To date, researchers are increasingly interested in deciding whether sport-based approaches can be successful in the prevention of criminality among youth (Spruit, Van der Put, Van Vugt, & Stams, 2018). Statistics Canada defines youth violence as any deliberate physical, sexual or psychological assault on another person (or persons) by one or more young people between the ages of 12 to 19 years (Statistics Canada, 2016). Youth violence is an ongoing social and health problem across communities everywhere. While the overall violent crime rate in Canada fell by 4% in 10 years, from 1997 to 2006, the rate of violent crime among young people has risen by 12% over the past 10 years and has increased by 30% since 1991 (Statistics Canada, 2016). The development of delinquency can be explained through a variety of factors in effect, including environmental issues such as poverty and social class, social risk factors associated with parental authority and peer pressure, individual risk factors linked with one’s mental and emotional state, and additional influences including a child’s neighbourhood and community (Youth Violence, 2016, p.21). Many studies have attempted to explain how strategies focused on sport can be effective in preventing juvenile delinquency. These findings do not indicate that sport activity in itself prevents youth violence, but rather place emphasis on learning opportunities in the active participation of sports that contribute to the reduction of juvenile crime (Spruit et al., 2018). Sport participation can be used to tackle the ongoing issue of community violence among youth by promoting an improved state of mental health, greater social development, and the opportunity for personal growth.
Mental disorder is a risk factor that is significant for violence and may play a vital role in a violent teen’s life. Although mental and behavioural health issues do not directly cause young people to become violent, these factors increase the risk of violence for children as certain stressors place them at a greater chance of responding impulsively and aggressively in difficult social situations (Rueve & Welton, 2008). In addition, research also suggests that young people seek comfort from those who accept them and strengthen their sense of belonging (Clark, M. cited in Carmichael 2008). Thus, Clark’s 1992 study (cited in Carmichael 2008) concludes that many youth resort to street gangs to fulfill their need for acceptance, belonging and self-esteem. Not only can youth with poorer mental wellbeing easily become involved with gang-affiliation, for reasons such as loneliness and lack of support, but this affiliation can have adverse effects on mental health and often exacerbate current mental illnesses afflicted by the youth (Hughes, Bellis, Perkins, & Bennet, 2015). Having said that, sports participation can be an effective way to minimize stress and improve one’s physical and mental health, as well as tackle youth crime, conflict, and violent outbreaks (Novak Djokovic Foundation, 2017). Participation of physical activity also entails decreased symptoms of depression, anxiety and increased levels of self-esteem (Hutchinson, 2011). Furthermore, sports and physical activity can change the way young people think about themselves. Studies show that participating in sports can positively alter a young person’s self-confidence and alleviate negative behaviours—which contributes to the prevention and elimination of crime (Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2016). Ultimately, it can be concluded that the power of sport participation can be effective to promote positive mental health and reduce negative behaviours.
Research shows that the more influences youth are exposed to, the greater the likelihood of a violent outcome (Leschied, 2008, p. 15). The role of peers influencing individual adolescent behaviour has been established as one of the strongest adolescent risk factors (Leschied, 2008, p. 18). Peers play a role in promoting behaviour and attitudes that are favourable toward violence. In some cases, young people are socialized in a gang culture that encourages attitudes towards crime (Leschied, 2008, p. 18). It is proposed that gang affiliation meets an individual youth’s needs for power, identification, self-esteem, socialization, and an overall sense of belonging (Leschied, 2008, p. 18). Exclusion and rejection may take place for a variety of reasons, and although it may not always be intended to cause psychological harm, the experience of exclusion may cause negative effects in terms of emotional and behavioural health, academic challenges, a decline in prosocial behaviour, and poor self-worth (Mulvey, Boswell, & Zheng, 2017). Moreover, families appear to play multiple roles exerting an influence on children that may intensify or diminish the risk of youth violence. Many of the best-established risk factors for juvenile delinquency are family- based, including dismissive parenting, inter parental violence, child abuse and neglect, inadequate discipline, and lack of monitoring by parents of children showing early signs of aggression (Youth Violence, 2016, p.21). Factors associated with lower risk for violence among young people often suggest elements which embrace close bonds with supportive caregivers, effective parenting that is consistent and responsive to development, and families working in ways that are healthy, stable, well-managed and well-regulated for children (Youth Violence, 2016, p.21). Ultimately, acts of violence among youth may be triggered through a lack of personal connections as well as social exclusion, for example, among peers and family. Through organized sports programs, youth will find benefits through social development and integration. Sports give a network of valid interactions through teammates, coaches, and program leaders, that can improve and enhance participants’ self confidence, social behaviours, self-discipline, compassion, and ability to collaborate with others (Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2016). It is these psychological factors that ultimately help to reduce violence among young people (Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2016). Furthermore, according to a study in 2002 by Gatz, Messner and Ball-Rokeach, organized sport initiatives that succeed in reducing youth crime appear to develop feelings of competence, connectedness and empowerment among young people (Gatz, Messner, & Ball-Rokeach, cited in Carmichael 2008), as well as engage at-risk youth by providing opportunities for positive peer mentoring to further prevent instances of youth crime (Sheehan, DiCara, LeBailly, & Christoffel, cited in Carmichael 2008). On top of that, sports programs offer activities that foster friendships and provide a positive group experience for youth where relationships are inclusive and where adults and young people can build trustworthy connections (Perkins & Noam, 2007, p. 80). Sport is a crucial aspect of social life as it engages communities directly. It brings individuals together in a fun and participatory way, creating social relationships, building connections, and improving communication between individuals and groups (Ehsani, Dehnavi, & Heidary, 2012). It is through sport participation where young people are able to become involved within the community, make connections with others, and develop socially in order to learn how to contribute to society in the safest and healthiest ways.
Life skills are cognitive, emotional, interpersonal and social abilities that allow individuals to handle the challenges of everyday life effectively (World Health Organization, 2009). To lack life skills and values, youth may resort to violence. For example, individuals who are typically aggressive or impulsive with self-control problems are more likely to commit later acts of aggression, delinquency and crime (Youth Violence, 2016, p.22). Individual differences in self-control are amid the strongest and most frequently observed associations of crime, delinquency, aggression and other problem behaviours (Youth Violence, 2016, p.22)