‘Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people … It speaks to youth in a language they understand.’

Nelson Mandela, Monaco, 2000

This quote is often repeated, not least by the man himself, and describes a sentiment that many would agree with—even take for granted. The danger of this is that tacit acceptance of the notion that sport has the power to change means that the need to understand how it does this, and to prove it, is often undervalued.

It is important to understand the benefits of sport, not just generally, but in ways that are unique to particular sports. StreetChance, for example, uses a 6-a-side, fast-paced version of street cricket that can be played in any enclosed space, indoors or outdoors. Cricket appeals to south Asian communities which are commonly found in inner city areas, and the shortened format is highly inclusive—giving everyone the chance to bat and bowl—and can be picked up easily by beginners.

We believe sport can have an impact on reducing youth crime and anti-social behaviour in a number of ways, but—as with all programmes—you have to begin by understanding who you are working with.

If you hope principally to reduce offending rates amongst known offenders and young people on the verge of crime, you will need to work with referrals from the police, youth workers and other agencies. If your participants are, on the other hand, self-selecting, at-risk young people are likely to be in the minority and the impact you can achieve will be more about prevention than intervention.

StreetChance engages young people in socially deprived areas affected by youth crime and anti-social behaviour (ASB) through taster sessions in schools and local community venues. Through a survey of our participants, conducted in partnership with NPC, we were able to understand the attitudes of the young people we work with. It showed that across different age groups and locations, around 10-20% had anti-social attitudes and could be classed as at-risk of offending, whilst the majority held pro-social attitudes. This has helped us understand our impact on:

  • The pro-social majority – Here the focus is on prevention, providing safe havens and diversionary activity in communities where crime is prevalent. Strong engagement offers an opportunity to educate young people around the dangers of drugs, gangs and gun and knife crime through workshops, helping them make sensible and safe choices in the future.
  • The anti-social minority – Here there is room for more positive intervention through peer socialisation. The more at-risk young people are exposed to new relationships with people outside their normal network to help them move away from negative influences to become part of a more positive peer group.

As important as it is to understand the impact projects can have, we also need to monitor and test whether or not the target outcomes are being achieved. In addition to internal data collection, StreetChance has worked with the Institute of Youth Sport at the University of Loughborough to visit projects and interview participants. More recently, NPC helped us to develop a theory of change, to undertake participant surveys, and to look at building an economic case for impact.

Ultimately, nothing can be left to assumptions. It is important to think about what social impact you want to achieve; how and why any given sport can help you achieve it in the context of the young people your programme engages; and then how this can be measured to build an evidence base. If you do all of the above, you will not only better understand how sport can have a positive social impact, but get better at using sport to ensure that it does.

I’ll be talking about the journey StreetChance has been on at NPC’s upcoming event Going the distance—there are still spaces available, so I hope to see you there.

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