Children and SportA main focus on Sport for Business in 2014 will be the importance of youth sport and the role of sport in education.  On June 12th we will hold a Business of Youth Sport conference on the subject and each Monday we will carry a feature highlighting initiatives in Ireland and around the world where sport is being used in a positive way within education.

We kick off this series with a look at the Irish FA’s Enterprise Programme which recently brought together 23 schools from across Northern Ireland in a Dragon’s Den style competition for new business ideas based around soccer.

Now in its second year, the ground breaking three year project is aimed at 15-16 year-olds and uses football to engage students on key business and enterprise awareness, from innovation and product design, to sales and marketing, to physically developing prototypes for the programme.

Funded by the UK Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and Invest Northern Ireland the programme brings the study of business to life through an association with the sport.  Given that the global sports industry is worth an estimated €400 Billion, it is a connection that is very valid.

NI Schools Entrerprise and IFAThe programme consists of a series of enterprise and football related workshops on sales, marketing, manufacturing and business administration.

The pupils then had to formulate an idea with plans for production, distribution and sales and present their project to a panel of six in a final showdown – Tracey Campbell, Irish FA Commercial Manager; Olive Hill, Invest NI’s Director of Innovation and Technology Solutions; Alice Quinn of the North City Business Centre in Belfast; Jill Crawford, Business in the Community Director; Stephen Downey of Outsider Games and entrepreneur Elaine McKeown of Secure Ring.

The eventual winner was Lagan College in Belfast which will now receive a grant to produce and develop 100 of their ‘bright buddy’ products with proceeds going to school funds.

“This is the second year of a three year project and the feedback we have received from both pupils and teachers during the first two years has been fantastic,” said Geoff Wilson, former Head of Marketing and Communications with the IFA.

“We have nearly doubled the number of schools taking part from year one to year two and are pleased to be involved in a programme which provides an opportunity to educate young people on enterprise and business in a fun and exciting way using the medium of football.”

“We are introducing young people to the idea of entrepreneurship,” added Olive Hill, Invest NI Director of Innovation and Technology.

“The experience offers young people a platform to develop their enterprise skills and gain valuable insights into running a business. These are important skills that will enhance their chances of success and in turn add value to the economic landscape in Northern Ireland.”

Lagan College teacher Claire Murphy said: “The Irish FA Enterprise Challenge was a great experience for the pupils and the project delivery from eye4education was second to none.  The students developed their presentation and teamwork skills and raised self confidence in their abilities to deliver on the big stage.  The real world context allowed the pupils to develop a great understanding of product development, economics and business concepts.  The pupils thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience.”

It is not only in Northern Ireland that soccer is being looked at closely in a business learning context.  In 2013 Sir Alex Ferguson was invited to speak at the Harvard Business School and also formed part of a major study on how the lessons of management seen in such public light within soccer can be transferred to business.

Sport is being introduced in a much more integrated fashion to the Irish education cycle with short courses around leadership, teamwork and physical skills as part of the new Junior Certificate (read more here) and a programme similar to this one in Northern Ireland could be a great way to prepare business leaders of the future through a language they understand as being an important part of their lives.

The funding in Northern Ireland came through a specific programme designed to promote equality, tackle poverty and address social exclusion through sport.  A similar pilot scheme in the Republic could be a novel way to integrate sport, business and education in a manner that will make a difference.

Learn more about The Business of Youth Sport Conference on June 12th 2014.