Whether it is the World Cup, a local derby, or a casual game in the park, many of us support, watch and participate in sport. For some, it can be something to attend at the weekend, but for the most part, it is a lifestyle; and with chants of “It’s coming home” flooding the streets, we are reminded of the true power of sport to unite a nation.
While not everyone is gifted with the same athleticism, we can all benefit from the transformational properties of sport. At 3 Pillars Project we believe that physical activity, and in our case, rugby, can lead to positive changes in prisoners. Often, we are asked, “Why rugby?”, and the answer is generally pretty simple. Rugby is a contact team sport which promotes an ethos of respect, self-discipline and teamwork… and it’s our CEO’s favourite sport too, so that helps. Developing the skills, teamwork and discipline which are essential for rugby can be revolutionary for young men. However, our coaches also have a vast experience with football, boxing and martial arts, which when used appropriately, can also instil a respect for the pursuit of excellence.
There was a recent backlash to Former Youth Justice Minister Dr. Phillip Lee’s proposed plans to introduce young offenders to martial arts and boxing. Particularly, these concerns have been fueled by public and political fears of making ex-prisoners more dangerous. Some people feel that training young prisoners in combat sports could increase levels of violence found in prison and the community upon release. Though research indicates that the correct training could reduce levels of violence (Harwood, et al., 2017).
A popular example of the positive impact of the appropriate training in combat sport is the World Heavyweight Champion, Anthony Joshua; who learned the values of responsibility, hard work and commitment through boxing. His story shows the potential policy applications of sport to break the cycle of violence and reoffending among prisoners, many of whom, lack the essential role models which can be found in sport.
There are many more examples of how sport can be a force for change. Sport should play a key role in addressing a multitude of prisoner health needs. Playing rugby whilst in custody has a number of benefits: improved fitness levels, increased physical and mental wellbeing, decreased levels of violence and conflict, increased impulse control and the development of leadership skills. We have seen these first hand from the toughest adult prisoner through to young men often unable to mix with other boys in Young Offender Institutes.
The impact of participation in sport can lead to personal and social development that can lead to increased opportunities, employment prospects, and provide an alternative to a life of crime.
For most prisoners, sport is not an end in itself, it is the first step in a journey of rehabilitation. For that reason, we will continue to promote our ethos and values of rugby to support prisoners to move their lives beyond crime.
Author: Mike Crofts
Mike is the Founder and CEO of The 3 Pillars Project. A former Army Officer, Mike advocates the power of sport, leadership and positive role models to unlock the potential of young people.