During three weeks in rural Uganda last July, Dr. Meredith Whitley served as an adviser to four female leaders who wanted to develop a women’s empowerment program that included training in basketball.

by Rachel Voorhees

“Sport is a playing field for life. You win games, you lose games. You learn to work hard.”–Meredith Whitley, Ph.D.

While sports are most commonly practiced for leisure and exercise, Meredith Whitley, Ph.D., uses sports as a tool for youth development in underserved communities across the globe.


After her first year as an assistant professor in the Department of Exercise Science, Health Studies, Physical Education and Sport Management at Adelphi University, Dr. Whitley received a faculty grant to travel to Uganda to empower young women through sports. She also conducted research on female participation in sports in the East African country. 

During three weeks in rural Uganda last July, she served as an adviser to four female leaders who wanted to develop a women’s empowerment program that included sports and physical activity. Dr. Whitley collaborated on the project with Professor Alicia Johnson of the University of Tennessee, who had done research in Uganda.

“Sport is a human right and I think that it has so much opportunity to spread happiness and teach amazing life skills that can help people outside of the sport arena,” Dr. Whitley said.

Sport-based youth development is a relatively new and growing field. Along with faculty in the department, administrators and external advisors, Dr. Whitley helped to develop it as a graduate specialization in Adelphi’s Ruth S. Ammon School of Education by teaching classes such as Youth Development Through Sport and Physical Activity and Funding and Evaluation of Sport-Based Youth Development. The specialization can be completed only as part of the M.A. in Physical Education (non-certification) or the M.S. in Sport Management.

Dr. Whitley applies this work to high-need communities in New York as well. Two students from her Sport-Based Youth Development class joined her in working on a project with the Southern Queens Parks Association (SQPA) last fall. In collaboration with SQPA leaders, they designed and implemented a six-week program for boys aged 11–18 who attend school in Jamaica, New York. 

“[Dr. Whitley’s work] is definitely something that can make a real difference in the future,” said Adelphi senior Marco Bernardo, who worked on the SQPA project. “I learned about myself as a coach and how I want to be because of her.”

Dr. Whitley and her students taught basketball, soccer and ultimate Frisbee, and such life skills as leadership, teamwork and respect for others.

“Sport is a playing field for life,” she said. “You win games, you lose games. You learn how to work hard. Sometimes you’re part of a team and sometimes you’re on your own.”

As part of her sport-based initiatives, Dr. Whitley has also worked with underserved youth in South Africa, Massachusetts and Michigan. She hopes to expand the experiential learning opportunities for her students and inspire them to improve the lives of youth through sports.

“I continue to be amazed at the work that’s going on in communities around the world,” Dr. Whitley said. “I feel fortunate that I can be a small part of that in some way.”

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