Communities in which young people lack sporting opportunity are the same communities that endure high levels of crime and anti-social behaviour. High crime rates are part and parcel of life in areas with high rates of poverty, low educational attainment and a lack of positive activities – including sport.

Most crime perpetrated by young people is anti-social behaviour, and most will grow out of making a nuisance of themselves. However, during their active phase they can make life hell for their neighbourhood and at the same time put themselves at risk of entanglement with the youth justice system.

Overall there were 98,837 proven offences perpetrated by young people aged 10-17 and there were 27,854 first time entrants to the youth justice system in 2012/13 in England and Wales.

Paradoxically, young people in disadvantaged areas are often both perpetrators and the victims of street-based abuse, vandalism and cyberbullying. Disadvantaged young men are the demographic most at risk of assault on the street, usually at the hands of other lads.

Over half the young female sample of the NSPCC’s study into disadvantaged youth ‘Standing on my own two feet’ reported that they had been a victim of physical violence in at least one of their partner relationships. A quarter of disadvantaged girls reported more severe forms of violence, versus 11% of girls in a school-based study by the same author which drew its findings from a cross-section of society as opposed to a purely disadvantaged area.

Young people themselves tell us they find themselves in trouble because of frustration, boredom and going along with the behaviour of a group. They also tell us they fear attacks, bullying, facing harassment from the authorities and in the case of young women, men. StreetGames project leaders have found that one reason young people like the Doorstep Sport project in their neighbourhood is "because it’s safe".

It is also true that young people who hang about with a group of mates hate it when older people are frightened of them. Young people may not view their behaviour as intimidating or overly disruptive, but rather as high spirits and misdirected energy. Thinking all young people are potential criminals can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as this preconception is in itself alienating to young people who inevitably become aware of it.

Doorstep Sport does everyone a favour. Sports sessions that attract the “troublesome” youth can buy everyone in the community a breather and give the young people themselves a focus for their misdirected energy. At best a good Doorstep Sport project can provide an alternative way of life in the short term with the promise of a better future.

Sport has long been used to help young people to find better things to do during the jeopardy age where they are most likely to slip into criminal behaviours. In recent times the most important intervention was Positive Futures – a national youth crime prevention programme funded by the Home Office and delivered locally by 91 projects in deprived communities across England and Wales. Central funding ceased on 31 March 2013. However, over 60% of projects have secured funding from police and crime commissioners and other local partners and will continue.

StreetGames is currently working with Hardyal Dhindsa, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire, on a Home Office-funded programme to clarify what works when using sport to reduce youth offending. Find out more here.

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Sport brings huge benefits to young people’s lives. Even a small donation helps us to make those benefits available to our most disadvantaged communities.

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