Sport friends: students and young people from youth healthcare organisations exercise together

In the Sport Friends project, students cooperate with young people from youth healthcare organisations during their social service time. By exercising together, they build on mutual trust and the student can become a role model and coach. We are looking into the benefits that this project provides for those involved.


Can a sport friend become a pillar of support for vulnerable young people? We are interested in studying what happens when students are brought together with young people from youth healthcare organisations, when this is based on equality and shared interests. Sport and exercise form the basis of the relationship, but as mutual trust is established, students may develop into an equivalent role model and coach.

The ‘Sport friends’ project has advantages for both the student and the young person:

  • The student is active in society in a fun and easy-going manner;
  • The student learns how valuable volunteering is and they actively contribute to a committed society;
  • The student can play a meaningful role in strengthening the social network of vulnerable young people;
  • The young person has an ‘important other person’ in their life, someone with whom they establish a bond;
  • The young person is stimulated to engage in exercise, even if being active in sports is not something that comes natural to them.
  • The ‘Sport friends’ project is linked to the Dutch government's policy to improve young people’s involvement in society. This policy is known under the name ‘Maatschappelijke diensttijd (MDT)’ or ‘Social Service Time’ in English.


Our aim is to take a closer look at the ‘Sport friends’ project. Does it provide added value for those involved? What are their experiences? More than 75 students are paired up with an equal number of young people. We then have these pairs practice a sport of their choice in three rounds of ten weeks. After this, we have them answer the following questions:

  • How did the students feel about performing their social service time in this way?
  • Did exercising with a ‘sport friend’ have a positive impact on the young person, in their opinion?
  • What did the participants think of the way in which they were paired together?
  • What could be improved?


01 September 2018 - 01 February 2020


The results exceed all expectations.

  • For the first ‘Sport-Matching-Event’, twice as many students and young people registered than expected;
  • In the first ten weeks, at least 50 ‘sport friends’ got together to do Thai boxing, fitness, skiing, snowboarding, indoor football and dancing.
  • The youth healthcare organisations that were involved reported a positive change among the young people who participated.

Final report February 2020 (in Dutch)

HU researchers involved in the research

Collaboration with knowledge partners

We collaborate with: De Rading, On the Move, the Salvation Army, Lijn5 and Lokalis. 


Would you like to collaborate or do you have any questions? 

Bas van Nierop | Researcher | Participation and Urban Development

Bas van Nierop

  • Researcher
  • Research group: Participation and Urban Development