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    Kicking crime into touch: an ethnographic exploration of rugby union as a vehicle for supporting Positive Youth Development in the youth justice system

    Crowther, Jamie (2023) Kicking crime into touch: an ethnographic exploration of rugby union as a vehicle for supporting Positive Youth Development in the youth justice system. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    This thesis undertook an exploration of rugby union as a vehicle for Positive Youth Development (PYD) in a youth justice context. The English and Welsh youth justice system has become increasingly dominated by strengths-based practice, including PYD: an approach that seeks to support young people’s short- and long-term personal development by using external mechanisms. Sport is routinely presented as an ideal context for PYD because it has the potential to facilitate the development of competence, confidence, connection and character. The sport of rugby union has been identified as a potential vehicle for facilitating self-development, and in principle, appears well suited to PYD. Rugby union’s core values include teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship. It has been increasingly utilised as a mechanism for positive change within youth custodial settings; however, there is a paucity of research that explores its potential for PYD in a community setting. This thesis addresses the gap in the research by exploring the effectiveness of rugby union as a vehicle for PYD in a community setting. The site for this research was the Kicking Crime into Touch project (KCIT): a two-year project funded by Comic Relief. KCIT delivered rugby union to young men working with youth offending teams across Greater Manchester, England, each of whom had received a community sentence. This thesis explores the contribution of rugby union to PYD among justice-involved young people. Young people’s attitudes toward rugby union as a direct consequence of participating in KCIT are also explored. The masculine values embedded in rugby union and their impact on the sport’s potential to facilitate PYD are considered alongside this. The findings are drawn from an 18-month ethnography of KCIT, including participant observation, interviews and a focus group. Participants included justice-involved young people, youth offending team workers and rugby coaches. The primary finding of this thesis is that the appropriateness of programmes such as KCIT as a vehicle for PYD in a youth justice context is limited. The inherent disempowerment of justice-involved young people by the youth justice system undermines their participation in sporting programmes. This limitation was found to be further heightened by the use of rugby union as a sporting activity. Rugby union was culturally disconnected from the lives of the young people in this thesis. The social interaction and activities experienced by young people within a rugby union context, and the masculine values embedded in the sport have the potential to both support and compromise PYD. Programmes such as KCIT, and more broadly rugby union, can be used in a youth justice context to support PYD; however, careful consideration should be given to how and why they are delivered. This thesis concludes that a bespoke PYD model is needed if rugby is to be utilised effectively as a sporting activity to support PYD for justice-involved young people.

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