Protestants and be friends with them."
Ann Murphy, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland
“Why did I join? Simple, it gave me purpose and it made me happy. It gave me the feeling of belonging somewhere. It was a place where your goals and hobbies harmonize with the goals of an...
Eleni Partakki, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"A lot of kids believe that one kid on the other side is a good person, but every other one is a bad person, and they then carve out these narrow exceptions. What [PPI’s] curriculum is doing is...
Chad Ford, Director, David O. McKay Center for Intercultural Understanding, Brigham Young University
"Basketball has added a new dimension to our sporting activities. Of course, it improves coordination and also improves communication between the kids themselves. It’s wonderful that PPI has become...
Jennifer Sonasundrum, Principal, Merry Hill Primary School, South Africa
"I’m glad that Ronnie’s taking part in PeacePlayers…hopefully Ronny doesn’t have to go through what I went through at Ronnie’s age.”
Manny Macauley, Parent, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland
"I met new players I didn't know before, and learned how to play with new people. The best part was learning things from new players and different areas coming together. I learned you don't have to...
Amir, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Middle East
"We work in an education system that is divided…PeacePlayers program is pointed towards the integration of those children. You’re getting children to mix in an environment where there’s not the...
Derrick Harkness, Principal, Carrs Glen Primary School, Northern Ireland
"If she takes one thing away, it’s to know that there’s no differences from the other community, that everybody’s equal, and that she has great enjoyment with PeacePlayers."
Nula Doherty, Parent, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland
"Programmes like this that work at the grass roots level with the young people in our society are vital to achieving sustainable peace within our communities. We are committed to supporting and...
Denis Rooney, CBE, Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, Chairman, International Fund for Ireland