Combine your passions for sport and travel with an athletic year abroad

Still the industry leader for sports travel, the Marlow-based company has four branches, Gap Sports Abroad, Academy, Snow and Water, and runs operations in Ghana, Costa Rica, South Africa and Québec. With the academy arm tailored towards top-end sporting refinement, and the snow and water divisions more commercially driven, the majority of gappers will find themselves in the Gap Sports Abroad bracket.

"We're the first organisation to use sport to get alongside communities," says James Burton, a director at Gap Sports. "Instead of going to Tenerife to doss about for two weeks, we're trying to show people the real world through a sporting discipline. We're also aiming to consolidate communities for the benefit of the locals."

And though, in part, a reaction to the dominance of conservation work in the gap year market, Gap Sports still places an emphasis on sustainable development, and making a positive difference to the communities that house the projects. Their registered sister-charity, United Through Sport, goes some way to achieving this. Gap Sports makes a donation to the charity for every traveller signing-up to one of their programmes.

Others take it a step further. Lucy Mills could well be considered a personification of the Gap Sports ethos. She's an international development student from Leeds, and an accomplished sportswoman. After finishing her A-levels, she spent six months in Ghana coaching a group of young footballers. Mills has since established her own charity scheme, Ghana Football Aid, which has received much support from local British teams, and enabled her to return to Ghana to donate team strips and training kit.

"I'd definitely recommend it," she says of the experience. "The African children are amazing: so full of laughter. Unlike travelling as a tourist, you get to know the community, the people around the football pitch, and the culture. It's more like living out there as opposed to being an outsider."

In addition to training the boys' team, Mills took advantage of an opportunity to coach the women's team at the University of Ghana. What's more, the then 19 year old made appearances for a premier league side, which also fielded players from the national side. "You have to really make the most of it," she says. "You can let the time pass you by, or you can do work in orphanages, travel, play sport and so on."

There is room, however, for those less athletically gifted. "I spoke to the Gap Sports directors and made it clear I wasn't sporty," says Charlotte Sadler, who went to Ghana to teach English after graduating from university. "It was nice to be able to go and try teaching in Ghana," she says. "It confirmed that teaching is what I want to do. It's great to challenge yourself like that."

Though Gap Sports has rapidly expanded its outfit from Ghanaian origins, the directors are conscious of getting too big. "We look global," says Burton. "But we're quite small and personal, concentrating on what we have to make the programmes a success for everybody."

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'Over there, whole families greet you'

Lee Steggles, a qualified assistant coach with the Amateur Boxing Association, spent five weeks in Ghana with Gap Sports

It was the first time I've been off these Isles, so the most daunting thing was the culture shock. But I definitely wouldn't swap the experience for anything. I met such friendly people out there. It's not like England. If you said hello to someone walking down the street here, you'd get a wry look. Over there, whole families greet you.

All the volunteers lived as a group and it was the most cohesive group I've ever had the pleasure of being with. We gelled straight away and would often go to the local bar or head down to the beach together.

You have to be up for a laugh, get on with people, and be open to accepting the culture out there. You've also got to be patient; you can't go out there like a bull in a china shop. They call it Ghana time - "it happens when it happens". I've learnt how to deal with people and it's certainly broadened my horizons.