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Study reveals how sports programmes for young children can combat future youth violence

A study conducted by Loughborough University has examined how sporting interventions aimed at young children can reduce youth crime and violence in London.

The research explored and analysed programmes specifically aimed at early years children aged 3-7 in the capital.

Led by Loughborough London’s Dr Holly Collison-Randall and Professor Aaron Smith and commissioned by the London Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) in partnership with the Greater London Authority (GLA), the project highlighted six key findings:

  • Trusted relationships with sports coaches is a primary channel of positive change
  • Both play and sport can yield positive outcomes in the early years sector
  • Building long-term partnerships with hyper-local services and stakeholders fosters sustainability and enhances impact
  • Frequent interactions between stakeholders facilitate strong, long-term relationships
  • Strong relationships between children and providers increases positive factors and reduces long term risk factors
  • Hyper-local safe spaces facilitate sport-based early years prevention programmes

Previous research in the sector has consistently shown the power of leveraging sports as a tool for crime prevention and violence reduction. However, little research has examined interventions targeted at children in an early years settings.

Dr Holly Collison-Randall, Senior Lecturer in the Institute for Sports Business at Loughborough London, said:

“For some time, we have been partnering with the GLA and MOPAC (The Mayor's Office for Policing And Crime) to better understand the impacts and values of sport-based interventions for young people who are vulnerable to crime and violence.

“Often provisions are focused on key target groups defined by high-risk locations, age and risk factor exposure, this often means that children and early years [3-7-year-olds] are not formally included in sport or play-based prevention work.

“Having the opportunity to better understand the value of early years interventions, especially in the context of stakeholder relationships, engagement with siblings and parents, and service providers, demonstrates a real opportunity for sport-based initiatives to create long-term impacts and relationships with families at risk from crime and violence.

“The establishment of a pilot model based on this research demonstrates the impact of our findings and the commitment by the GLA to strengthen work in this area.”

The study used a three-staged qualitative network approach with the first phase identifying the range of sports or physical activities offered to children as well as their corresponding delivery approach.

The second phase identified key stakeholders that operate within the early years including their interrelationships and broader violence reduction support ‘ecosystem’.

The third stage employed interviews to reveal the roles and contributions of different stakeholders in programmes, identify barriers and enablers to short- and long-term goals, and assess the overall effectiveness of programmes.

Liona Bravo, Programmes and Policy Officer, Greater London Authority, added:

“The VRU and the GLA Sport Team identified a gap in service in early years sport interventions and lack of insight into this area, so we were extremely keen to learn more about what the delivery landscape in London looks like, and the impact of early years interventions on violence prevention.

“The research commissioned by Loughborough University London, conducted by Holly Collison-Randall and her team, has been invaluable in helping us develop an understanding of what the key elements to successful delivery models look like, as well as providing us with actionable recommendations to take forward.

“This research has informed our new Early Years Pilot model, which will allow us to further test and action these recommendations, with the hope of understanding what the community sport sector needs to effectively support early years children and their families.

“Holly and her team have a strong understanding of working with the community sport sector, collaborating with stakeholders, and were able to conduct the research and deliver it in a dynamic, flexible way that allowed us to quickly put the research into practice.

“We’re extremely excited to continue to develop this area of work, in the hopes of providing support to families and young people affected by violence at every stage.”

Based on the findings of the study, Loughborough colleagues have now provided eight recommendations. They are:

  1. Due to the potential long-term outcomes of early years prevention, funding for programmes should be delivered and sustained over long periods for optimal impact.
  2. Funders should recognise the importance of hyper-local spaces that enable crucial relationships to be developed and maintained in postcode-specific, micro-communities.
  3. Providers of early years prevention sport programmes need to engage with parents and caregivers to effectively recruit and retain young children into programmes.
  4. Young people with lived experience of the positive impact of hyper-local crime prevention programmes should be supported and trained as coaches and volunteers to support delivery of programmes to early years age groups.
  5. Programme activities need to be designed to support the emotional, physical, social, and cognitive age of participants, and consider including broader elements of play, physical activity and sport to match children’s development age.
  6. Programme activities need to be designed to reflect the gender differences of children and consider activities/sports that align with girls’ preferences.
  7. Programmes must be supported to establish and nurture safe sports spaces for early prevention provisions. This should be a collaborative process that includes local actors, institutions and young people.
  8. Programmes should aim to create communities of practice to bring together providers working in the early years prevention sector to enable them to share good practice and access funding opportunities.



Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 24/30

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2023 QS World University Rankings – the seventh year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2024 and 10th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.