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Blog: engagement tips from the front line – part 3

Justin-CIn his latest blog on engaging participants in Sport for Development programmes, Alliance of Sport Co-Founder and Secretariat, Justin Coleman, discusses the crucial final stages – getting them active and ‘sticking with it’.

In blogs one and two, we looked at the initial stages of engaging hard-to-reach participants in community sport programmes, with tips direct from the ‘coalface’ from delivery staff across England and Wales.

Community sport can have immense value in turning around entrenched and damaging behaviour patterns, reducing criminal activity and making communities safer.

Forging a connection with targeted audiences is tough work, but getting them started, keeping them engaged, building motivation, resilience and working towards tangible outcomes is also challenging.

The 13 organisations we visited for our Review of Community Sport in Criminal Justice proved to be a goldmine of advice, ideas and inspiration. Below is a selection of nuggets that correspond to the final two stages of engagement, as outlined in our Theory of Change.

Stage 4 – Action – “Getting Started”

  •  Set individual SMART targets and goals, and use person-centred, solution-focused interventions

“We do this through one-to-ones and, when appropriate, small groups. We encourage and nurture ownership and responsibility for achieving their own aspirations, and we keep showing them it’s possible. We then keep lifting the aspiration at a pace that stretches, yet rewards!”

  • Use local role models amongst the staff and volunteers delivering services

“Giving leadership roles, volunteering and employment to former participants means everyone in the environment believes it’s possible and practical that they can achieve good, rewarding and purposeful outcomes through the programmes and support. There is always a real example of change for them to follow.”

  • Promote opportunities for leadership, participants’ voice and personal representation in the local community

“We have so much to get involved with outside in our community, sports tournaments, constant meetings with partners, community events and advocating the voice of our service users. We open up everything we can for them and invite them to be involved and help us, help more”

  • Actively listen to the needs of the individual participant and the collective

“The agenda of positive change is ours, but the process and journey of it is always theirs. Their ownership of that is essential; without listening to their needs we wouldn’t be able to respond or be here today.”

Stage 5 – Maintenance (Highly Engaged/Self-Actualisation) – “Sticking with it”

  • Continue to offer a variety of sports/physical activities, workshops, education, employability courses, life skills development programmes and courses

“Choice for the participant keeps the progress and motivation going, as we are led by the service user. If we can’t deliver a course directly, a partner of ours can – we always aim to support the next step on the right path.”

  • Always ensure at least a one-to-one session per week

“The essential component to the service is our mentors being be able to sit with, listen to and advise the participant. Being away from other distractions is vital so we get the opportunity to listen at their pace and at their level.”

  • Enable participants to create and own their environment

“We have a young person who loves art and graffiti, so we brought in an art tutor and they worked together to make our environment better – this also gave ownership and pride in a shared, safe and now vibrant part of the gym.”

  • Educate aspirations, encourage leadership and provide new experiences, especially when it stretches comfort zones

“We asked our group to tell us what they wanted to do. One of the group wanted to know about construction, not just brick laying, but all kinds. So we took the group to see a construction firm that built stage and concert sets, and this opened the minds of the group and helped them look deeper into options.”

  • Every participant can potentially volunteer and work for us directly

“50% of our staff team are made up from former participants. It means we have a cycle of role models that are real and tangible for all to learn from and aim to emulate.”

  • Use community partners to progress into wider and inclusive society with us as a consistent, vibrant, safe space that supports

“Even though our participants move on, get jobs and settle down in a stable life, we are always there, in their community, so we keep in touch and often they drop in, have a catch up, tell how they are and ask for advice – we are a part of their family and they are a part of ours.”

In his next blog, Justin will focus on the engagement tool in the Alliance of Sport’s Theory of Change and how any practitioner can apply it to every stage of the engagement process and enhance their Sport for Development project.

(Pic credit: Positive Futures Gwent/Newport Live)