Boxing’s secret to success revealed in pioneering Sheffield Hallam study

23rd June 2020

England Boxing and Sheffield Hallam University have partnered to produce a report which identifies how and why member clubs have been so successful in engaging with people in deprived areas.

The 56-page study – funded by Sport England and produced by the Sport Industry Research Centre (SIRC) at Sheffield Hallam – is based on interviews and evidence provided by a sample of 60 of the country’s clubs that are proactive in their respective communities.

Research shows that people in low socio-economic groups have frequently proven to be the hardest to engage in terms of getting them physically active on a regular basis.

The document pulls together the reasons England Boxing has been able to buck that trend, with 40 per cent of member clubs situated in the 20 per cent most deprived areas of the country.

“For many years people within boxing have known that the sport does a great job working in the toughest communities in England, often developing young people and steering them away from anti-social behaviour, but it’s been hard to explain to others exactly why that is,” said England Boxing’s Head of Development, Ron Tulley.

“This report provides real independent evidence to back up those claims and gives recommendations that will help more boxing clubs – and perhaps clubs from other sports – to become integrated in their communities, providing social as well as sporting development.

“For some areas, the resident boxing club has become the very hub of the community offering services above and beyond boxing training. Even those outside the sport frequently reflect that boxing is good for young people because ‘it keeps them off the streets’, and it’s what clubs do with the young people when they are off the streets that really matters.”

David Barrett, research fellow at Sheffield Hallam, said:

"As a team, we're really proud of this research which highlights the importance of voluntary sports clubs to local communities. We're particularly pleased to have established a rapport with Ron and the rest of the team at England Boxing, who went out of their way to support our work.

“One of the most significant challenges for sport development practitioners in recent years has been to find ways to engage with people from BAME groups, those from low-income backgrounds and young people who are at risk of becoming involved in crime or gang activity. Boxing's evident success in this area offers a blueprint for other sports, as well as being something to celebrate on its own merits.

“The honesty, consistency and positivity of boxing coaches is key to that success, and was fundamental to completing our research. We would therefore like to express our sincere thanks to all the coaches who took part."

The evidence for the report was collected by David and colleagues Lee Edmondson, Robbie Millar and Ryan Storey, at a two-day conference held in Leicester last October, with over 70 coaches and boxing personalities in attendance.

The event, A Celebration of Boxing in the Community, was also attended by Sport England Chief Executive Tim Hollingsworth, who hopes the completed report can be a valuable tool not just for boxing, but the sports sector as a whole.

Tim Hollingsworth said:

“Boxing is a sport with a really powerful opportunity to reach and engage with different audiences and this is in no small part down in part to the coaches, who often take on a mentoring role.

“These volunteers work in some of the toughest areas of the country as nearly three quarters of boxing clubs are located in the most deprived communities. These boxing clubs help to provide new and different opportunities to young people, which can help them reach their full potential. I hope the insight gained from this research can help other sports and activities reach more people from all backgrounds, so more people can enjoy the benefits of being active.”

The findings relate to four key themes – location and environment; boxing, coaching and leadership; culture and ethos, and; funding and impact.

The report can read here

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