Director of the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit Cheryl Willoughby and some experienced local sports administrators believe that properly structured community sports programmes can help stem the tide of deviant behaviour among young people.
During a panel discussion at the Barbados Olympic Association’s headquarters on the topic Sports as a Pathway out of Poverty, Willoughby noted that between 2012 and 2013, there was a 35 per cent increase in crimes committed by children between the ages of 11 and 15. Assault and wounding accounted for 41 per cent of the offences between 2012 and 2016, while drug offences and wandering were among other crimes.
Expressing concern about the number of girls going before the court, Willoughby said: “In the 1980s, you were four times less likely to find girls getting arrested for criminal offences, but within the last ten years, they are now almost on the same level as the boys. Assault and wounding made up 45 per cent of the offences involving girls.”
Willoughby said the rate of recidivism, which stands at 68 per cent, was “unacceptable”, and blamed it on the fact that Barbadian society often rejected people once they were known to have served time in prison.
Veteran teacher and entertainer Mac Fingall echoed that sentiment.
“Barbados is a brutal society, because when you do that, you are punishing the young people twice,” he lamented.
In his presentation, Fingall contended that people thrive on identity, which sport gives people “instantly”.
“Unlike academics, where it takes about five years, one game can get you recognized as somebody. Barbadians don’t realize that sport prepares you for life better than any academic subject,” he said.
“It teaches you punctuality – if you show up for practice late you lose your place in the team –, leadership, responsibility and social values. I don’t blame children for anything; I blame their parents first and then their teachers. I am presently coaching a young football team and the members don’t even know the Ten Commandments!”
Ytannia Wiggins, a football coach who runs the A Ganar programme which caters to at-risk youth in nine institutions, said 90 per cent of her charges do not take part in sports, and 95 per cent of them leave school without any CXC passes.
She said A Ganar teaches core values, six of which come through sports: teamwork, discipline, communication, respect, self-improvement and a focus on results.
“We concentrate on technical and vocational training first, then academics, then we do apprenticeships and job attachments,” she explained.
Football administrator Adrian Donovan added that 95 per cent of the inmates at Dodds have never been involved in any sporting activity, and lamented that none of the island’s penal institutions has sports equipment.
“I once organized a football team at Dodds with Oliver Marshall, and the way those young men responded to that programme was the best experience I have ever had. The main thing young people need is love and physical activity. There are 35 organized sports in Barbados and 500 sports clubs; there is no reason we should be complaining about obese children!” he added.
Willoughby has advised any organization willing to start community intervention programmes to help at risk young people to ensure they are evidence-based, so that they meet the specific needs of the community being targeted.
She also suggested they should be gender-specific, since “bringing teenage boys and girls together creates too many distractions”.