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Could Sports Be A Kind Of Medicine For Teens?

While working in the KSA, former college basketball player Jemel Buck started coaching Saudi youth on the side. Here he tells how this led to the creation of MESA, a grassroots initiative to provide countrywide athletic training for their long-term development.

How did your project start?

We started a tournament, and it was shocking to see [Saudis’] lack of motor skill development, so we started working at it. Helping them improve sparked the flame I had as a young child. And to do that in a Muslim country and see that sports could be a kind of medicine for developmental issues was really inspiring.

What are those issues?

When boys turn 13 or so, they become stuck, because they can no longer go into malls with their families, and there are very few positive activities, besides sitting in cafes smoking with friends, or driving crazy. So we wanted to use sports as a tool to manage their energy, so they can focus in the classroom and develop physically, socially, and mentally–because that interest will become a lifelong activity that carries on into their families.

What was most challenging?  

There’s a false confidence in male Saudi culture; Gulf youth especially are very apprehensive to learn something new. So with some kids coming out to learn new ball sports, there was this extreme shyness and fear of failure, because another kid was watching. So we’d say, ‘hey, you’re ahead of him, because you’re doing, and he’s just watching.” We’d try to instill the idea that life is a meritocracy.

For more info – MESA’s Facebook page

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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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