Robson Tavita was bullied as a young boy in school. He recalls being excluded from the ‘cool kids clique’ because he was a big kid with a soft-spoken manner. Robson wanted to play basketball, but the other kids wouldn’t let him, so he spent the majority of his time watching from the side-lines. Then one weekend, his cousin took him to a basketball court and taught him all the rules and skills to be a good basketball player.
Robson didn’t just become a good basketball player; he was the best! And he became famous… he travelled to a lot of cool places like the United States to play basketball, but he says the best thing he ever did was he established his own little hometown basketball team for all the kids like him who were “only good for the court benches”.
This was over 20 years ago. But that basketball team is still together to this day, playing basketball and participating with an organisation that provides space for other bullied, excluded, and at risk youth - supporting them to feel a sense of belonging and pride in their communities, and enabling them to achieve their full potential for a secure future.
Physical wellbeing is central to the fulfilment of our everyday tasks and long term goals. We need to be in good physical health to be able to go to school or work, and participate in activities with our families and friends. In turn we feel good about ourselves, we find enjoyment in what we do, and this has spill over effects to other areas of our lives. It benefits society as a whole.
Improving the physical wellbeing of the young people who come to TYMS is a major goal of our service. We accomplish this through our focus on these two areas: the executive function and social cognition.
The executive function and social cognition are associated with the prefrontal cortex, which is situated in the frontal lobe part of the brain. The executive function is used to describe the capacity that allows us to control and coordinate our thoughts and behaviours. These skills include selective attention, decision-making, voluntary response inhibition, and working memory. Social cognition on the other hand, focuses on how people process, store, and apply information about other people and social situations. The way we think about others plays a major role in how we think, feel, and interact with the world around us.
Puberty, which is associated with adolescence, represents a period of synaptic reorganisation in the brain (think of electrical wires in your computer reorganising themselves) and as a consequence, the brain might be more sensitive to experiential input at this period of time in the realm of executive function and social cognition. Basically, what this means is that, the adolescent brain is at a pruning stage which makes it an excellent time to foster executive function and social cognitive skills, which can last into adulthood. And make them better members of society.
So, where does physical wellbeing come in?
Research shows that kids who engage in physical activity significantly improve in maths, compared to kids who don’t.
Physical activity requires volition, planning, purposive action, performance monitoring, and inhibition – skills associated with the executive function.
To successfully adopt or change physical activity behaviour, an individual must form a conscious intention about what activity they wish to adopt (volition), identify the sequence of actions required to achieve the intended activity (planning), initiate and maintain focus on the chosen activity over time (purposive action), compare actual progress with planned progress over time, identify and correct mistakes (performance monitoring), and overcome the temptation to remain inactive or eat an unhealthy diet (inhibition).
These are the stages our young people go through when we work with them on improving their physical wellbeing. The great thing about these skills also is that they are transferrable to other areas of life where planning, decision making, etc. are needed… like maths. Research shows that kids who engage in physical activity significantly improve in maths, compared to kids who don’t.
On the social cognition side of things, the literature suggests that accumulating social experiences is crucial for social cognitive processes. While we have a gym on site where young people carry out their exercise regimes, our mentors also spice things up by taking the young people out to parks, swimming pools, and local sports clubs. Given that majority of the young people who come through to us face social exclusion in one form or another, taking them out to the community aids in re-establishing their social connections, minimising their experiences of exclusion.
When we are surrounded by lots of people, it is a learning ground for our social cognitive processes. We know anger, happiness, fear, and joy, because we see these emotions expressed on other’s faces or in their behaviour. And we know the boundaries to our own expressions of these emotions because others act as guides, expressing approval or disapproval when we behave or act in certain ways. Social connection fosters emotional intelligence and empathy, which are essential characteristics to being a good member of society.
Here at TYMS, our approach to improving our young people’s physical wellbeing is holistic. It is about good physical health, on top of fostering executive function and social cognition skills which will enable our young people to reach their full potentials and secure positive futures.
Through basketball, Robson Tavita, the kid who was bullied in school, was able to realise his potential and be at this amazing place where he is now - running his own organisation, influencing positive change for our Pacific and Maori youth at a systems level, and improving the lives of our young people who are marginalised and excluded from society. No wonder he calls basketball his ‘gift from God’'.
You can find us at 644 Swanson Road, Auckland, or contact us here.
What Our Clients Are Saying
“If I can just affirm all the great progress that our boys are showing at school in their confidence, physical health, and their learning. Much of which is attributable to the great work that their mentor is doing."