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#OpenGoal – how sport turned Kameron’s life around

The Alliance of Sport supports the Sport for Development Coalition’s #OpenGoal campaign – which coincides with International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (April 6th).

#OpenGoal aims to showcase how sport and physical activity can contribute to building a fairer, more sustainable and equitable future – tackling inequalities, saving public money and levelling up communities facing disadvantage, discrimination and deprivation.

Many of the specialist partners across London, the West Midlands, Gwent and South Yorkshire on the Levelling the Playing Field project (which Alliance of Sport manages in partnership with the Youth Justice Board) use sport and physical activity to achieve these outcomes in ethnically diverse communities. One such example is InPower Academy in Wolverhampton, which uses martial arts to engage children who are at risk of entering, or already involved with, the Criminal Justice System.

Several years ago, Kameron was one such child. “I was a bad kid, if I’m honest,” he admits. “I wasn’t doing too well at school. I was smoking a lot, hanging around on the streets and getting into a bit of trouble.”

When he was 12, Kameron’s older brother had died in a car crash. He says: “It affected me mentally. It put a strain on the whole family. We drifted apart. I always thought I was alone.”

Encountering InPower Academy’s inspirational founder and local role model, Daryl Chambers, changed everything. “We just clicked,” says Kameron. “We’ve got similar backgrounds so we had a really good understanding of each other.

“I started going to his mixed martial arts sessions every week, cut down on smoking and being on the streets. I had something to look forward to every single day. My motivation just kept on growing. I stated attending more and more sessions and brought people along with me.”

Daryl (left) became Kameron’s mentor and trainer. After months of coaching and an intense training camp, Kameron was soon ready for his first competitive MMA fight. Through InPower’s Unbreakables programme, Kameron achieved his Level 1 and 2 coaching qualifications. He also became a sports leader at his school.

Daryl then allowed Kameron to lead sessions for his own friends and peers. “It was a massive test,” he reflects. “My confidence levels weren’t as they are now – but he was deliberately shaping what he’d seen as my best attributes. It was in at the deep end, but I did it.”

The road to success isn’t always smooth though and Kameron had “a rough patch” where an attempt to train to be in the Marines didn’t work out, so he became a chef. Daryl regularly brought his mentees into the restaurant where Kameron worked to have meetings and catch up on work. Whether it was a deliberate attempt to re-engage Kameron or not, it worked.

“He offered me the chance to be a workshop facilitator, mentor, youth worker and coach, working with the young people,” said Kameron. “He made me believe this is my path. I quit my job and I’m now so happy. I’m excited to wake up for work and start my sessions. I’m excited to work with the young people day-to-day. It’s a completely different lifestyle that I live – and I love. I crave it!

“I love seeing the end result from my leadership – how I plan and prepare myself and what they take from that. I can be up in front of 15 people in a session and seeing the impact on each one of them, what they take away from it, is immense.”

Poignantly, Kameron, now aged 22, delivers sessions to children at his old school – Moreton School in Wolverhampton. He says of the pupils: “They definitely look up to me. I connect with them really well. I don’t necessarily tell them my full story, but I want them to know I used to be a bad kid, so that I can then tell them how much I’ve changed and how massively sport has affected me and my family. They can relate to that and it massively increases their motivation – just like Daryl did with me.”

Kameron is not the only one to credit Daryl, InPower Academy and martial arts with turning their lives around. Local boys Neeco and Gulraj have made similar journeys from participant to skilled competitor to volunteer to qualified coach. Geri Leigh is another. She is Levelling the Playing Field’s first apprentice; studying and working with children as part of her Community Sport and Health Officer (CSHO) apprenticeship with training providers Aspire Training Solutions UK.

Not every InPower participant progresses into a coaching role, of course, but their range of programmes all use martial arts, boxing and other sports to engage young people in the community, schools or alternative provision; transforming behaviours, habits and mindsets and instilling resilience, determination and self-belief.

“I’ll be honest, if it weren’t for InPower, I think I’d be in a dead-end job, smoking my life away and chilling with a crowd who I wouldn’t like to be in with now,” says Kameron. “I’d still be on the bad path.

“I don’t think I’d have the positive relationships in my life that I have now – with my girlfriend and with my mum and dad. We didn’t see eye to eye when I was growing up, but InPower has helped me get that relationship back. It has made me understand how doing good work and having supportive people around you affects you in life, mentally, physically and emotionally.”

The Sport for Development Coalition launched the ‘Open Goal’ campaign to showcase how its 200-plus members specifically support a series of positive health and societal outcomes such as reducing crime and anti-social behaviour, improving health and wellbeing, and building stronger communities and social cohesion in the wake of Covid-19. 

To read more about the Sport for Development Coalition’s #OpenGoal campaign, click here.