Follow by Email

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Great Books on Sport and Education

I will be introducing a new feature to this blog in the New Year: expert book lists.  Some seriously top-notch people have already agreed to contribute their lists.  So look forward to those!

Meanwhile, I thought I'd kick things off with some recommendations of books that belong at the cusp of Education and Sport.  PLEASE let me now your own ideas to add to this list.  Assuming I agree with you, I'll start to prepare a sequel to this list, which can be published later.

You'll notice that some of these books  are, in one way or another, connected to me.  What can I say?  It's my list!!

In fact, to prove the point, I will start with a couple of my own books!

The first book is a recent guide to teaching Physical Education.  With contributions from many of the world's leading authorities on the subject, Physical Education for Learning focuses on the ways by which teachers can promote student learning in and through sporting activities.  There are quite good books on PE teaching out there, and a few really bad ones, but none matches this book as a 'state of the art'.

The Routledge Physical Education Reader is a more theoretical book.  It was designed to bring together the most important articles and chapter, dating back to the 1970s.  I think David Kirk and I put together a really strong collection.  It's for teachers, obviously, but also sports coaches and general education people.

My next book is about learning.  Learning is the fundamental concern of teachers and coaches, yet there is a very low level of understanding about how it actually happens.  In my experience, many people stick to a naive, simplistic notion in which learning resembles filling an empty bucket!  Many practices are ineffective precisely because their designers are ignorant of recent research into learning.  This book - How People Learn - is just the best book I have found on the subject.

The next book is the update of the classic book Coaching Children in Sport.  In fact, it is really a completely new product, reflecting the great advances in coaching and sports science in recently years.  Ian Stafford book is a great collection of contributions from some impressive writers and practitioners, and strikes a really nice balance between theory and practice.

The fifth and final book on this list is not really a sport or education book at all.  It is a memoir of a childhood.  Julie Myerson is a great writer, and her story of her battle with all things sportive is very entertaining.  Also, it offer a valuable insight into what it is like to be a child who is Not A Games Person, strange as that seems!

Of course, these are just my ideas.  Please let me know your thoughts.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Can a woman be a sports personality?

2011 has not been a good year for women's sport.  So said Gary Lineker, in defence of the all-male shortlist for this year's Sport Personality of the Year.

Throughout the show Lineker and his fellow presenter Jake Humphrey repeated their mantra - 'this has been an amazing year for British sport' - with the fervour of vacuum cleaner salesmen coming to the end of the month.  But, if their earlier defence of the award's selection process was true, they obviously didn't think it had been a good year for sport; it had been a good year for men's sport.

Lineker's position can be questioned in a number of ways.

First, we might ask why the BBC's celebration of such an amazing year of sport was so dull.  The BBC is well-versed in reducing thrilling action to gentle tedium (aka A Question of Sport).  But the highlights presented this year didn't amount to much at all.

Second, it s not at all clear how the achievements of Andy Murray and Amir Khan this year are more noteworthy than those of Rebecca Adlington, Jessica Ennis, Kerri-Anne Payne and Sarah Stevenson?  By any objective measure of sporting success, Khan and Murray would have been placed significantly lower than these women.

Of course, the BBC event is not based on objective measures of sporting success.  It is an award for sports personality.  There is obviously something oxymoronic about this phrase; a show based on champions who were also a bit of a laugh would barely make it through the opening credits.

According to the organisers, the award ought to go to the "to the sportsman or woman whose actions have most captured the public's imagination".

And here is the problem.  The vast majority of people's information about sport is via the media, which decide for us what we celebrate.  So, Sports Personality of the Year highlights a much bigger issue, which is the highly partial coverage of sport.

Some sports are covered; others are ignored.  Some sports people are lauded; others are demonised; others are invisible.  A football match between Bangor v Prestatyn is televised live; England winning the World Netball Series passes with barely a mention.

The standard defence is that coverage of sport follows demand.  But demand settles for the diet of sports presented.  Spectator sports that are, on the surface, profoundly dull (snooker, darts, Welsh football) can secure an TV audience, whilst more obviously exciting sports (basketball, kickboxing, netball) are pushed to the margins, or satellite TV.  And, generally speaking, we don't have much interest in sports we have never seen.

Occasionally, the media bias that is inherent within the system works in favour of individual women, but for reasons that have nothing to do with sport.  How else can be explain Zara Phillips' otherwise inexplicable prize in 2006 (ahead of Beth Tweddle, Nicole Cooke, and some men) or her mother's victory in 1971?

Take away the Royalty effect, and eleven women have won the award in the fifty-eight years history of the event.  Despite the suggestion by some that matters are starting to sort themselves out in our more enlightened times, the ratio of male to female winners has remained relatively consistent from the beginning.

A perusal of the list of past winners shows a clear pattern: female victory usually requires an  unprecedented achievement (think Kelly Holmes, Virginia Wade, Paula Radcliffe).  Male victory often requires much less.

The outstanding example of an athlete who has somehow been overlooked by the media is the triathlete Chrissie Wellington. Despite the fact that she is widely regarded by sport professionals as one of the world's greatest athletes of any discipline, and continues to dominate the ludicrously challenging Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, 26.2-mile run), she is hardly known at all in her home country.

Wellington was not shortlisted in any of the four years she won the Ironman (which included 2011).  Writing in her blog, Wellington seems remarkably philosophical about the debacle:
"But the responsibility doesn't just lie with the media, it lies with the athletes to actively engage with the media, it lies with the governing bodies who must package their sports to make them attractive, it lies with sponsors to package their athletes and it lies with the government to promote a range of sports in schools."
She is right, of course.  The marginalisation of women's sport is the result of systemic bias.  But 'the system' is not a thing in itself; it is the complex of different elements.  Change happens through these elements.

The "panel of industry experts" selected by the BBC to shortlist was made up entirely of newspaper and magazine sports editors:
"These are chosen because of their expertise in the area, their coverage of a wide range of sports throughout the year and the extent of their readership".
Actually, this just means that all national and larger regional newspapers were invited to vote, along with Nuts and Zoo magazines.

I'm not making this up.  Nuts ("it's got girls. Lots of girls. Glamour models, enthusiastic girls-next-door, brunettes, blondes") and Zoo ("a compelling package of girls, football, bloke news and funny stuff") contributed to the selection panel for Sports Personality of the Year.

So we have reason to doubt their suitability for this particular task.  We might also wonder whether newspaper editors, who surely must take some responsibility for currents inequities, really fulfil the BBC's stated requirements of expertise and coverage of a wide range of sports.  It requires no complex statistics to realise that the column inches given to male sports people is hugely greater than for their female peers.  And when women sports people are giving newspaper space, it is rarely their sporting prowess that is the focus.

At least the Daily Mail, the voice of reason and tolerance, kept the issue alive.  The day after the Sports Personality of the Year was broadcast, the paper had an extended feature on some the leading female sports people in Britain:

"The females may have been missing off of the shortlist for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year Awards, but they certainly made an impact on the red carpet earlier tonight.

The ladies of the sporting world couldn't wait to flash their legs and show off their glitzy style at the bash ..."

I suppose we are lucky that some of the female sports people are attractive.  Otherwise, there'd be no coverage at all.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Aims - what's the point of PE and sports coaching?

‘Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly … ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’  ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.  ‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice.  ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.  ‘So long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.  ‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’ (Lewis Carroll, 1865, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’)

To help understand the importance of aims within sport teaching, consider two encounters.  In the first, the teacher/coach uses her knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare young children for elite competition.  She draws on state-of-the-art scientific knowledge to ensure that her young players develop extraordinary physical and mental skills, and uses her excellent communication and motivational skills to keep the players training and their parents quiet.  By the nature of such training, lots of these players are injured or burnt out, and whilst the teacher/coach is upset for the children, she consoles herself that the situation is probably necessary if she is to achieve her ultimate goal: medals.

On the second encounter another teacher/coach uses her scientific knowledge to help the young people in her charge to have sporting experiences that are enjoyable.  For her, sport should be ‘fun’, whilst she knows that fun for six, sixteen and sixty years olds will take quite different forms.  This teacher plans her sessions with the intention of maximising enjoyment for all, and considers a session a good one if everyone leaves with a smile of their face.

These teachers/coaches are clearly involved in sport pedagogy, but who have markedly different conceptions of the role and value of sport in people’s lives.  The first teacher seems to think of the aims of sport mainly in social terms; for her, the purpose of sport is as a vehicle to win medals and glory, whether for the club or for the country.  The second teacher understands the point of sport in terms of personal satisfaction or enjoyment.  Casual observations in schools and sports clubs reveals that there are many teachers and coaches who assume the latter position, and who feel they have achieve their goal if everyone is ‘busy, happy and good’.  And, it is also not difficult to find evidence of the former approach, too, whether in the form of the brutal training of Chinese infant gymnastics or in the ‘survival of the fittest’ mindset of youth squads in many professional football clubs in the United Kingdom.

So, we can see two teachers with very different conceptions of the aims of sport, and these aims result in completely different ways of thinking of sport. 

Much like a rudder directs a boat, aims direct the uses to which a teacher’s/coach’s skills, knowledge and understanding are put.

As we have seen, aims can be framed in terms of social or individual outcomes.  This is not to suggest that there are only a small number possible aims!  On the contrary, the list of aims is probably endless  For example, an international review of the stated aims of educational systems from around the world came up with the following composite list (Tabberer, 1997):
  • Excellence
  •  Individual development
  •  Social development
  • Personal qualities
  •  Equal opportunity
  •  National economy
  •  Preparation for work
  •  Basic skills
  •  Foundation for further education
  •  Knowledge/skills/understanding
  •  Citizenship/community/democracy
  •  Cultural heritage/literacy
  •  Creativity
  •  Environment
  •  Health/physical/leisure
  •  Lifelong education
  •   Parental participation

It would not be difficult to show how each of these can be translated into an aim for sport pedagogy (with a little imagination!).

It is worth noting that the list above was gleaned from curriculum documents.  Philosophically speaking, therefore, they represent what are called explicit aims.  These are aims that are stated for all to hear or published for all to read.  The moment a government or agency publishes the aims of a strategy or scheme they make them explicit, and consequently, open to discussion, criticism and rejection.

If aims are not made explicit they remain implicit, or hidden.  There is nothing sinister about this: implicit aims are not hidden to conceal.  Often, they are just too obvious to discuss.  Take as an example the question of mind-body dualism.  For many people (probably most people) the superiority of the mind over the body is simply taken for granted, and so any educational aims related to the development of the body will be inevitably be affected by this assumption.

One of the most valuable jobs that philosophy can offer is to help make implicit aims and assumptions explicit.  This is important because it is impossible to discuss, criticise and reject ideas until they are out in the open.  Lots of bad ideas grow and thrive only in the dark!

It is worthwhile examining both explicit and implicit aims because both will influence the way people act.  The explicit aims might reflect things like policies and formal guidance, and these are obviously relevant to teachers and coaches.  However, implicit aims are likely to reflect unquestioned assumptions and practices.  Our implicit aims will probably be more powerful precisely because we never question them.

So what?  Why does this talk of matter?

You may have already met Julie Myerson’s memoir ‘Not a Games Person’.  It is a frank account of a young woman who gradually changes from a general distain for sport and exercise to someone who hates them, largely due to her experiences at school.  At one point Myerson describes a lesson that might be familiar to many of us.

“This is me.  Six years old and standing in a sack in the middle of a field somewhere in the middle of England a long time ago.

 I don’t know why I’m here or what I’m doing – I don’t have any idea what the purpose is of standing in this field.  All I know is that they want me to jump – hold the sack as tight as I can and jump jump jump to the finishing line.

 I’m surrounded by people but all alone.  There’s a horrible feeling in my tummy and an itch on my leg, like a fly crawling over it.  I shiver and wait for the whistle to blow.”
(Julie Myerson, 2005, ‘Not a Games Person’)

We have no way of knowing the aims of Myerson’s teacher, but we can guess.  Perhaps the teacher felt that it was important for her pupils to get out of the classroom, to ‘burn off excess energy’.  Or maybe the motivation was competition (it was a sack race, after all).  Or perhaps her planning was inspired by the aim to make her children fitter and healthier.  Or was this lesson just an easy way to fill some time before the real business of school starts again?

Some of the teacher’s aims might be reasonable; others might seem weak or illegitimate.  In other words, different aims are of different value, and such value is only judged by making the aims explicit and by critically discussing them.

Strangers on a train You are on a train occasionally chatting to a charming person sitting opposite. Your new-found friend has just been reading an article in the newspaper that reports research findings that many children around the world have no regular sport or physical education lessons whilst at school. “Oh well”, your companion says innocently, “thank heavens it is only sport they are missing out”. You smile to yourself, and educate the stranger.

What do you say?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Talking Education and Sport Word Cloud

For no very good reason, I've created a word cloud from the text of this blog (

I wonder if it will change much over time.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Mind in the Meat - further thoughts about philosophy and sport

A Chess-boxing match is a remarkable sight.  Two fighters play alternate rounds of speed-chess and boxing until the end of the competition.  To ensure a fair and worthwhile event, all competitors must be proficient boxers and Masters-level Chess players.  Victory is won  by knockout, checkmate, by judges decision or if time runs out of the speed chess game.

Philosophers, like lawyers and plumbers, are able to find work almost everywhere.  We can take it for granted that Chess-boxing is a sight to behold.  We might also imagine a ‘Super Championship’ in which the world Heavyweight Boxing Champion takes on the top Chess Grandmaster (and imagine the Chess player’s self-talk: ‘if I don’t get checkmate straight away I’m in big trouble!’).  But the real interest of this scenario for a philosopher is that it takes to an extreme the two sides of any sporting activity: the physical and the mental. The body and the mind.

All sports by definition involve the use of physical activity and skills, and although exercise  is sometimes considered a refreshing alternative to intellectual work, it is difficult to envisage any sport that does not involve at least some element of thinking, decision-making, communicating or mental preparation: sports players need to engage in an almost continual process of thinking – about their play and that of their opponent; they must select appropriate skills and techniques and decide when to use them; and, of course, they need to construct and follow a strategy that maximizes the chances of their success and minimizes that of the opponent.

This is a common way of characterising the necessary elements of a sport.  For example, physical activity and skills are the features needed of an activity to qualify as a sport in the UK (and benefits from grants, etc..).

What do you think?  Does this definition exclude any activities or games that are often considered to be sports?  Does it include what many would think of as non-sports?
What about …?
- Darts
- Motor-racing
- Ultra-marathon running
- Chess

Sport is a great example of an activity that involves both mental and physical engagement.  As such, it offers insight into one of the oldest questions in philosophy: what is the relationship between the mind and the body?  More specifically, which is the boss?

By far the most influential answer to these sorts of questions is the philosophical positions called dualism, which is made up of two claims:

§  The mind and the body are distinct types of things;
§  The mind is the boss.

Dualist ideas go back at least as far as the Ancient Greeks, and have had a huge influence on religions like Christianity, but the thinker most closely associated with the dualism is the French philosopher RenĂ© Descartes.  So-called ‘Cartesian Dualism’ suggests that mind and body are distinct and separate, but that they interact with each other.  The mind is indivisible, invisible and immortal unlike the body.  It therefore follows that the mind and body are totally different substances.

This view of human beings is sometimes labelled ‘The Ghost in the Machine’.  We might equally nickname it as the ‘Mind in the Meat’ theory: we are our minds; bodies are mere transporters of those minds.  The mind decides, directs and learns; it thinks and feels and reacts.  The body simply carries the mind around from place to place.  Of course, the body needs to be kept in order, much as a car needs to be fuelled and serviced from time to time.  This image of human beings has dominated ideas of schooling for so long that most people simply take it for granted.  And it has influenced the way that things like sport and physical education are understood and valued.  For example, among the most commonly stated justifications for the inclusion of physical education in the school curriculum by both teachers and parents are: 
  • makes children fit and healthy;
  •  It help them ‘burn off’ excess energy;
  •  It offers a break from the sit-down lessons.

These seem rather flimsy justifications which hardly warrant a place on a broadly and balanced over-crowded curriculum (fortunately, there are more persuasive arguments!), but significantly from the point of view of our present discussion, they reveal the influence of the Mind in the Meat view of persons: physical education and sport help keep the meat moving.

What do you think?  Are there better justifications for PE and sport?

Does it matter?

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Bodies and Minds: even more on philosophy and sport

Philosophers are nothing if not an argumentative bunch, and many different arguments have been offered against Dualism.  One school of philosophy that is particularly relevant in this regard is phenomenology.  This approach is unusual because as opposed to almost every other school of philosophy, it is mainly concerned with describing, rather than the explaining, the things we experience.  Hubert Dreyfus captures the spirit of the phenomenological stance when he wrote:

“In explaining our actions we must always sooner or later fall back on our everyday practices and simply say 'this is what we do' or 'that's what it is to be a human being'.  Thus, in the last analysis, all intelligibility and all intelligent behaviour must be traced back to our sense of what we are.” (cited in Wrathall, 2000, p. 94)

According to Dreyfus, the biggest problem with dualism is that its account of action just does not relate to what it is really like to move.

So, phenomenologists reject the Cartesian splitting of the mind and body in favour of an integrated view that emphasises the notion of embodiment, or the central importance of human experience as lived through a body.  In other words, while dualism generally regarded the mind as the driver and degraded the body to a mere machine or vehicle, phenomenology countered that the body was the bridge to the world:  “Our senses are the portals that lead from inner to outer space.  Robbed of them, we become an island unto ourselves, lacking the ability to interact with the world” (Hunter and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000, p. 8).

At the heart of phenomenology is the view that to be in the world is to have a body or be a body.  It is only through being a body that I am what and who I am.  And it is only though my body that I can experience and learn about the things that make up my world.

This might seem a rather abstract idea, but some writers have suggested that a lot of what goes on when people actually play sport does not seem to fit the dualist idea of a mind working a mechanical body, no matter how fit and efficient.  The psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, who we have just met above, suggested that there were certain experiences that were common to many sports players in which thought and action seem inseparable.  He used the word ‘flow’ to refer to experiences in which a person feels on top of the world, in total command of the situation and feeling that his/her limits are being pushed to the limits.  He quotes the words of an elite skater:
“Everything else goes away. It almost happens in slow motion, even though you're doing things at the correct time with the music and everything.  Nothing else matters; it is just such an eerie, eerie feeling. The audience fades away, except for the brief moment when they were clapping so loudly - actually that was just a part of us. It was all a part of our experience; it never took us out of our focus”. (Jackson and Csikszentmihalyi, 1999, p. 73)

Numerous sports players have spoken about these types of experiences: of ‘being in the zone’; of ‘going with the flow’; and of ‘playing out of my mind’.  Together, they point to an experience in which the body and the mind are inseparable.

“Basketball is a complex dance. To excel, you need to act with a clear mind and be totally focused on what everyone on the floor is doing. Some athletes describe this quality of mind as a "cocoon of concentration." But that implies shutting out the world when what you really need to do is become more acutely aware of what's happening right now, this very moment.” (Great basketball coach Phil Jackson; 1995, p. 116)

So, what do you think?

Is this just an illusion or a trick of the mind?

Or is it just the consequence of highly trained athletes just thinking that they are not thinking?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Where Am I? a little more about philosophy and sport

Imagine that you are approached by scientists  to go on a secret mission to disarm a nuclear devise.  The mission is very risky to your brain, but not your body.  So the clever/ mad scientists have figured out a way of sending your body on the mission whilst leaving your brain behind in the laboratory.  You are a heroic sort of person, and agree to go on the mission.  Your brain is surgically removed from your body and placed in a vat, although the brain and body are still linked together via implants, transmitters and antennae.  Before you go to disarm the bomb your body sits down and stares at your brain in the vat.

Where are you?
Are you the brain in the vat?
Or the body in the chair?
Or wherever you think you are?

This story is the start of a thought experiment (an imaginative devise to test philosophical ideas) from Daniel Dennett (1978).  The full story becomes more complex as various twists and turns are introduced.  The whole time, Dennett is trying to work out where he really is.

Try reading the full account, either in his book ‘Brainstorms’, or on one of the many websites that reproduces it (such as:

Dennett’s experiment offers a particularly vivid example of one of the most persistent questions in philosophy: what does it mean to be human?  Are we primarily minds or bodies?  Where are we?

Why does this matter to those involved with sport pedagogy?  According to Margaret Talbot (2001, p. 40) it “is the only educational experience where the focus is on the body, physical activity and physical development”.  In other words, we who work in sport pedagogy need to think about our own understandings of the body because the body is the focus of our professional interest.  More importantly, as we will see shortly, we need to reflect on our assumptions about bodies because they will heavily influence the ways we approach the teaching and care of them.

So, where are you?

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Thinking About Thinking About Sports Coaching. Or: Philosophy is less boring than might think

This entry, and the next few, will focus on some of the philosophical issues that relate to sports coaching, PE teaching and so on.

The material was originally written for a book, but that did not materialise.  So I thought this blog might be a useful forum for publishing it.  Feel free to circulate to those who might find such things interesting.  And please do comment with ideas and suggestions for extending the debate.


I want to think about sport.  To think about why it is important for life, and for me.  In sport, as in life, we spend a lot of time mindlessly following the views and practices handed down to us, and there are some benefits from operating in this way.  For a start, it takes a lot less effort.  But since when is effort objectionable in sport?  Thinking about thinking – what is sometimes grandly called philosophy – does not present facts but suggestions, explanations, and, most importantly, questions.  What is sport?  Why does it matter?  Does it matter enough to force all young people to learn something about it?  Can a life without sport be complete?  Does it matters if some people cheat?  Questions like these require something more than reflective practice.  They lead us to examine and discuss complex ideas and come to see sport anew in light of our endeavours.

Philosophers, on the whole, have not taken sport very seriously.  They have tended to consider it a trivial escape from the real business of living.  Philosophers’ distain for sport is often an expression of a more fundamental ignorance of the body.  For them we are primarily minds; our bodies merely move us around and help keep us alive.  Lovers of sport suspect this misses the point – both of sport and of life.  Even the most intellectual of activities takes place thanks to our senses and our feelings.  Our bodies give shape to our thinking.  We can more think without our bodies than we can move without our minds.  Sport is one expression of this knowledge writ large.

The understanding that comes from thinking philosophically about sport will probably not improve my game.  But to examine sport in this way changes the way I engage with the game.  Not in the moment-by-moment experiences that give me pleasure, but as a way of life that gives my life meaning and happiness.

Teachers and coaches are practical people.  In my experience at least, they tend to be intolerant of too much talk.  I don’t think Elvis Presley was ever a PE teacher, but his demand for ‘a little less conversation, a little more action’ captures the shared feeling nicely.  Philosophy seems to be the supreme example of ‘too much talk’, and not surprisingly, many people are wary of its never-ending series of discussions and arguments.  They are, as Bertrand Russell put it, “inclined to doubt whether philosophy is anything better than innocent but useless trifling, hair-splitting distinctions, and controversies on matters concerning which knowledge is impossible” (Russell, 1959, p. 153).

My goal in this and subsequent entries is to show that this image of philosophy is mistaken.  More than merely arguing that teachers and coaches can think philosophically, I will suggest that they must think philosophically.  By this, I do not mean that they need to immerse themselves in the endless debates of academic philosophy.  All I mean to suggest is that a philosophical approach to one’s work is the mark of an intelligent and professional practitioner.

“Philosophy is not a theory but an activity.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

“Philosophy is a wonderful subject, but it is necessarily unfinished and infinishable … At the end of my life I want to know more than I did at the beginning ..” (Isaiah Berlin)

“Nothing so absurd can be said that some philosopher has not said it.” (Cicero)(All quotations from Lloyd and Mitchinson, 2008)

Philosophy (from the Greek for the love of knowledge or wisdom) requires thinkers to think for themselves.  This is why the great philosopher Immanuel Kant asserted that it is not possible to learn philosophy; it is only possible to learn how to philosophise.  This does not mean that the philosopher ought to live a life of solitary contemplation (although some have done just that).  But it does mean that the philosopher is compelled to think for him or herself.  This is perhaps why philosophical conversations often seem characterised by ambiguity and perplexity.  Important questions are rarely resolved with simple answers unless, of course, we choose to borrow uncritically the dogmas and doctrines of others.  For Russell, the person who does decide to live so uncritically “goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason".

Let’s pause for a moment to consider Bertrand Russell’s use of masculine pronouns (‘he’ and ‘his’) as general terms referring to all humans.  This was common usage when he wrote, but has increasingly become replaced by gender-neutral language (his/her, abandoning pronouns, pluralising, etc.) following claims that gendered language is misleading, inappropriate or simply sexist.  Is this a reasonable evolution of language use or ‘political correctness gone mad’?    As soon as we start to reflect on these questions we are engaging in philosophy.

It is possible to think and act without philosophising.  It is certainly possible to teach without giving a moment’s thought to philosophy.  But it is not possible to think for ourselves, especially to think about matters of value, without philosophising in some way.  Sports teaching is a subject rich in philosophical issues:
  • ·      What should I teach?
  • ·      What experiences are most valuable / relevant / necessary for my students?
  • ·      Are some ways of organising or presenting the curriculum inappropriate?
  • ·      Should sport be compulsory for all young people?
  • ·      Should all students be taught together, or grouped according to their ability / gender / interest?
  • ·      Should teachers and coaches prepare their students for the world of competitive sport?
  • ·      What type of person should sports teachers aim to develop?

We might turn to sociology or psychology to help us gather evidence for our enquiries.  For example, psychology might help us understand how children’s minds develop.  But psychology can never tell the psychologist which forms of development are worth supporting.  Sociologists can help us understand about the influences of gender, class, ability or ethnicity on young people’s experiences of learning, but as soon as they start to talk about why it matters, they shift to philosophy.


Friday, 9 December 2011

Your opinions are worthless!

"Science tells you that your opinion is worthless when confronted with the evidence. That's a difficult thing to learn." (Prof. Brian Cox)

I came across this excellent quotation in a recent New Statesman interview with physicists Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw.  It captures what is, for me, one of the essential features of the scientific mindset: humility.

And it stands in stark comparison with the default mindset of advocates of the otherwise varied collection of pseudo-scientific beliefs, like alternative medicine.

The world is complex and difficult to understand.  The idiosyncrasies of my personal beliefs are unlikely to grasp the truth of some matter.  But, by working within a community of committed colleagues, many of whom I have never and will never meet, and by using methods of testing that have been honed over many years, we might have a chance.

This attitude of humility is rare in our culture of relativism.  The view that everything is subjective, and that everyone's opinions are equally valid infuses many debates.  And while this stance might be valid in questions of value (Eastenders or Coronation Street? Clooney or Pitt?), it is absurd to think they apply to questions of knowledge.

Some things are true (or probably true) and others are not (or probably not).  Science is the most effective way we know of distinguishing between them. And it is not the opinions of individual scientists that determines what counts, but their theories' abilities to survive ruthless and repeated tests.  Scientific theories are those that have survived attempts to kill them.  They might die in the future, of course, but for now they are the best that we know.

An irony is that science is often portrayed as arrogant by its critics.  I have no shadow of a doubt that there are arrogant scientists; they are, on the whole, human.  But science is the epitome of self-effacing modesty.  It really does not matter what I think, or feel, or believe, or 'know' - science says - if this idea does not pass the test, it is out (or, at least, subject to serious reconsideration).

Compare this to the attitude of pseudoscience.  Alternative medicine, conspiracy theories, creationism, spiritualism, and countless other forms of intellectual diarrhoea with which are bombarded are different manifestations of a shared stance: my opinion is the ultimate arbiter.

The fundamental difference between scientifically minded and non-scientifically minded people is that the former think that personal opinions are irrelevant in the pursuit of truth; the latter think they are everything.

If a scientist defended his or her theory with the words 'I don't care what the evidence says, I disagree' he or she would be viewed as an idiot with an unhealthy value of their own importance.  But we hear sentiments like this from advocates of pseudoscience all of the time.  The world is full of people who think that tea, or sugar tablets, or laughter, or aura-tweaking, will cure life-threatening illnesses.  And the lack of evidence in support of their claims is irrelevant, because they know.

In alt-med world, anyone's precious opinions about, say, cancer treatment are as respectable as those of a Professor of Oncology.  Their arrogance is breath-taking as much as it is life-threatening.

So, I offer for your consideration and reflection the splendid quotation by Drs Cox and Forshaw.  Like science itself, it is a candle in the darkness.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Sport and crime: A parliamentary discussion

There was an fascinating discussion about the role of sport in combatting youth crime and promoting social justice in the House of Commons.  I offer these extracts without comment as they rather speak for themselves.  They are also quite long enough!

(Citation: HC Deb, 6 December 2011, c24WH; available from:


NB. The BBC has broadcast this debate on its Democracy Live (although there may be access issues for non-UK viewers):


6 Dec 2011 : Column 1WH

Sport and Youth Crime

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): ... Today’s debate on the effects of sport on youth crime falls, in some ways, in the shadow of last summer’s riots ... This debate is set against a longer-term concern about the rising problem of disengaged youth, which has disturbed Governments of all persuasions for decades, and a belief by many in the sporting community that sport can and does play a positive role in re-engaging young people and refocusing their lives.

Nelson Mandela has said:

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire… It speaks to youth in a language they understand. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down social barriers”,
and I want to use this debate not just to say that sport is good for its own sake, although many people believe that numerous benefits come with it. Studies of the benefits of youth participation in sport suggest that sport in and of itself is not enough to refocus or turn around the lives of disadvantaged young people and that what is required is a structured programme of support alongside the sporting activities. It is not simply a case of putting on ad hoc sporting events or creating new sporting facilities, but about how programmes are managed.

This is not simply a way of saying that Government intervention is necessarily a bad thing, or that Government agencies and public bodies are unable to deliver programmes that successfully intervene in young people’s lives. Support, including financial support, from the Government and their agencies is incredibly important to the success of such projects, but a good deal of new evidence suggests that sporting organisations and brands that have credibility in the eyes and lives of young people are often more successful in achieving the breakthrough that we all seek.

There has been a debate among people with an interest in sporting interventions in the lives of young people. People instinctively feel that such interventions are the right thing to do, and they have anecdotal evidence that they make a positive difference, but if there is any criticism, it is that there is perhaps a lack of robust data about exactly how they reduce criminal behaviour. I want to highlight some case studies that show the positive impact of such interventions on reducing crime and on antisocial behaviour and in improving the general well-being and educational performance of young people. The studies, of necessity in some ways, focus on relatively small numbers of people in relatively small geographical areas, and I would like the Government to consider some broader research that would seek to demonstrate the value for money and the performance of sporting interventions with young people.

I want to thank a number of sporting and other young people’s organisations that run such programmes and have provided information about them for the debate today—in particular, the Premier League, with its Kickz programme; the Manchester United Foundation; Charlton Athletic Community Trust; the Rugby Football Union; Sky Sports; the Sport and Recreation Alliance; First Light, which works in the arts; and Catch22. Their formal programmes are largely delivered by volunteers from the communities that they serve, and so I also want to thank the many volunteers who make them a success and the hundreds and thousands of people who work every day to deliver youth sporting projects, not just for disadvantaged young people but for all young people across the country. Their work is incredibly valuable and important to us all.

I want to look at four important areas that are of relevance to the debate: sporting programme interventions that help to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour; interventions that engage young offenders, both in young offenders institutions and after release; programmes for improving school attendance and attainment; and initiatives that help to rebuild young people’s self-worth.

We must consider costs; none of these programmes is delivered for free, although many are delivered with the support of the private and charitable sectors. We must also consider the costs of doing nothing, of maintaining the status quo. Based on 2010 figures, the National Audit Office has calculated that more than 200,000 criminal offences a year are committed by people aged between 10 and 17 at an annual cost to the country of up to £11 billion. It costs up to £100,000 a year to keep someone in a young offenders institution, and the number of 15 to 17-year-olds in prison has doubled over the past 10 years. During the five days of riots in August, 26% of the rioters were under 17, and 74% were under 24. There is not a male bias in the programmes and activities—they are open to boys and girls—but it is worth noting that 90% of the rioters were male.

First, on reducing crime and antisocial behaviour, one of the longest running and most successful projects is Kickz. It has been run by the premier league for five years, has involved contact with more than 50,000 young people across 113 projects in some of the UK’s most deprived areas and has been supported by 43 professional football clubs. Kickz targets 12 to 18-year-olds, and its projects are football-led but include other sports and programmes designed to encourage young people’s awareness of health issues. The schemes typically take place three nights a week throughout the year, which is important in that they are frequent and have a very fixed structure. Kickz and the Premier League believe that one in 10 of the young people who initially attend the programmes as participants go on to volunteer, delivering the programmes for other young people, and they say that 398 people have gained full-time employment in some of the professional football clubs that have run the projects.

A report published last year by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and New Philanthropy Capital, entitled “Teenage Kicks”, looked at a project run with Arsenal football club in Elthorne park in London and discovered that the investment in the project potentially created £7 of value for every £1 spent, with the savings coming from the reduced costs to the state of the reduction in criminal behaviour, with less police and court time needed to put people in detention. One participant said that he thought that 25% of the kids on the estate would be in jail without the programme, and he highlighted the nature of the problems that many young people face. He was someone who came home from school to find not a fridge full of food and people waiting for him, but nothing for him at all and an empty time in his day.
Interestingly, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation also commissioned a report looking at the role of sport in gang culture. Young people involved in the research gave reasons why they might get involved in activities that would keep them out of trouble, and the top reason was that the activities would simply give them something to do. We should not underestimate the importance of that.

Returning to the study of the Elthorne park Kickz project delivered by Arsenal, it suggested that there had been a 66% reduction in youth crime within a one-mile radius of the project. Even taking into account other interventions—through community policing, for example —and after looking at national youth crime reduction trends for that period, the study’s authors thought it reasonable to suggest that at least 20% of that reduction was directly related to the project.

The Manchester United Foundation has delivered similar projects, with its star footballers working with youth workers and volunteers to deliver football-based recreational projects for young people in Manchester. Some of its research suggests a similar pattern of behaviour to that found in other research. It believes that in its Salford project there was a 28.4% reduction in antisocial behaviour during the session times when the foundation was working, and a 16.3% reduction in Trafford.

There are other smaller projects that in some ways work with people with more challenging needs, and I want to highlight—this has been highlighted in the Laureus report and by other people—the work of the Tottenham boxing academy. Members who know more about boxing than I do might take part in this debate, so I will not dwell too much on this. The project was designed for 14 to 16-year-olds. Physical impact sports—boxing and rugby—seem to be particularly effective when working with people from troubled backgrounds and certainly with those who have been involved criminal activity. There were 17 people on that project. Eight of them were known to have been offenders in the past, and based on normal intervention programmes, two thirds of those young people would normally be expected to reoffend within a year. However, in that instance, only two did. It is a small project, but it suggests that sporting projects help to re-engage people. They engage young people through a sport and then allow the youth workers delivering the project to engage with them about the other issues that they might have.


The project Hitz is delivered by the Rugby Football Union, the premiership rugby clubs and the police across 10 London boroughs, and has 750 participants. Again, the sessions are led by youth workers and run frequently, twice a week for 50 weeks of the year. In the Haggerston park area of Hackney, where the project was delivered, the fall in antisocial behaviour calls was calculated at 39% during the project.

Such projects often encourage people not just to take part in the project itself, but to take their interest into a more structured environment and perhaps into full-time participation in the sport. The Hackney Bulls rugby club recruited six new players from people involved in Hitz, and overall, the programme has taken 41 young people into full-time participation in rugby.

In my area, Kent, the Charlton Athletic Community Trust has done excellent work with young people over a number of years. Certain projects that have sought to re-engage young people and refocus their lives have caused similar falls in antisocial behaviour, including a fall of 35% in Aylesham and 59% in Buckland. The trust also does good work on alternative curriculum provision to re-engage young people with their studies, and I will come to that in a moment.

Good work can be done in the community to help direct young people away from the path of criminality, as my hon. Friend highlighted. There is also some evidence on work being done to engage young people in the prison environment, often at low cost, as many prisons and young offender institutions have good sporting facilities, and it is a question of bringing in the right people to engage young offenders. Those programmes use sport to help bridge the gap between life inside an institution to life outside it afterwards.

A project called 2nd Chance has worked in the Ashfield young offenders institution. Drawing on professional sports clubs around Bristol, such as Bristol Rovers and Bristol rugby club, it has worked with 400 offenders a year and is a low-cost provision. It has been calculated that, if just one offender with whom the programme works is kept out of prison, that will pay for the delivery of the entire programme for a year. When we consider that the current reoffending rate for young offenders in Ashfield is 76%, it seems a risk worth taking.


In conclusion, I ask the Government to consider the issues raised by my remarks and the case studies that I have mentioned. The Government should shift their priorities generally—they have already signalled a shift—so that they do not just increase participation in sport for good but consider how targeted intervention by sporting projects can help change the lives of some of the most hard-to-reach young people. They should consider how to create a unified approach to delivery across Departments. The work touches on the role of the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Education and the Department for Communities and Local Government, all of which have some interest in the delivery of such projects. A unified approach is needed, probably with a lead Minister to take responsibility for and an interest in how those projects are delivered.

There should be a review of some of the rules and regulations about the delivery of sporting projects on the ground. Many sporting clubs cite problems with Criminal Records Bureau checks and other forms of bureaucracy that make their work more difficult. We should certainly look at that. All the national sporting bodies should prioritise the development of coaching qualifications and the training of people to help deliver projects.

To return to what I said at the beginning of the debate, a good starting point would be to build on the work that is being done by many sporting and charitable organisations, take up the research that they have done, complete a fuller study and analysis of the benefits and the rate of return from this type of intervention, and then consider the potential basis of further Government support via Government agencies, local government and the police—through crime prevention strategies—to make this a fuller programme for the country. The need to re-engage with young people is strong and evident, and the riots over the summer demonstrated that clearly to us all. Through the fog of this despair, there is evidence of some incredible and successful interventions that are turning around the lives of young people. We should draw from that and build for the future.


Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): ... 
The debate’s title could have been recast and centred on the effect of sports leaders on youth crime, because I think that sports leaders are what really do it in terms of reducing crime. Clearly, the sport itself plays a part, but I think it is the sports leaders who have the impact, and that is because of the discipline that they can instil, their important mentoring role, and the values that they demonstrate in leading young people, whatever their sporting activity. The Government have to get on top of the mentoring role. I believe that there is an issue about which Government Department should take responsibility for mentors. There is a clear need for them in, I would suggest, large numbers, but there seem to be difficulties in securing them, so that is an area for the Government to focus on.

Sport is also central to reducing youth crime and engaging young people in positive diversionary activities. Sport is all about team play—working together with others—which might be something that they have not experienced before. Moreover, exercise undoubtedly helps address the anger management issues that some young people may have—it is a lot harder to be angry after three hours of intense sporting activity. Sport is also about sportsmanship and being able to demonstrate to other young people the value of fair play. Wrapped up in all of that is the issue of diet, which is necessary not only to succeed at sport at almost any level but to address diet failures, particularly if alcohol is an issue.

There are many examples of very successful sports schemes—or schemes that use sport, which are slightly different—that are used to tackle criminal behaviour or reduce the risk of offending. The hon. Gentleman has referred to Kickz, which is a very good project, and I will refer to a couple of statistics that highlight its success. There has been a 60% reduction in antisocial behaviour in areas in which Kickz is active, and up to a 20% reduction in the crimes that are most often associated with young people. Clearly, the project has the metrics to demonstrate that it is successful, but, like the hon. Gentleman, I think there is an issue about being able to demonstrate what types of projects are in fact successful. Anecdotal evidence is, of course, very good, but if the Government, the voluntary sector and charities, or social entrepreneurs want to invest in something, we need more than anecdotal evidence to support what is and what is not successful.

I am fortunate to have Cricket for Change based in my constituency. It does a lot of work on street cricket and engaging young people, both boys and girls, in it. Such is the success of its programmes that it has exported them to other countries around the world, such as Jamaica, Sri Lanka and South Africa, so it has taken the idea to challenging deprived areas and has bound people together. It has just finished a three-year programme targeting the 10 communities in London with the highest levels of youth crime. I want to see what that project’s metrics say about the outcomes, because it may have been very successful.

Another local project is Community Inspirations, the importance of which is that it can provide wraparound for some young people who have fallen out of education. They may, for instance, be training locally at the Skills and Integrated Learning Centre—SILC—in plastering, tiling and other skills. There is often an issue about what they do during the school holidays. The typical activities of organisations such as Community Inspirations centre on sport. It often takes a group of young people who may never have stepped outside their postcode to another part of the country to meet other young people and play in competitions. It is having an important impact.


This is my last point. We know that the cost of sending people to prison is £40,000 up to—who knows?—£200,000 for a very secure establishment. We want to see some hard facts about the success of these projects in diverting young people away from crime, so that we can offset the expenditure on those projects against the savings that will be derived by having fewer young people in our prisons. If the Government can achieve that, there will be a substantial improvement in our understanding of how we can tackle these problems.


Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): ...I thank him and other hon. Members for illustrating so effectively the statistical basis we have to demonstrate why sport is so important in tackling youth crime.
There is also the value-for-money aspect. My hon. Friend talked in a learned manner about boxing and the Tottenham boxing academy. What is so fascinating is that, as an alternative pupil referral unit, it actually costs a lot less than a regular PRU and is significantly more successful. In difficult economic times, youth sport is not only a good mechanism to tackle one of the big issues of our time, which erupted in August, but an extremely valuable mechanism to deal with social problems that arise when we do not have much money to do so.

In my short time this morning, I do not want to concentrate on anecdotes, because there are many, or the statistics and value-for-money figures, because they have been given out very effectively. I want to outline briefly why sport is important. If we understand what sport is and why it is important, it becomes a no-brainer that it will perform the functions that we need to demonstrate statistically—because we are accountable politicians—before we spend money on it. It is very important to understand what sport is.

I am president of my local boxing club, The National Smelting Co Amateur Boxing club, and chair of the all-party group on boxing. As with many sports, boxing is so important for many young people who have fallen out of all the normal authority measures. They have fallen out of school, because they do not see that it offers anything for them. They have fallen out of the council’s best attempts to engage them in its systems of social work, because they feel that they are dislocated from authority. For many young people, the boxing club is the only rival identity to other less savoury identities that are offered to them. One young boxer said to me:

“My life was a cul-de-sac of going into a gang. If I wanted an identity, security, protection, feeling I am something, there was only one option for me and that was to join a gang. My local boxing club provided an avenue off that cul-de-sac where I could find a family and identity.”
Family and identity, particularly identity for young people, are massively important. We all remember our school playground days and how important it was to be a member of a group of friends for our own identity. Crucially, for many young people, sport is the first opportunity they have to have a traction on achievement. In the riots, we saw a whole generation of young people who felt that they had nothing to lose, so why not go off and do stupid things? They felt they had no traction on achievement in their lives. They did not actually know how to achieve. The word “aspiration” is bandied around a lot, and the concept, included in the document, “Five days in August”, of hope and dreams is also bandied about a lot. There is a big, big difference between having hopes and dreams, and having goals. A hope and a dream is something one might vaguely hope to get to. Lots of young people have hopes and dreams of being David Beckham, or a WAG. They do not have any idea of how to achieve those hopes and dreams.

Sport begins to give young people a ladder to climb, from where they are now to where they think they want to be. Not everyone can be David Beckham. He is a very talented footballer. The narrative that society gives to young people is that David Beckham became David Beckham by just appearing on TV one day in a football kit, but David Beckham became David Beckham by putting in hours and hours and hours of training and hard work. The immense value of sports clubs—particularly boxing clubs for kids who will not engage with other forms of society, because they feel they are too much part of authority—is that they provide the first opportunity to learn the very important lesson that my old swimming coach, Eric Henderson, taught me—no pain, no gain. To achieve something, one has to put in effort now, be it doing maths homework because one wants to be rich, have a fast car and a very attractive wife, or be it putting in a bit of effort going for a run and a sports training session that one does not really want to do—because it is early in the morning, it is raining and one feels tired—but one does because one wants to achieve something in sporting life later on. That, of course, applies to school, sport and life. It applies to getting a job. It applies to so many things. In fact, it is the citizenship lesson about work and achievement—about teamwork, learning how to win and learning how to lose—that is so often delivered in schools in a two-dimensional form on a piece of paper, but which we need to deliver to young people in a real form on our sports fields and in our sports clubs.

We have the most extraordinary opportunity on our horizon next year. It is a once in a generation event: the Olympic games. We have just come through a summer that has rocked our nation. There is a problem with youth disengagement that we all knew existed. My goodness me, communities up and down the country knew it existed, because it was on their doorsteps daily. It erupted with massive force in London in August. The whole country looked at our young people and asked, “How have we let this happen?”

Next year, we have the most iconic solution to that problem—we have the Olympic games. I beg Government—I will do everything I can to work with them—not to let the opportunity of an Olympic legacy go to waste. On the ground, people know that sport works. If we understand the basic psychology of kids and all human beings, it is very apparent why sport works. We urgently need statistics, and the statistics base around it, to justify expenditure we need to make. We need to put that at the heart of tackling the massive social problem that erupted this year. What better opportunity is there to do that than when our British Olympic champions stand up on those podiums with those medals that I have no doubt they will win, saying, “Not only is this a gold medal because I was fastest or jumped highest on the day, not only is this a gold medal to say I was the best, but this gold medal also means a lot to me because of all the work I put in to get there”? Not everyone can be an Olympic champion, but everyone has their own personal best that they can achieve. It would be a great message to have every British Olympian standing and inspiring our young people to achieve. We can only do that if they have the rungs on the bottom of the ladder in our communities at grass-roots sports level in our schools and in our amateur sports clubs.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): ... I am passionate about the positive role that sport can play in our local communities. I support that positive role through encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle that improves behaviour, teamwork and enjoyment. Sport can channel young people’s energy and boost self-esteem. Sport can be a forum for enjoyment, friendship and personal fulfilment. Sport can reach and change young people by improving their life chances, increasing educational attainment and building life skills. Sport can achieve some of the social outcomes that will help transform our society, and sport can be used a tool to benefit disadvantaged young children.


I want to focus my comments on the opportunities that I benefited from and that we as a society can provide for young children. When I was first elected, probably one of my more controversial moves was to support the move to defend the school sports partnership programme. I was a big champion of that scheme, because its whole principle was to provide sporting opportunities for those who are not particularly naturally competitive. If someone is gifted at sport, invariably that is because their parents have encouraged them from a young age, and they will therefore have been provided with plenty of opportunities. The vast majority of children, however, need a bit more encouragement. The one thing that the school sports partnership programme does very well is offer a wide programme of opportunities. There is a sport for everyone. When I refer to sport, it is not always necessarily the obvious sports that we might see in the Olympics or on the television, but such sports as street dance—basically, anything that can make young people active and constructive.

We also need to encourage more coaches—a number of hon. Members have already touched on that—but also day-to-day volunteers. When I talk to sports clubs, their biggest challenge is to find someone to be the club secretary or treasurer, and someone to fill in all the complicated forms and to organise the fixtures. There is a real deficit of people to fill those roles. In a society, people who are not particularly sports-minded can still play a constructive role. I welcome the work of the Football Foundation with its funding; rather than only the traditional provision of a brand-new, shiny set of football kits for a variety of sports clubs, it is looking at the legacy and encouraging more coaches and volunteers, so that more people get an opportunity to benefit.

Charlotte Leslie: Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we are going to talk about the big society, for example, there are few areas where it is more prevalent than in sport?

Justin Tomlinson: I am passionate about the merits of the big society, and sport can be absolutely at the heart of it. We can all play a role, even if it is not the traditional one of leading on the front line in the sporting team.


The challenge for us all is not to make the case for whether sport can play an important role in helping young people to achieve, thereby in tackling crime and under-achievement, but to say how to do that. The hon. Member for North Swindon mentioned school sports, and I pay tribute to the support that he gave to many of us who were deeply worried by the proposals to cut the school sports programme.


School sports drove up participation in high-quality physical education for our young people from only 25% in 1997 to more than 90% in 2010. The school sport partnership, to which the hon. Member for North Swindon referred, was vital because it enabled the infrastructure that made participation possible to be put together, including the people who organised the games, provided the coaching and looked for the range of sports that young people want to take part in. When the Government foolhardily tried to dismantle that network, there was, rightly, an outcry. It is welcome that they have backed down to some degree, although many of us who still work with our local school sport co-ordinators are worried about the impact of those changes.

The issue is not just what can be done in schools. Critically, it involves the role of the voluntary sector. Some fantastic examples have been mentioned today. I have worked in the scouting movement, and I want to put on the record my support for voluntary organisations and the number of activities that they could provide. We are all clear that not just one sport is involved. Indeed, the scouting movement prides itself on being able to provide 200 different activities for young people each week and recognises that a range of provision is needed to engage with the range of young people.

I see the work of organisations such as Kickz in my community, and I want to put on the record my thanks to the Leyton Orient community sports programme for promoting that work. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe referred to the teenage Kickz research. We know the impact of its work in pulling back young people who are at risk of antisocial behaviour, and we know that that makes a difference and is valuable not just for their antisocial behaviour but for their future achievement. He also referred to a social return on investment. Such programmes with the right people bring rewards that we could not achieve through sport provision alone.


Nick Herbert: ... There has been no dispute about the value of sport in having a positive impact on behaviour. It teaches control, self-discipline and the importance of teamwork. It unites people and provides opportunities for people, wherever they come from. Sporting activity is of huge value in preventing offending. Where offending has taken place, sport can play an enormous part as an intervention to break the cycle that I described. We must be careful to ensure that it is not the only intervention. There may be other causes of offending behaviour that need to be addressed in parallel. Whether there are learning difficulties or various addictions, sport can be one of the means to help an offender, but other interventions may be equally important.
There was also agreement about the importance of role models, particularly the powerful role models provided in sport. Such role models can of course provide a catalyst for change. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) talked about the particular value of sports leaders, but I am sure he did not mean to imply that those were simply national sports leaders. Of course, national figures in sport, as mentioned by other Members, have a significant impact on young people. The mentors described by my right hon. Friend work at local level and come from all sorts of places. They can show a leadership role, and assist and encourage young people to engage in sporting activity. That is equally important.

I spoke recently to a police community support officer who, in addition to his community work, devotes much of his private time to working with young people and providing coaching in local sporting activities. He felt that it was important to assist those young people to take part in a constructive activity that would prevent them from getting into trouble. Such volunteers and local heroes matter just as much as national role models; I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) when she said that it was important to fly the flag for volunteers, and to celebrate them and recognise what they do.


Charlotte Leslie: Will the Minister recognise the work of the Football Foundation? It carries out fantastic work not only by efficiently using funds to renovate community sports facilities but by putting structures in place so that those facilities are more self-sustaining and do not require so much Government funding. That is the kind of long-term legacy that it would be good to see more of throughout the country after the Olympics.

Nick Herbert: I am happy to recognise that; there is clearly a role for civil society, sport clubs and organisations, as well as for the Government and bodies that provide public funding. My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe mentioned Kickz and Hitz as examples of programmes that are driven by national sporting organisations and have a real impact on the ground. StreetChance is an initiative that promotes cricket, and StreetGames works with national governing bodies to support athletics, table tennis, handball, gymnastics, badminton and rowing. Through the initiatives of such national sporting bodies, it is possible to reach out and offer young people the opportunity to engage in a multitude of sports.

In the remaining time available, I wish to pick up on some specific points raised by my hon. Friend. He was clear that he was not calling for a general increase in sporting participation, and that targeted intervention—rather than just dealing with crime—was the objective. I agree with him. He specifically called for robust data on such interventions, and for research to identify whether they provide value for money. That general call is welcomed by the Government. The whole thrust of our criminal justice reform programme is to move to a situation in which we are much clearer about the outcomes that programmes deliver. When resources are tight, it is particularly important to ensure that money is being well spent, and that is why we are increasingly moving towards payment by results in the delivery of criminal justice interventions, so that we can be certain that we are getting the outcomes we need.

In spite of the challenge of public spending, Government-funded programmes are continuing, specifically in relation to youth crime. The Positive Futures programme will continue until the end of 2013; thereafter, elected police and crime commissioners will have a budget that they can distribute for similar programmes, should they so choose. The Positive Futures programme delivers sports and arts-based activities that target and support vulnerable 10 to 19-year-olds in some of our most disadvantaged communities.

Although I accept my hon. Friend’s injunction about targeted interventions, it is important to ensure that school children have access to sporting facilities—my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon also raised that point—and that physical education is valued in schools. Physical education will continue to be compulsory for all pupils following the review of the national curriculum, and we are taking action to ensure that young people in local communities are not deprived of access to playing fields and sporting facilities.

As part of Sport England’s £135 million “Places, People, Play” legacy programme, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, and Sport England, recently launched a protecting playing fields initiative—a £10 million fund to protect and improve sports fields across the country. The programme will fund projects that create, develop and improve playing fields for sporting and community use, and offer long-term protection of those sites for sport. Sport England will run five £2 million funding rounds over the next three years, investing between £20,000 and £50,000 in schemes such as buying new playing field land, improving the condition of pitches through drainage, or bringing disused sports fields back into use. That is important; the issue is not only about role models, access and funding schemes; we must also ensure that facilities are available both inside and outside schools.