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Stichting Life Goals: Empowering Vulnerable Groups in the Netherlands

Beyond Sport X Under Armour Participant Spotlight

October 6, 2023 

With the expansion of our #SportForSocialChange retail donation campaign in partnership with Under Armour to the Netherlands, Austria and Portugal, we’re spotlighting the participating charities that are using sport to inspire and teach valuable lessons to youth. Today meet Stichting Life Goals, which empowers young people to make positive life choices through sport in Utrecht, the Netherlands. 

In 2021, 18% of young people in the Netherlands (aged 12-24) were mentally unhealthy. This represents a substantial increase from 2019 and 2020 (11%). Data shows that more young people – girls in particular – are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, with many feeling disheartened or sad. Contributing factors to poor mental health overall in the country include financial stress, high housing costs and homelessness.

The average home in the Netherlands costs €424,681, which is more than 10 times the average income of the population. By the peak of the housing boom last year, houses in popular locations had increased by more than 130% over 10 years. As a result, more and more young people are forced to sleep on the streets. In 2021, the Netherlands counted 32,000 homeless people, including thousands of young people. Homeless people are often found in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. The vast majority are male and almost two-thirds have an ethnically diverse background. 

In 2019 there was a total of 30,000 asylum seekers in the Netherlands. As of 2020, there were just over 58,000 refugees, mainly originating from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. The country also took in roughly 95,000 Ukranian refugees after Russia’s takeover of Ukraine. The country is facing a shortage of accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers, which is forcing hundreds of newcomers to sleep outside of reception centers.

Stichting Life Goals 

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Stichting Life Goals uses sport to support people in vulnerable situations including youth, refugees, addicts, the homeless and those suffering from mental illness. Believing that sport can provide new energy and self-confidence, the charity makes sport accessible to those in society who need it the most. This is made possible through a large network of partners throughout the Netherlands. The charity reaches 4000 thousand people every year and around 500 youth per month.

Life Goals originated 12 years ago from a project between the KNVB, the Royal Dutch Football Federation, and the Salvation Army charity. The project used sports to help vulnerable groups with the aim of helping them reintegrate into society. This snowballed into a vast network of support and programmes running in more than 40 municipalities offering guidance, projects and useful tools to strengthen dozens of sports initiatives. 

Youth Project Manager Hylke Bos explains that the challenges facing young people in the Netherlands include mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and stress due to academic pressures, social expectations, financial strain and the impact of social media. This is compounded by a lack of access to quality education and employment opportunities. High housing costs and increased costs of living, present many challenges for young people striving for financial independence. 

“Affordable housing is a major issue for youth in the Netherlands, particularly in cities and urban areas. Rising housing costs make it difficult for younger people to find affordable and stable accommodation, leading to housing insecurity and in most cases, homelessness,” said Bos.

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With the belief that everyone in a socially vulnerable position should be able to exercise, Life Goals provides intervention programmes that encourages greater social participation through soccer, volleyball, boxing, yoga and more. It explores themes of collaboration, communication and positivity, using sport to foster personal development and growth.

These themes are important to Life Goals’ programming highlights Bos. “Just as sport is beneficial, you don’t learn to better communicate, collaborate or make positive choices only through sports. We make those skills explicit in our sessions. What does collaboration mean to you and how can we do this better as a group, linked to the sports activity so they can feel it with their whole being and not just their thinking? How does it feel to make a bad choice and how does it feel to make a positive choice? Everybody has dreams for the future. We talk about that during sports activities and help them to set goals to make those dreams a reality. To make it clear how they can transfer those skills and talents from the sports field to their daily lives.” 

Life Goals offers various programmes all focused on supporting vulnerable groups. For example, 'Life Goals Youth' is a preventative programme aimed at kids who are in danger of dropping out of school and who have been in contact with the law. 'Welcome to Sports' is focused on refugees and migrants in the Netherlands, providing them with a community and safe space to play sports and connect with other people. 'AMIF Activation' offers young residents and asylum seekers programming that is structured and safe to reduce everyday stresses. And 'Life Goals for Social Change' uses sport to help with loneliness, stress and depression amongst young status holders. 

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Bos explains that the organisation’s focus on vulnerable groups stems from the fact that in the country they have fewer opportunities to be successful and more chances to develop a mental illness or become involved with criminal behavior. “These young people often live in unsafe and harmful conditions and are more susceptible to crime. They hang out on the streets and don’t have much to look forward to – they get bored, tend to cause problems and this spirals into other things.” 

“Sport is also inaccessible to these young people, which is unfortunate because it’s a great tool for them to feel better about themselves, believe they are worth something and can contribute to society. This is what WE provide. Research shows that a 1-euro investment in Life Goals yields a 3-euro social return. Through sports and the Life Goals Methodology, we explore young people’s potential – developing their talents and life skills and getting them to set goals that will help their futures.” 

Life Goals is a national organisation with its own accredited methodology and an academy to train coaches. It develops practical tools and specific training to strengthen social sports initiatives. For instance, it provides Social Sports Coaches training focused on teaching about accessible opportunities for vulnerable target groups including finances, subsidies, health knowledge and more. Additionally, to guarantee the quality of activities, Life Goals conducts research into the effect of sport on vulnerable people with knowledge from various institutes. It also has a monitoring system to measure social impact which records tangible and concrete results of social sport initiatives. 

With funds raised from the Beyond Sport X Under Armour campaign and seed funding provided by the retailer, Life Goals will strengthen its existing youth projects. “There is a lot of demand for youth programs throughout the Netherlands. These funds will not only help the projects we have now, but it will also create more local youth projects in collaboration with local governments and youth workers,” said Bos. 

Learn more about the incredible organisations we're working to support in the UK and Europe HERE. If you live in the Netherlands, please consider visiting your local Under Armour store to support #SportforSocialChange! 


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