A review of the literature such as Coalter 1996, Coakley 2002, Nichols 2007, and Robbins 1996 et al points to several important factors that must be present for social sports programmes to have a positive impact on anti-social behaviour as well as aiding community development. These factors provide a framework to assess and evaluate the LifeSport Programme and Hoop of Life.
There is no doubting that the biggest losers of the cancellation of the well-intended LifeSport Programme have been taxpayers and the targeted group of young men. The Central Audit Committee report into the operation Ministry of Sport’s LifeSport Programme has stressed several financial and managerial discrepancies which must be addressed by the relevant authorities in a timely manner. The report findings point to grave wastage of scare financial resources. The young men who were in the programme must feel as though the carpet has been pulled from under their feet. It is difficult not to surmise that this is yet another example of where economically and socially disadvantaged persons are made to pay a heavy price for wanton mismanagement by those given the responsibility to deliver important social services to the public.
Conceptualising and theorising how social sporting programmes are to operate is critical not only to meeting their desired outcomes but equally important for identifying the correct tools to evaluate their effectiveness. Proper planning minimises the possibilities of wastage of financial resources whether private or public. It is very mindboggling that both the LifeSport Programme and the Hoop of Life were aimed to addressing the concerns of youth at risk yet still operated out of different ministries! Additionally, were there other ways in which these programmes could have be organized so as to utilise existing sporting structures such as the national basketball structure in the case of the Hoop of Life to yield greater success both in terms of the desired effects as well as the management of funds?
Research has shown that when emphasis is placed on developing skills and building social interaction as opposed to focusing on competition and aggression, there is a greater probability that sports can be effective in reducing youth crime and violence. Therefore, one has to ask the question as to whether or not the Hoop of Life basketball competition is being fully effective as it is a case of the winner gets the most. The winner gets $1.5millions dollars, 2nd place $500,000 and 3rd place $250, 000 and 4th $100.000. What happens to the other 56 teams? As a result of this the gaps between the communities would only widen and thereby defeat the purpose of the objectives of the programme.
A critical factor highlighted for the success of many social programmes have been where coaches, mentors, and role models have been trained in conflict resolution, dealing with sensitive issues relating to youth and ensuring that the goals of the programme are always pursued. It will be interesting to find out whether or not the coaches, mentors etc that have been used in the various social sporting programmes were trained as to how to effectively interact with the targeted audience. It is important to note that former national players and or just carrying the title of coach does not necessarily indicate that these persons can deal with the social and psychological issues that may be related to youth. Additionally, not all successful sports personnel may be good role models for those persons who are striving to correct deviant behaviour.
Social sporting programmes have shown to be effective when parents, schools and community members are part of either the decision making process and or the implementation process. This will however, depend on the size of the programme. Getting established sporting organisations for instance sporting clubs in communities to be part of the programme may provide a good starting point for the programme being effective. Additionally, it may serve to minimise some of the negative stigma that is attached to state programmes if they stand alone.
It is also very important to acknowledge that “one size fits all” approaches may not necessarily work. What may be good for one community may not necessarily work in another. If communities are to be hooked into the various programmes they have to be part of the decision making process. The youth have to have a say or else they will feel marginalised and see the programme as yet another way for adults to tell what is good for them!
As we move into the future, it is important that politicians, technocrats and whoever else end up making public decisions take into consideration the following issues. Firstly, social sporting programmes must be developed on evidence and possible solutions are practical. Secondly, programmes should be sustainable.
This is problematic when the state is the main benefactor, for when the government changes there is no guarantee the programme will continue and thirdly, rigorous evaluations must be undertaken to identify that factors that influence crime reduction, pro-social behaviour and change in young people.