Smith, A and Waddington, I (2004) 'Using "sport in the community schemes" to tackle crime and drug use among young people: some policy issues and problems', in European Physical Education Review, 10 (3): 279 - 98.
Parker is cited as a source for information about the growing amount of drug use among young people. The number of initiatives to combat drug use have developed, including the provision of sport and physical activities.
Dunning and Waddington suggests that sporting culture has always had a pleasure-centred side, however, which suggests that sport goes together with copious drinking and explicit manliness. Some studies are cited (280) to suggest that initiation rituals in universities sports clubs are now normal in the UK and the USA. Current policy seems to be based on the 'Puritanical/Stoical element', however. As a result, sport in the community schemes are one-sided and can be unrealistic.
Examples of intervention include 'Midnight Basketball' programmes in the USA designed to provide alternative activities between 10 pm and 2 am. Success has been claimed, but there is 'very little evidence for their effectiveness' (281). Britain has similar schemes and these have attracted widespread political support and large amounts of funding. They are clearly connected to the agenda on social inclusion, and include the 'Positive Futures' initiatives (described 282), intending to reduce 'anti-social behaviour, crime and drug use among 10 - 16 year-olds within local neighbourhoods' (quoting Sport England 2002, 282). This strategy is not just to 'divert' kids from criminal activities, but to encourage the growth of positive relationships with figures such as 'teachers, probation officers and... parents' (quoting the Home Office, 282). However, a recent report suggests that there is little evidence of any impact. The project also indicates how difficult it would be to measure effects -- what counts as a positive relationship? How long do they have to last? How long do relationships last among the young anyway? Can they be seriously expected to develop on a short term project?
The Summer Splash/Splash Extra scheme also had the objective to reduce street crime and robbery, using a classic 'diversion' approach by providing sport and art activities during school holidays. 91,000 young people participated. There was an overall reduction in the crime rate in all the areas involved. But there are still problems in establishing effects (see below) , and there is very little evidence of effectiveness overall.
There are measurement problems, including problems with samples (see below). As an example, one scheme claimed to be responsible for reduced reoffending rates, but there is little data on which precise element of a general programme was responsible. Dropouts sometimes do not appear in the data at all (290 - 91). Sometimes, a mobile population makes it difficult to keep records. Sports based programmes may be running alongside all sorts of other projects in the same communities. Crime data in particular may be based on areas that do not exactly overlap the 'exact project boundaries of such schemes' (292). Often, data on crime and drug use can only be indirect anyway [that is data on things like attitudes rather than on actual behaviour?]
There are also theoretical reasons for being sceptical. One is that the pleasures of sports and illicit drug use can be similar, rather than acting as alternatives. Empirical evidence suggests that many young people do both, for the UK, Finland and France (285). The context of taking illegal drugs [and doing crime] is important. For example, it might be quite possible both to play sport and continue to do illegal drugs and commit crime -- after all, university sports show how easy this is with drinking. Sporting environments can even encourage ritualised deviant activities.
The few systematic studies include Coalter 1989, who did show positive effects, but a survey by Robins 1990 showed major weaknesses in methodology in the usual forms of evaluation of crime-reduction programmes. For example, few programmes followed up or gathered data about reoffending patterns. More recent studies have criticized small sample sizes, vague rationales, and an insufficient grasp of the complexity of deviant behaviour. The very diversity of programmes can indicate that there is no consensus about how to achieve outcomes.
Similar problems affect programmes aimed at reducing drug use. It is common to highlight individuals who might have benefited, but not to gather systematic statistical information. A Home Office evaluation 1996 (288-9) revealed a number of problems. One was that many schemes did not set out originally to engage in drugs education, but rather did so in order to secure additional funding [ as a 'bolt on']. Many operated on a short-term basis only. Many succeeded in attracting those who are genuinely interested or 'passionate' enough to be diverted, but 'music and computer technology' are also suitable for passionate involvement as well as sport (288). Much depended on the co-ordinator and other workers actually involved. In particular, they acquired authority from their own high levels of sporting skill, but it was common to find that they lacked appropriate knowledge about drugs. Overall, it was difficult to generalise, and conclusions about effects were cautious -- only 'Powerful sustained interventions may influence behaviour' (289, citing Davis and Dawson 1996). Effectiveness might simply be a reflection that kids who volunteer for these schemes are already likely to want to decrease their deviant activities (294).
Actual objectives are often vague, and not based on any initial data. Few projects monitor themselves effectively, and many simply express faith in the effectiveness of sport. They 'reflect a particular ideological position based on an uncritical and one-sided perception of sport, rather than an orientation towards furthering our understanding of the social problems they are designed to address' (290). They are sometimes applied inconsistently, benefiting some individuals, but not all. Data on matters such as subsequent criminal records are simply assumed to be 'causally connected to attendance at the project' (290). What is needed is systematic long-term data, together with some attempt to triangulate, for example through 'interviews with, and observations of, the young people involved' (292). The Positive Futures programmes have developed the most robust techniques here: 'point-in-time assessments and longitudinal research... questionnaire surveys, administered via e-mail and telephone with project staff and the parents and stakeholders involved... as well as with the young people themselves, the use of audio-visual technology in the form of multi-media performances (such as video stories), and in-depth interviews' (292).
In the absence of clear rationales, goals can actually contradict. It is common to simply list alleged benefits. But raising self-esteem, for example, might apply only to the successes, and the programmes can have a negative impact on the losers. The 'drugs use -- crime nexus' might be an alternative source of esteem and status for those excluded from sporting success (293) [shades of classic subcultures theory here]. Other rationales are poorly theorised [including stuff on the importance of role-models]. The schemes may still work despite being vague, but greater clarity would lead to greater effectiveness.
Overall, there is little positive evidence, because so few schemes are required to provide it. Even where there is success, there is no way of telling if the costs involved are the most effective ways to reduce deviant behaviour.
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