“Younited Belgium is a team for experts in the daily survival”
Thursday 22 December 2022
Younited is a social sports organisation that uses sport to improve the welfare of the most vulnerable target groups in our society. On Monday 26 December, we have invited a number of riders from their cycling teams to the UCI World Cup round in Gavere. Kenny Van Houcke, head of Flanders at Younited Belgium, tells us something about the organisation.
What is the goal of Younited Belgium?
“We want to create a home for people who are in vulnerable situations. These are adults struggling with housing problems, mental health, well-being, poverty or addiction. They usually come to us via social organisations. Our goal is to make them feel part of a warm team, in which they can forget all their worries for a while by playing sports. Younited is there for experts in the daily survival.”
How do you use sport to support them?
“Participants can choose to join a football or a cycling team. The sport we play is only the means, the group events take precedence. Group sport allows us to enhance the social skills of our participants. They learn to listen to each other, to treat each other with respect and, in the cycling context, they also have to occasionally wait for each other or even indicate when things are going too fast. They can then apply these skills in their daily lives.”
“Our goal is to make vulnerable people feel part of a warm team, in which they can forget all their worries for a while”
Can you tell us more about your cycling teams?
“Younited has two cycling teams, one in Roeselare and one in Kortrijk. The teams go out every week, men and women together. Each year they work towards achieving a few sporting goals. For example, in the past, they have trained for Gent-Wevelgem Cyclo and for the Tour of Flanders for cycling tourists. In this way, our riders have got a sporting goal in mind in their lives. Of course, there is also room to eat or drink something together during or after a training session. This reinforces the sense of belonging to the group. For the time being, we have two teams but, depending on the local interest, we are looking to set up cycling teams in other cities in the future.”
There might be a difference in level between the cyclists, how do you deal with that?
“There are, of course, a few barriers to overcome. In a football team you can sit on the side when things get too difficult for a moment, but it is more difficult during a collective bike ride. That does present a nice challenge for the group. When someone is struggling, we try to motivate that person and we wait for each other. We also try to avoid this difficulty by riding in laps, so that newcomers have the opportunity to complete a shorter ride. In this way, we do not exclude anyone. Our participants have all too often been excluded from society in the past.”
“We do not exclude anyone. Our participants have all too often been excluded from society in the past”
What equipment do you need to be able to join in?
“When it comes to sports equipment, Younited does not leave anyone out in the cold. The cycling teams provide bikes, helmets and cycling clothing. The only thing participants need to bring are their own sports shoes. Should they not have any, the local organisations will help them find a solution. In this way we try to keep the threshold as low as possible. To help continue the funding of the teams, their activities and the materials, people can support us with a donation on our website.”
You will be present at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in Gavere. What effect can a day of cyclo-cross have on your cycling teams?
“Our participants don’t get the chance to attend a World Cup race every day. That alone makes it fantastic, but we will also be meeting Felipe Nystrom there. Nystrom is a Costa Rican rider with a life story that is very recognisable for our people (he was abused as a youth, was homeless due to heavy addictions and he attempted to take his own life on a number of occasions, ed.). It will be a motivating and inspiring day to meet him and to cheer him on.”
“Thanks to the race, we can give our participants that warm Christmas feeling during the coldest and darkest period of the year”
Thus, a nice bright spot in a dark Christmas period?
“True, many participants have a very small social network and no warm family circle. The fact that we can invite them to the cyclo-cross in Gavere on Boxing Day is fantastic. By doing so, we can give them that warm Christmas feeling during the coldest and darkest period of the year.”
Do you want to start a Younited team yourself? Take a look at www.younited.be/start-een-team.