14 Oct, 2022
The Role of Sports in Crime Prevention
Sports stand with several other activities (e.g., education, mentoring, religious teaching, and volunteering) as a potential factor in influencing positive social development among children and youth. Crime prevention strategies have therefore tried to build on the popularity and benefits of sport activities to promote positive youth development and to influence risk and resiliency factors associated with criminal involvement. Various sport-based crime prevention programs, usually targeting youth crime, have been implemented over the last two decades. Unfortunately, very few of these programs, in Canada or elsewhere, have been subjected to a rigorous evaluation. As a result, many of these programs have overly ambitious crime prevention objectives, vague rationales for their activities, and limited evidence of impact on youth crime.
Sport-based crime prevention programs take many different forms. They can be categorized by the relative role sport plays in them or the centrality of the role of sport within them. Some programs are focused on facilitating youth participation in sport and their acquisition of related technical and other skills. Other programs consist of a mix of complementary interventions where sport acts as a ‘hook’ to attract and retain youth and as a platform for engaging them in additional interventions. For many if not most youth sport programs, the idea that the program could contribute to preventing youth crime or even youth gang involvement is often little more than an afterthought. Nonetheless, the sport environment is obviously a popular and important training ground for child and adolescent development. Together with several other activities, such as education, mentoring, religious teaching, or volunteering, sport holds the potential to influence positive social development among children and youth.
A few years ago, the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, following a report of an Expert Group Meeting co-sponsored by the Thailand Institute of Justice and UNODC in Bangkok, encouraged the Programme Network of Institutes to continue to identify best practices and share their research. Based on a review of the relevant research and discussions and interviews with coaches and leaders of sport-based crime prevention or positive youth development programs in British Columbia, a recent study by Yvon Dandurand and Jon Heidt made it possible to identify some emerging good practices that may maximize the value and potential impact of crime prevention interventions through sports.
Research on the effectiveness of sport-based youth development programs emphasizes the importance of capacity building and the need to invest in developing and supporting key human resources, in particular coaches, volunteers, and other facilitators.
The following are some key findings of recent research on the role and practices of sport coaches, facilitators and volunteers involved in sport-based positive development programs.
- Positive development outcomes are developed through sport-based programs when coaches can create suitable environments. Coaches and other program staff members must be capable of developing a relationship of trust with the youth. They must be able to understand the world the youth live in and, despite this empathy, be able to set limits.
- Coaches and other program staff should work with specific values and define the meaning of these values to participants.
- By using specific practical strategies and reinforcing the parallels between sport and life, coaches can heighten the potential of sport as a tool for positive youth development.
- Meaningful relationships and interactions between youth and adults are crucial to foster young people’s development through sport. The best predictor of positive developmental experiences is a combination of the quality of the coach-youth relationship and a coach’s transformational leadership behaviour. The most influential leadership behaviours are individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, and appropriate role modelling.
- Coaches must understand that life skills transfer is not an automatic process and that it must be reinforced continuously in an explicit manner. Coaches must aim to increase youth’s confidence in using their skills in life situation outside the sport.
- The practice of life skills is more conducive to development than the mere discussion of life skills. Coaches who intentionally integrate life skills into their regular coaching practice by providing opportunities for youth to practice life skills outside of the sport context further facilitate the positive development process.
- Coaches must be sensitive and responsive to the youth’s developmental needs and signal their openness to discussing them with youth.
- Coaches should be reflective of their own behaviour as a role model to maximize the potential of sports-based interventions.
- Coaches and other program staff members who are perceived by youth as emotionally supportive and autonomy supportive can help youth improve their self-control.
- Involving athletes and participants in decision-making processes is crucial for maintaining adaptive motivation and positive consequences.
- Programs should be monitored and ensure the supervision of program activities to avoid situations where harmful behaviours can occur.
The findings of the study are reported in new book on Youth Crime Prevention and Sports: An Evaluation of Sports-Based Programmes and Their Effectiveness, Bristol: Bristol University Press. https://bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/youth-crime-prevention-and-sports