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How cricket coaching is helping cut urban youth crime

Sport is one of the most effective ways to engage with the most challenging and complex individuals caught up in a cycle of crime and imprisonment. During Coaching Week (June 4-10), the Alliance of Sport is showcasing #greatcoaching by those working in and around the criminal justice system.

 

“In cricket, you have to think for yourself but your actions have direct consequences for your team. In that respect, I think it’s the best sport for teaching crucial life skills.”

The words of coach Eaton Gordon neatly sum up the philosophy of the Crime Awareness Programme, a pilot project run by cricket charity Chance to Shine along with non-profit organisation TSA Projects.

The 12-week programme uses cricket to engage with young people at-risk of exclusion from schools in inner-city Birmingham, many of whom have reported issues with gangs and drugs and have been involved in the Criminal Justice System. The programme also works with adult offenders in HMP Oakwood near Wolverhampton.

It combines ‘classroom’ and cricket elements. In class, TSA Projects CEO Tanayah Sam (himself an ex-offender) delivers a range of mentoring and workshops on the impact, safety and culture of gangs, knife crime, drug crime, sexual offences and violence, all aimed at deglamorising young people’s perceptions of offending and prison. It is hard-hitting, featuring often disturbing anecdotes from Sam’s own criminal past.

Key messages from these sessions are then reinforced on the cricket field by Eaton, a highly experienced community football and cricket coach who is Cricket Development Manager – Community Participation for Warwickshire Cricket Board.

A great example of how the two parts of the programme dovetail is in teaching young people about the concept of ‘joint enterprise’ – the legal doctrine which states a person may share responsibility (and be found guilty) for a crime if they are present when it happens, regardless of whether or not they were the perpetrator.

This has obvious relevance to young people in gangs, who may think they are ‘safe’ if they hide at the back when violent incidents such as stabbings occur.

This message became even more powerful when it was translated into a cricket match. The 10th or 15th ball of the innings was deemed a ‘joint enterprise’ delivery, so if a batsman was dismissed, it meant the whole team was out.

“That was a very strong learning outcome from those initial sessions. Teachers told us that the legal language we introduced them to started to become commonplace,” said Richard Joyce, Chance to Shine’s Community Operations Manager.

Cricket’s intrinsic skills of leadership and effective teamwork were important, while simply hitting a ball around, competing and being physically active are also a perfect afternoon release for the thoughts and feelings that are stirred by what can be intense morning mentoring sessions with Tanayah.

Eaton (right), 58, is used to the hard knocks of inner-city community coaching. On one occasion while running football clubs for youngsters involved in crime, he was asked to look after some valuables during a session. In the bag was a gun and around £10,000 in cash.

“Even for me, coaching in prisons was interesting and eye-opening,” he says. “Both in schools and prisons, for me it’s about relating sport to life for them on the outside.

“That’s about finding a format or game that doesn’t test their cricketing ability, because it’s not about that. It’s about participation and interaction, providing something quick and fun they can engage with.

“It’s very different from my normal club coaching. You have to be a lot more adaptable. In schools you have to accept that they don’t really want to be there. And in prisons, I’m aware that they’re most likely using it as a way of getting time outside their cells. So in both cases, you have to make is as interesting as possible to make them want to stay.

“I do six-a-side games, 20 balls per team with each bowler delivering four balls each and plenty of rotation. Cricket might not be their forte, so the last thing you want to be doing is ramming cricket skills or complex rules down their throats. The activity has to engage them and relate to both cricket and to their lives.”

Both school and prison elements of the Crime Awareness Programme were facilitated by the Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of Crime.

The Alliance of Sport’s Co-Founder and Secretariat, Justin Coleman, said: “We were delighted to play a part in bringing together a charity of Chance to Shine’s reputation with Tanayah Sam, whose lived experience of urban youth and crime made him ideal to lead the mentoring element of the programme.

“Young people on the programme reported a real change in their attitudes towards carrying knives, committing crimes and the police. Armed with vital information about the consequences of their involvement in crime, they were able to make better-informed decisions.

“Teachers at their schools reported a greater understanding of risk and greater academic engagement, while the cricket element added a chance to have fun and be active, as well as deepening understanding of key issues.”

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