Play is the primary means through which children explore and experience their world. Play is also the way children learn best.
Do you remember the joy of parachute week in gym class? Or using craft materials in math? When learning is playful, we remember those lessons. Creating safe and supportive spaces for play ignites friendships, develops life-changing skills and provides opportunities to grow as a whole person.
Ask any child who attends programs at a Compassion centre, and they’ll tell you one of their favourite things about the centre is playing with friends. Play and sport aren’t just ways to pass the time—they are part of our holistic child development program that helps each child become all that they can be. Sports allow kids to learn endurance, courage, confidence, curiosity, self-esteem and even social skills—and the results are inspirational.
Sport is also universally valued—kids in every country of the world find joy in pushing themselves to get a little better and celebrating their accomplishments!
Here are 6 of the top sports kids play worldwide:
Along with inspiring stories of kids whose lives were transformed through play!
Basketball may have started in the United States (invented by a Canadian living there), but its popularity is growing around the world! It has been a sport at the Summer Olympic Games since 1936. Over 100 countries have national leagues for both men and women.
For Compassion participant Bedarlin in the Dominican Republic, basketball is just one of the sports she learned to play at her Compassion centre. Her love of team athletics helped motivate her studies and taught her perseverance and goal-setting.
Bedarlin’s tutors at her Compassion centre recognized her gifts in both athletics and inspiring others. They helped her pursue scholarships that allowed her to continue to study. Today, Bedarlin is looking to be a physical education teacher to pass her passion on to others!
Wrestling is an ancient activity and one of the oldest combat sports around. Ancient Greek and Egyptian wrestlers used positions and holds that are still used today. This organized martial practice is a cultural tradition in many places, each with its own style and rules.
Augustin is an eight-year-old boy in Burkina Faso. Since toys and sports equipment are luxuries in his region, he and his friends engage in games requiring simple equipment. Augustin says, “Wrestling is exciting but hard because you must be strong. And I want to be the strongest!”
Nestor, the Compassion centre director in Augustin’s community, says “Wrestling is neither a fight nor a conflict. Wrestling is a game that allows children to know and respect each other well. While wrestling builds up children physically, it teaches them values like self-control, care for others, love and humility to face life’s challenges. Wrestling gives [Augustin and his friends] the ability to adapt to the hard circumstances of life imposed on the most vulnerable, because of poverty.”
Nestor recognizes that organizing play is a powerful tool for child development. Both participating and watching the sport be played is inspirational, and for some, dedication to the sport leads to a path out of poverty. “When I grow up, I want to be the best wrestler in Burkina Faso and Africa. I want to become a teacher and transfer my knowledge to children,” says Augustin.
4. Water Sports
Whether it is diving, swim racing, water polo, or just playing in the water, swimming is a beloved activity around the world. Where water is accessible, people find ways to enjoy it!
Johanes lives in Indonesia, where he is one of six children. Without the means to attend school, his parents enrolled him in the local Compassion centre. As a very active kid, he loved all the sports and activities offered and thrived under the attention of his teachers and tutors.
When he chose a swimming class, he first thought of it as something new to try but soon discovered a passion for the sport. He won regional competitions and even was sent to qualifying competitions to compete in the Olympics. He is now pursuing education in sports science, which is funded both by support from Compassion and through teaching swimming lessons at a local pool.
While Joahnes discovered his passion for swimming first, then competing, his joy is now in coaching, and he plans to open a swim training centre in the future. “To see a child’s potential come forth—that is my joy at the moment,” says Johanes.
A fun recreational swimming class has led Johanes to a dream career and the confidence to pursue it!
Not every country has an abundance of ice rinks in which to play hockey, so floor hockey it is! Nearly 80 countries have national leagues for floorball, a variant of floor hockey played with whiffle balls and field hockey sticks. Because the equipment needed to get started is minimal, floor hockey and similar sports (like field hockey and broomball) have leagues all over.
Bassiratou knows firsthand how sport changes lives! Her early childhood in Côte d’Ivoire was filled with difficulties—she was orphaned at the age of six and went to live with her aunt in Burkina Faso. In Burkina Faso, she was registered at the local Compassion centre, allowing her to attend school for the first time and participate in sports.
“I’ve learned a lot at the centre. I met Jesus at the centre, and my life has been turned around. It is at the centre that I learned to sing, to play games and practice sports, to compete with other children and become a winner,” recalls Bassiratou. “My sports teacher shared a bit about floorball at school, and I was curious to know more about this game. I attended a practice session, and I found it fun. Practicing a sport is good for my well-being both physically and emotionally.”
Bassiratou played on her national team at the African Cup of Floorball 2019. Her Compassion centre has cheered her on and provided opportunities for her to explore her talent. Succeeding in sports has given Bassiratou the confidence to succeed in other areas of her life. Now studying at university, she plans to start a youth floorball team and lead the next generation to victory!
2. Table Tennis
An estimated 300 million people worldwide play table tennis, and it is the most popular racket sport in the world. Table tennis is an Olympic sport and the national sport of China. It is recognized to improve vision, hand-eye coordination and long-term memory. But for the kids who play it worldwide, it’s just plain fun!
In El Salvador, table tennis is also popular in schools and Compassion centres! Walter was first introduced to the sport when enrolled in his local Compassion centre. He was curious and tried it out.
Walter says, “Two years ago, I was getting lost in the streets, failing school, and being influenced by other children who were part of gangs. I was trying out smoking and drinking alcohol with them. But even when I was a rebel, and I felt that everybody was angry with me, table tennis and the love and support of my tutor Aracely brought me back to the right path.”
In a region of El Salvador where gang violence is an everyday threat, sports can be a powerful alternative and way to build connections and confidence.
“Since I started to practice table tennis, I decided to leave bad influences and invest more time in the sport. Also, at the table tennis club, I began to have a deeper connection with the gospel and that’s helping my attitude to be more obedient to the Bible,” Walter says. “It’s good to be part of this club.”
No list of worldwide sports is complete without the top sport played worldwide: soccer! In most places, the game—known as football internationally—has a long history and, by some accounts, has been played for over 3,000 years! There are an estimated four billion fans of this sport (and maybe more during World Cup season)!
For Karla, a 12-year-old in El Salvador, playing soccer for an international team is her dream. As a young child, she would watch soccer matches on TV, dreaming of having a chance to play herself. She was given that opportunity when she was enrolled at her local Compassion centre.
Karla is invited to join her centre’s team when she discovered the joy of playing soccer. She demonstrated herself to be a hardworking leader both on and off the field, with infectious joy and enthusiasm. Because of her skills, she is invited to train with her state team. With support from her Compassion centre to purchase her uniform and shoes, she is on the path to recruitment for international leagues!
Every day we see how children thrive when given the opportunity to play and learn in a supportive environment filled with opportunities and choices. Compassion child sponsorship provides children with the resources and relationships needed to develop as a whole person—body, mind and spirit.
You have the power to give a child the opportunity to thrive and play. Compassion can change a child’s story. Join us by becoming a sponsor today.
Words by Lindy Brown. Photos and field reporting by Yrahisa E. Mateo Solan (Dominican Republic), Jehojakim (Burkina Faso), Hutama Limarta (Indonesia) and Alejandra Zuniga (El Salvador).