In 2000, Brendan Tuohey and his brother Sean saw that basketball was able to help overcome deeply entrenched barriers between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. They established Peace Players International, grounded on their own life experiences that showed that “children who play together can learn to live together.”
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BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS ON FOUR CONTINENTS
We learned of Peace Players International in April during a webinar by the Aspen Institute's Project Play initiative titled "Coronavirus and Youth Sports: How to Manage the Crisis." PPI's founder and president Brendan Tuohey was one of the panelists and his comments “We have an opportunity to get better, do away with fragmentation, and use technology to boost support” were pretty much all aligned with our view of the tennis world right now. So we decided to speak with him and learn more about his organization and vision. One of the most puzzling questions for us was, why is that not done in tennis?
QUESTIONS FOR BRENDAN TUOHEY
TCB: Brendan, I believe that both you and your brother Sean are originally from Northern Ireland?
BT: We are actually from Washington D.C.. We spent hours as kids outside playing basketball and attended Gonzaga High School, a Jesuit school in D.C., and learned from a young age the importance of being “men for others”. Our connection to Northern Ireland is that I played and coached basketball in Ireland after my time at Colgate, and my brother Sean played and coached in Northern Ireland after graduating from Catholic University. Sean spent his year in Belfast running basketball programs for Protestant and Catholic children. Basketball is one of the few neutral sports in Northern Ireland that helped bridge divides between the two groups. That formed the base for PeacePlayers, which Sean established first in 2001 in South Africa and then eventually launched in Northern Ireland in 2002.
TCB: You started PeacePlayers in 2000 with Sean. Why did you pick South Africa as the first community in conflict?
BT: PeacePlayers was launched in South Africa because of connections that Sean made through a police chief in Belfast. He thought South Africa was an ideal place to start because the country was coming out of apartheid and needed ways for diverse populations there to connect and unite.
TCB: At the same time, what made you build the organization in Washington, DC? What advantages did you see in that move?
BT: To be honest, I don’t know that establishing in Washington D.C. was a strategic move, it's just where we were from. My father is a lawyer and he helped us with the paperwork to establish as a 501c3 and from there we have grown over the last nearly 20 years. That said, while our Global Support Team staff, that supports all of our year-round sites across all functional areas, is based mostly in Washington D.C. we have made it a point to have global roots. Our Executive Director, Karen Doubilet, is based in Tel Aviv, and we make it a point to ensure locally-led input helps drive one of our core values of our “culture of collaboration” across all of PeacePlayers.
TCB: Did you develop the curriculum for PeacePlayers programs?
BT: We initially built our PeacePlayers curriculum in collaboration with The Arbinger Institute, a global training and consulting firm that helps focus on shifting from self-focus to others-inclusive focus built around an outward mindset. We have since expanded our curriculum around our three core values: inside out transformation, seeing people as people, and a culture of collaboration. We also recognized that kids would come for the sport, so we needed to make the instruction top level and a lot of fun. We are doing this working closely with our leaders and coaches around the world and also our longtime board member, Chad Ford (who has a new book launching soon with more lessons from PeacePlayers: (https://dangerouslovebook.com/donate-to-peaceplayers/). Our unique curriculum blends interactive sport activities and guided discussion to give young people a language to discuss conflict and come together through the power of sport. Key also is integrating into the local competitive bodies.
TCB: PeacePlayers is engaged in Northern Ireland, Middle East (Israel), Cyprus, South Africa, and the United States. What are the conflicts you are targeting in the U.S.A.?
BT: In the United States, historical divides driven by race and geography have created an inequitable society. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the human toll of racism and inequity in our country. At PeacePlayers we are working with our partners at Nike to develop a network of young leaders across the United States who come together across community divides and become catalysts in building a more peaceful and equitable society. We are currently working in 5 cities: Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles.
TCB: Of all the countries mentioned above, where do you see the biggest impact PeacePlayers had and has?
BT: I think the most important impact is the network of young leaders from across the globe who are now working together to build a shared future. This is so important and really needed now.
TCB: You’re using Basketball as a vehicle to get youths into your programs for bridging social divides and developing future leaders in conflict zones. Since your organization’s name is pretty generic, are you planning to branch out into more sports?
BT: While basketball is core to our brand, we have actually been able to replicate our model to other sports through our Sports Peace and Innovation Network (S.P.I.N.) which is a training and consulting resource for the global community to expand the impact of the power of sport. Since 2010, we have collaborated on more than 22 SPIN projects in countries across five continents with various sports from soccer to rugby. We adapt our award-winning curriculum and approach to fit the need working with sport for development groups around the world.
TCB: Do you see any reason why your ideas can’t be also put into action for tennis?
BT: Of course not! There are actually a few great groups that I know of that are already using tennis towards these aims, including the Washington DC Tennis and Education Foundation (WTEF).
TCB: What would you tell a person interested in starting a similar peace program utilizing the sport of tennis as a vehicle how difficult it is what you were doing?
BT: To first look for opportunities to partner with existing organizations and efforts. The effort of starting from scratch is incredibly difficult. You do not have to start something completely new to have an impact.
TCB: How did you find your Board members and what was the selection process?
BT: We initially started with family and friends and expanded our network from there. At first, we needed basic guidance in every area from like financial management, to strategic planning, to fundraising. Eventually, we were able to hire people to do some of this work full time and our board was able to focus more on fundraising and growth while continuing to help make sure we were operating efficiently. We have an incredible Board of Directors who we have been working closely with, especially during these challenging times.
TCB: What are your future plans with PeacePlayers?
BT: As we approach our 20th Anniversary in 2021, we will hold our Friendship Games in Israel (which were forced to go virtual this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and realize our vision of an independent U.S. PeacePlayers organization, while continuing to foster connections and best practice between nations to advance our global peace movement. Our long-term goal is to develop a network of alumni who are leading in the public and private sectors while remaining connected to a large movement.
TCB: What does your brother Sean do nowadays? Is he still involved?
BT: Sean lives in San Diego with his family and is focused on developing a new effort that uses sport to help young people manage trauma. He is still very much a part of the PeacePlayers family. Even though I am a co-founder and was with him from the beginning, Sean is the real founder of PeacePlayers and made it all happen.
TCB: Thank you, Brendan.
You can reach Brendan Tuohey via email firstname.lastname@example.org