I recently traveled to Greece to expand upon my educational horizon and to deepen my understanding of the field of sport for development and peace. Before flying to Athens I conducted basic desk research with guidebooks and on the internet while consulting a few friends who had prior travel experience in the country. Ancient Greek civilization was not something that was taught in international schools back in the 1980s and 1990s in the Middle East but upon completing my undergraduate government major at Bowdoin College, I had briefly studied the work of Aristotle, Plato and Thucididyes. Of course, traveling to Greece more than 15 years later after graduation meant taking my appreciation for the people, place and culture to another level.
For 3-days, I was a tour group member of Classical Greece that made stops in Athens, Mycenae, Epidaurus, Olympia, and Delphi. The sites that were of most interest to me were Athens and Ancient Olympia. At every stop and corner there was evidence of historical significance. Learning about the details of all the players and events in the Classical Greece period could make for pursuing another educational degree altogether. This is not something that I am interested in doing at the moment, but believe that traveling is one of the greatest educational gifts one can make for oneself. Visiting the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens was moving because in a way it was a pilgrimage for paying homage to my playing and coaching days while helping to find my place in the world.
Visiting Ancient Olympia was of even more significance at it is where the Olympic flame for the Olympic Games are lit. I missed watching the ceremony in Ancient Olympia but was able to tour the grounds and see up close the ruins of this UNESCO Heritage Site. The Greeks had incredible foresight to have built such facilities thousands of years ago, but perhaps could do more to restore or renovate them to preserve such attractions today. Like other members of the tour group, I questioned myself. Why did I travel so far to see ruins and rubbles of dirt? As mentioned my approach was from the standpoint of (a) deepening my own understanding of sport for development and peace (b) being a symbolic advocate for squash in the Olympic movement and (c) being a part of something greater than myself and sharing with interesting travelers along the way.
Tariq Mohammed’s visit to Ancient Olympia, Greece, 2017 (Photo Credit: Andy Berbeck).
Through my travels and formal education, I have been influenced by several mentors and teachers which led to taking such a journey. I would like to acknowledge their influence as for doing so would provide greater context for my trip. Thomas Hodgson, former Philosophy instructor at Phillips Academy Andover, Denis Corish, former Philosophy professor at Bowdoin College, Alexis Lyras, Founder and Director of Olympus for Humanity Alliance, and Popy Dimoulas-Graham of Charity Republic, Inc. I am grateful to have been able to take the time to make such a trip and explore a new region of the world for myself and advocate for squash’s inclusion in the Modern Olympic Games.
This post is not meant to relive my past or prolong my future. Much has been written in academic journals about the negative effects of specialization in youth sports and unrealistic expectations of players, coaches and parents. For example – increased injuries, parental abuse and corruption – all of which can vary, depending on a variety of factors ranging from location of events, league organizers to player participation. I am a firm believer in playing multiple youth sports and then choosing one to focus on in adult years. In my case, I played a variety of sports, one of which was swimming – which I enjoyed throughly thanks to competent coaches, good infrastructure and well-organized leagues.
Saudi Arabian Western Region Expatriate Swim League (WRESL) medals won by Tariq Mohammed 1988-89.
After winning a few swim meets for my age group and going on to break national swimming records, I went through a process of readjusting my expectations and hopes. My parents and coaches provided positive encouragement during my swimming years. I was guided by them to take an alternative route in my sport journey because I did not have the height or reach to compete as an elite swimmer. This was tough to hear for a 12 year old especially when my swimming times were good enough to compete at an international level. Nonetheless, I chose to listen to my coaches and parents who suggested I try a different sport. By turning my attention and focus to squash I was able to continue to enjoy the benefits of playing a sport while balancing my academics. I had the opportunity to play squash in college and the rest is history.
Swimming ribbons and awards won by Tariq Mohammed 1986-92.
I know 30 years later of switching from swimming to squash was a good decision. Both of these individual sports are also lifetime sports. If I were a parent of a young child or a practicing coach today, I would encourage student-athletes to make the right choice for the long run to avoid over-specialization. It can be a tedious and difficult process but if players, coaches and parents can arrive at an understanding where the best interest of the player is put first then they will be able to succeed in the long run. The “professionalization” of youth sports today, in terms of sponsorships, travel teams and increasing adult participation, make it more challenging for parents and their children to arrive at decisions that will benefit them for the long run. If you are a player, coach or parent in a similar predicament – I recommend start having the conversation – to help you arrive at the right decision.
Since this blog has the word “explorations” in its title, I find it compelling to share my experiences from the vantage point of the 2017 United Nations International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. I’ve been fortunate to travel to several countries both as a child and adult which prompted me to self-reflect upon my tour of Spain in the spring of 2017. This does not make me a special person, but a traveler in life on this planet we call earth.
The slideshow above shows the magnificent architecture and beautiful countryside of Madrid, the capital city as well as Southern Spain. It is a country rich with culture and history, whose people are warm and friendly. Despite being a non-Spanish speaker and largely thanks to fellow travelers on my tour, I was able to navigate around Madrid and various Southern cities. My trip was a vacation, but I turned it into a project through my work in psychotherapy and volunteerism. I am not a trained therapist nor am I a certified peer specialist, but over the course of my adult years, I have gained increasing exposure to the world of mental health services.
I’ve enjoyed travel through my work and have learned that in many ways it is similar to coaching. It is worthwhile, to focus on the “process” so that the results will show for themselves. Perhaps, one of the reasons why I made the slideshow was to acknowledge and give importance to the challenges of travelers with mental health considerations. Particularly solo-travelers as the issues of navigation, housing, meals and medication adherence may be difficult without a relative or friend to assist.
Explorations are not only for explorers to visit or live in distance lands, but they can also be in one’s own backyard, town, city, state or country. As long as I am able to travel, there will always be something to write and reflect on which leads me to believe that perhaps my dream job would be as a travel writer or blogger.
This month is the death anniversary of Ataur Rahman, my grandfather (on my father’s side) who led a full life and left a tough act to follow. I have referenced in earlier blog posts how both my grandfather and father were football (soccer) enthusiasts in their younger days. My grandfather worked in the public sector all of his professional life and one of his many roles was as the Inspector General of Police.
Ataur Rahman (my grandfather) shaking hands before the start of a police-sponsored soccer match.
Based off the accounts of family members, he was a senior police officer who enjoyed organizing sports events for fellow police officers and was asked to present prizes. This was an effective community building tool as it helped foster friendships among officers and their families as well as improve the morale of officers striving to uphold the rule of law in the state.
Ataur Rahman (my grandfather) in center back with dignitaries and police soccer teams.
I was not born when many of these happenings occurred, but do remember his later years as a Member of Parliament and then as a retired public official. While he was passionate about his work, his family life was just as important if not more. We miss him dearly and know that he is in a better place.
Over the last several decades, there has been a lot of research, training and advocacy about volunteer recruitment and management in nonprofit manuals, websites and handbooks. A more recent strategy for recruiting volunteers and staff to become dedicated personnel is through the creation of online videos. For example, I recently registered and attended an orientation to become part of the 2017 Lowell Music Festival Volunteer Family. Here is a video produced by the Festival volunteers.
I found the online volunteer registration to be easy and efficient, plus the professional guidance and delivery of training from the National Park Service staff before the start of the 2017 Lowell Folk Festival was superb. My motivation for volunteering at the event was primarily to build upon my commitment to volunteerism for peace and development. This is the 31st year in which the Lowell Folk Festival has been running, mostly thanks to many dedicated volunteers and generous sponsors who keep the festival free of charge to the public.
My focus for this blog has been explorations in sport for development and peace, however, I have made occasional references to musical events and concerts as a means for bringing people together in peaceful settings. If you are unable to attend the Festival, many talented volunteers have created a tremendous Festival website with a wide array of information, including compelling music videos of the artists line-up to attract future Lowell Folk Festival doers and goers. I was introduced to the Lowell Folk Festival through my parents, aunts and uncles which brought the event to my attention and have also attended the Lowell Summer Music Series. Both the Festival and Music Series are worth it!
I recently returned from a 2 week tour of Southern Peru with stops in tourist destinations such as Cusco and Machu Picchu as well as the Sacred Valley. This was my first visit to a South American country and I chose Peru for a number of reasons. First, old friends and colleagues inspired me to visit, second, I was fascinated by Machu Picchu and third, I wanted to use up my vacation time wisely. Hiking up to Machu Picchu has always intrigued me.
Machu Picchu, Peru – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There were several highlights from my stay in Peru, but I would like to focus on the most striking issues relevant to sport for development and peace, that I was fortunate to witness. Throughout my travels in Asia and Africa, I have had little experience interacting with indigenous people, but while in Puno, Peru a visit to Lake Titicaca‘s Uros island gave me a glimpse of the impact of modern life (including sport and recreation) on the Uros people.
Uros people on Lake Titicaca, Peru Photo credit: Tour company, 2017.
Traveling with a group of Western tourists, we were taken by boat from Puno to Lake Titicaca where we visited Uros island. When we arrived on the island we were greeted by a warm elderly woman dressed in bright, traditional attire who guided us to a semi-circular seating area. After being seated on reed benches, she gave us an overview of life on the island of Uros and its culture with the aide of a translator.
Interestingly, the island itself is made of reeds which are grown and stacked to produced a floating surface which is finally completed by playing sports, such as soccer and basketball to make the “ground” compact. This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of turf, especially in a remote region of the world. The Uros are connected to the modern world by modern communication and transportation systems, yet they retain their culture and way of life with a touch of sport.
Before I learned how to play squash, my Dad introduced me to tennis as a kid. Recently, my Dad, a tennis enthusiast, shared a link to an innovative sport technology product – Coach T. This simple design, but easy to use technological innovation has lots of potential. To learn more about this product, check out the video below from Yanni Peng, Founder of Coach T.
As a certified squash coach who taught squash novices and beginners at Phillips Academy Andover, Concord Academy and Commonwealth School to name a few, I think Coach T could be customized into Coach S (squash). This would not replace a traditional human coach, rather supplement on-court coaching time with portable technology that a student could use on his or her own time.
Today happens to be my Mom’s birthday and the month in which Mothers are celebrated, among other national and international awareness activities (such as Mental Health Awareness Month). To readers of my blog, I hope you have a few minutes to read this post.
I’ve made a couple of references to my parents on this blog largely because I know it is thanks to them and many others, that I am able to stay healthy, volunteer my time with causes I care about and explore new places and things.
The video above is a culmination of my journey in squash. I have enjoyed every moment of playing, coaching and volunteering in squash at various levels, as well as being a team member on winning and losing teams.
I plan to stay physically active with and without squash, as it definitely keeps me well and balanced. Thanks, Mom and Happy Birthday!
My paternal grandfather and father, were both good amateur soccer players in their youth. While on a recent vacation in Spain, I was staying close to Real Madrid’s stadium. I must admit I did not intend to blog about the La Liga, Spain’s premier football division largely because I did not know much about the teams. When I found out that my hotel was near the stadium, I decided to take a walk around the Madrid neighborhood to see for myself.
Visit to Madrid, Spain, 2017. Photo credit: Unknown.
Like many Americans, sports coverage in the United States is mainly focused on the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. Major League Soccer in the United States has grown significantly and U.S.Soccer team has had some strong performances in previous World Cup Championships. In Europe, soccer is the sport that captures the public interest with international soccer starts like Real Madrid’s Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Messi. The best of the best players in developing countries sometimes make it into the soccer leagues of Europe and North America.
Economics drives the investment in sport stadiums like Read Madrid’s and other stadiums around the world. From Wimbledon to Fenway the infrastructure to compete and maintain in such stadiums costs millions. Many parts of Asia and Africa are prohibitively expensive for the public to bear such an investment (considering other competing demands) which is why only the best of the best players from developing countries make it to play in the West.
Squash is a minor sport relative the world’s love of football so my walk through this Madrid neighborhood, helped me to keep it real with more perspective on the urban squash movement.
As a squash enthusiast, I am very excited by a new initiative from T-point, a private squash company to make squash accessible by investing in outdoor modular squash courts. This is an innovative architectural design that I am yet to see in reality, but is very appealing from multiple perspectives such as an amateur player, coach and administrator. Words do not do justice to the concept, so please watch the video.
As you can see there are several possible sites for such a court. One may ask, how does this help advance sport for development and peace in relation to sport of squash?
In developing economies in Latin America, Asia and Africa such courts may help attract a wider base of players rather than private clubs, help generate interest in professional aspects of the sport of squash and enhance community-building activities and well-being of villages, towns or municipalities. All in all, a high-end squash solution with long-term health, educational, economic and social benefits for individuals and society. Can’t wait to see the roll out of T-point courts!