Play Like a Champion Today, Athletics to travel to Uganda to promote youth sports

Author: Damian Kearney and Jane Ralser

Play Like a Champion Today

As most college students are packing to return home for summer vacation, 12 University of Notre Dame students will be leaving to share the experience of sports with the children of Uganda. This trip, sponsored by Play Like a Champion Today (PLACT) as part of the Institute for Educational Initiatives and by the Department of Athletics will focus on promoting youth sports as well as educational research.

Heading this international effort are Kevin Dugan, manager of youth and community programs for the athletics department, and Clark Power, professor of education and psychology and founder of PLACT, a program developed to champion character development through youth sports. “The purpose of the whole effort is to work with the Catholic Church and the (Ugandan) Ministry of Education and Sports to share ideas on how sports can be used as a platform for positive social development,” Dugan said.

The group of students, led by Dugan and Power, will arrive in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, to meet with Penny Kabenge, secretary general of the Uganda Olympic Committee, and then continue on to Kkindu, a small village outside the city of Masaka, and Jinja over a two-week period. During this time, the students will assist with PLACT research, run a variety of sports camps for children and provide support during PLACT sessions specifically adapted for Ugandan youth and their world of sports.

Also involved with PLACT Uganda are Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly and his wife, Paqui, who provide support through the Kelly Cares Foundation. When interviewed on this initiative, Brian Kelly said, “My wife, Paqui, was passionate about this effort and, as it relates to athletics, we’re committed to anything we can do to generate that kind of camaraderie and bring people together.”

Both Dugan and Power believe this Notre Dame trip will expose students to a very different version of Uganda than that portrayed in “Kony 2012,” a film that went viral in March. “I think our students will really be encouraged by the talents and gifts of Ugandan youth,” Dugan said. “We have been very thoughtful about engaging the people of Uganda in ways that complement what they are already doing there to improve physical education in schools, and providing more outlets for personal and character development through sports.”

Promoting that exact outcome is what led to the alliance of Athletics and PLACT staff two years ago. This is the second trip connecting the Athletics Department and PLACT, and all involved hope this service and educational opportunity will grow in coming years. This year, in addition to introducing PLACT to Ugandan children, Power will also conduct a two-day workshop with Uganda Martyrs University, where he is working on a joint research project with faculty and staff: studying the impact of sports education on child development in that nation. Power explained, “The PLACT model has had great success in North America, and we look forward to our Ugandan partnership and exploring how it can make a difference around the world.”

This trip is the product of a year’s collaboration with the Catholic Church and the Ministry of Education and Sports in Uganda. In preparation for this trip, Notre Dame students completed two prerequisite courses focusing on the social foundations of coaching, sports and development, and participated in an interview process with Dugan. The trip itself is part of ongoing coursework that will conclude in the fall.

Dugan and Power want the group to approach their efforts in Uganda with a great deal of humility and passion. “If we walk humbly and passionately, then our presence can help support the work of the government and the church to use sports as a form of growth and development for the children of Uganda,” Dugan expressed. Power added, “This trip is an outstanding result of Play Like a Champion Today and the Athletic Department’s commitment to positively changing people’s lives through sports, our students’ natural zeal for service and the University’s commitment to promoting social justice around the world.”