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New study finds that UoG’s unique sports and games programme improves the lives of young people

A unique sports and games programme developed by University of Gloucestershire has been shown to improve the life chances of young people who have been in conflict with the law, bringing benefits to them and the wider community.

A 2021 UNICEF report estimated that more than 260,000 children were in detention worldwide, with research suggesting that young people who come into conflict with the law should be provided with greater support in developing social and emotional competencies, such as social and personal awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

In collaboration with European partners, Professor Adeela Shafi MBE, Jordan Wintle, Dan Clarke and Sian Templeton from the University’s School of Education and Science piloted the Active Games 4 Change (AG4C) programme with 326 young people from youth justice settings in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, and the UK, to assess its effectiveness.

AG4C – led by Professor Shafi MBE – is designed to support young people in custodial settings to integrate back into the community at the end of their sentence, focusing on self-development, working with others, life skills and moving into employment or training.

whole body length photo of Jordan Wintle, Professor Adeela Shafi MBE and Dan Clarke facing the camera
left to right, Jordan Wintle, Professor Adeela Shafi MBE and Dan Clarke

The 326 young people participated in 18 specially designed active games and sports activities aimed at developing five key competencies within a custodial setting – self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills and social awareness.

Designed by sports staff at the University, and delivered by specially trained instructors, the progressive activities included adaptations of traditional sports such as football, volleyball, and basketball, but also a range of problem-solving and team-building activities involving high levels of cooperation and leadership. A key part of the process was allowing the participants to reflect on the skills and competencies developed in the activities and how these can transfer to other areas of their lives.

A high proportion of participants in the programme reported significant improvements in their personal well-being and development across all five of the key competencies after engaging with the AG4C activities, materials and resources, suggesting that participation had a demonstrable impact.

Positive life outcomes

Dr Shafi MBE said: “Social and emotional competencies, such as the ability to cope with challenges in life, to build positive relationships, and being aware of how one’s actions can impact other people, are related to positive life outcomes.

“Young people who have been in conflict with the law may not have had opportunities to develop these competencies due to a range of complex reasons.

“Working with our European partners, whose support was vital to the success of the study, we explored the potential for active games and sport to make a positive difference to young people’s lives.

“Our findings from the pre- and post-data suggests that participation in active games and sport can support the development of social and emotional competencies in young people, which we believe will promote positive outcomes on their release back into the community across a range of countries.”

Feature image: University of Gloucestershire students trying out one of the active games and sports activities from the Active Games 4 Change programme