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Junior Team Concepts

Good nurturing leads to strong growth

Tobias Martens, a youthvolunteer at the ISCA Secretariat, examines

best practice in youth development and takesinspiration from Germany’s ‘junior team’ model

The process of instilling social skills,health awareness, and a sense of shared responsibility is most effective ifbegun at an early age. Approaches can take many forms, but young people’sinvolvement in youth and sports clubs can be one of the most effective. Thisarticle will examine best practice methods of youth development - both in ISCAmember organisations and elsewhere.

In order to be seen as appealing, youth clubs must offer activities that areconstantly challenging and motivating, and the task of assimilatingoften-reluctant newcomers should always be high on the agenda. Three key wordsin this area are “Attract, Qualify and Integrate”


Firstly, clubsshould offer the right incentives to attract young people. Activities on offershould be fun and imaginative, and each organisation should retain itsindependence and avoid being seen as part of the establishment. Secondly,newcomers need to undergo a process of social qualification in which theyimprove their social skills and become accepted and respected by their peers.This usually takes place through shared activities.


Finally,integration is of major importance. Young people need to assimilate into agroup and accept its values without feeling isolated, embarrassed or resentful.To achieve this, ongoing dialogue should take place between all age ranges. Theidea of the mentor, or “helping hand”, common in the German junior team modelserves to minimise newcomers’ risk of failure or loss of face. The mentor’stasks include introducing the newcomer to the way things work, and impartingknowledge and support when he or she is faced with new responsibilities.

According to ISCA Youth Co-ordinator Jean Luc Frast, such a helping hand canoften be vitally important for new members. “Young people can be enthusiastic,but they also need guidance,” he says. “When put in charge of funds, forexample, they need to think responsibly. This also applies when carrying outactivities related to the public image of the organisation. Older members whocan speak on the newcomers’ level can help steer young people away fromconflict with older people who are more set in their ways.

The importance of mentoring cannot be stressed hard enough,” he adds. “It canact as a bridge between generations”

‘Old hands’ helping new members. Junior teams lead the way

The idea behind theGerman “junior team” concept is quite simple - to provide young people,generally aged from their early teens to their early 20’s, the chance to engagewith an organisation they are interested in, while at the same time allowingthem to decide to which extent they want to get involved. Junior teams aregroups consisting of interested young people who want to engage, but are stillnot quite sure to what extend.

This flexible, youth-oriented model means that no elections are held, and nofixed period-posts are awarded. Interested parties are free to participate inmeetings and activities, but if circumstances force them to spend more time atschool or university or even with their girlfriend or boyfriend, they are freeto reduce their engagement. This model also means that young people areprotected from stumbling into a large commitment that is not right for them,which could lead to them being put off the idea for life!


But what exactlygoes on when Germany’s junior teams embark on a project? Although most projectsare selected and developed by the team, their content is usually related to oneof the main focuses of the organisation. An inner-city youth or sport club, forexample, may choose a project which spreads information about the dangers ofdrugs. A swimming clubmay choose a projectfocusing on pollution in the marine environment.


The team alsodecides which work methods are used, often resulting in much creativity andflexibility. Young people often see unorthodox work practices as moreattractive and motivating than more traditional methods. The projects’transparency also enables new recruits to join up easily. The whole team is alwayscollectively responsible for the project, and if any individual member can’tmanage the tasks they are responsible for, the team works out another solution.


Many juniorteams also have their own budget. This financial independence can promote newways of spending and saving money - many of them unconventional and innovative.As the project progresses, a constant transfer of knowledge between the memberstakes place, and the whole team is empowered by such an “open-source” exchangeof views.

Junior teams with their own budget

This experiencecan be a fantastic foundation for young people to develop their own social,organisational, cooperation and management skills. Skills they are more likelyto put to use working in NGOs or other careers than in day-to-day life atschool. The support offered by peers and professionals or senior volunteersthrough the mentoring process creates a safe environment as well as a sense ofidentification with the organisation and its projects. As the personalconnection between team members grows, not only is the organisationstrengthened, but participants become more integrated too. Other less obviousbenefits include improving the ability to think and work in a structuredmanner.


The mentoringand coaching structures of German junior teams are so successful that similarstructures are being applied in the corporate business world. Thinking aboutit, it is quite logical for businesses to support young trainees in this manneras it encourages innovation and the transfer of knowledge from past to present.It also provides companies with strong human resources.


Of course, notevery young person who participates in a junior team project will continue tobe involved with voluntary organisation for the rest of their lives. Work,travel and education often make long-standing commitments difficult. However,some will continue to volunteer, and even those who leave will haveparticipated in a learning process for life, and will often apply their newlygained knowledge in other areas.


Put simply, goodnurturing leads to strong growth. As far as youth development is concerned,best practices such as the junior team methods mentioned above can serve asinspiration to ISCA’s many affiliated youth associations across the globe.


ByTobias Martens
EuropeanVolunteer at ISCA  08.2006 – 08.2007

German Youth and Sport Association

Thisarticle has been first published October 2006 in Culture Sport No. 6 “TheHealth Issue”.

Pleasefind this and further issues as free download in the Library section.

Article Junior Team Concepts, Culture Sport No.6 (PDF, 0.22 MB)