New research in Hackney and Liverpool details how and why boxing combats anti-social behaviour in deprived communities

By 11th January 2017News

Rio Olympian and GB Boxing podium boxer, Lawrence Okolie supported the launch of new research which reveals how and why boxing combats anti-social behaviour in deprived communities.

A new study from England Boxing (“The role of Boxing in Development: A social marketing perspective”) has revealed how and why the sport is so successful in helping to combat anti-social behavioural problems in young people from deprived communities.

The report, which is based on a qualitative study of participants from The Boxing Academy in Hackney and Anfield ABC’s Champions of Life programme (Liverpool), was carried out by the Walker Research (on behalf of England Boxing).

It identifies five common themes which help to explain why boxing is more successful than many other sports in re-engaging disaffected young people, addressing behavioural problems and putting people on a pathway to improved life chances.

“It is widely acknowledged that getting involved in boxing has the capacity to help people turn their lives around, overcome difficult circumstances and become positive contributors to society, “explained England Boxing Director, Giorgio Brugnoli.

“This unique study helps to increase our understanding of how and why this happens and identifies some of the precise reasons why boxing is more successful than many other sports in engaging with the most hard-to-reach individuals and having a positive impact on their personalities and behaviour.”

Dr Stephen Hills, Senior Lecturer in Sports Business Management at London Metropolitan University, who was part of the research team, added: “At a time when national governing bodies (NGBs) are being challenged about their role in development as part of the Government’s new sports strategy, this study has isolated the unique role that boxing can play, which will hopefully lead to targeted funding and programme design that effectively leverages the capability of boxing to tackle gritty social problems and access hard to reach target groups.”

The five themes identified in the research which show why boxing is particularly able to address issues of anti-social behaviour in economically deprived areas are:

1.       A gritty alternative

The research showed that because boxing is extremely physically demanding and requires fighting skills it possesses a degree of credibility amongst disaffected young people in tough circumstances.  This ‘grittiness’ enables it to be regarded as a credible alternative to anti-social activities (such as being in a gang or involved in crime) and means that young people can choose to participate in boxing, without losing face.  Whilst some sports (such as football) may have greater global appeal, the status of boxing as a tough and gritty, makes it a more appealing platform for positive personal and social change amongst the most dis-engaged groups from the toughest areas, where boxing clubs tend to be located.

“We have former gang members in the gym and when their mates from the gang say ‘are you coming out tonight’ they say ‘no, I am going boxing’ and they do not lose any face or credibility.”

Interview with Anfield ABC Administrator


2.       Enabling the acquisition of values and skills

To be successful at boxing requires discipline, mental strength, control, focus and an ability to take personal responsibility.  These are often lacking in people involved in anti-social activities, yet taking part in boxing enables them to acquire and learn these values and skills.  The fact boxing is an individual sport forces participants to take responsibility as there is no-one else to blame.

“What you have to go through as a boxer with all the hard work and discipline creates respect for yourself.  Once you have this you can then have respect for others.”

Interview with Anfield ABC Administrator

3.       A means to manage aggression

Rather than seen be viewed as a release for aggression, boxing is actually a replacement for aggression.  It does not rid the participant of aggressive tendencies it enables them to re-channel it.  Boxing requires participant to think clearly in the face of conflict (with an equally matched opponents) and so teaches participants to learn to stay cool and manage aggression.

“When you are using a lot of energy and anger you have to calm down and use your energy, anger and aggression in a constructive way so that you don’t spin out of control and stay disciplined.  You can then apply that outside of the ring.”

Anfield ABC Focus Group Participant

4.       Community

The research revealed that many of the participants had difficult family lives and a lack of belonging.  The boxing gym created a sense of family or community which they had previously never experienced or was able to replace the one that they had felt from being part of a gang.  Whilst many sports and environments can also create a sense of family or community, the research indicated that being part of a boxing gym creates particularly strong bonds between individuals because of the demands of the sport and the effort that participants put into it.

“Instead of getting respect from other gang members you get respect from everyone in the gym.”

Anfield ABC Focus Group Participant

5.       Role models with empathy

Like in many sports, coaches in boxing provide positive role models.  Crucially, the fact that many coaches have also had difficulties in their lives’ yet have come through them, as a result of boxing, means they have a particular appeal to people from the most challenging backgrounds.  The coaches are able to show understanding and empathy which builds strong bonds of trust with people from disadvantaged circumstances.

“Any problems I have I can talk to the coaches about.  They have been through what we’re going through.  They’ve been in my shoes so they can give me guidance.”

Anfield ABC Focus Group Participant

Based in Hackney, The Boxing Academy is an alternative education pathway for 13-16 year olds that have either been excluded or at risk of exclusion from school.  It It has 40 pupils and provides a high quality alternative education to hard-to-reach young people by using the discipline, ethos and the culture of boxing, whereby every pupil does a period of boxing training every day, regardless of whether they have boxed previously.

Anna Cain, Head Teacher at the Boxing Academy said: “It was a pleasure to participate in this valuable research project, which offers academic evidence for what we all already know to be true: Boxing is uniquely suited to help young people through difficult times in their life. I hope this is a foundation for more research into the beneficial effects of boxing and the important role that boxing activities and people play in community cohesion.”

Champions of Life is a project run by Anfield ABC that aims to tackle the problems of youth participation in gangs and the anti-social behaviours that arise from this.

Alan Walsh, Club Secretary at Anfield ABC said: “The feedback we consistently get from the boxer’s is that the sport provides them with a platform to achieve their goals, both inside and outside, of the ring.”