The Contribution of Sport-Related Interventions to the Long-Term Development of Disaffected Young People: An Evaluation of the Fairbridge Program


  • Rowan Astbury
  • Barry Knight
  • Geoff Nichols


This paper adds an academic perspective to a major commercial evaluation study of the Fairbridge program in the United Kingdom. This program used sports and other leisure activities to work with disadvantaged and disaffected young people. Goals of the program included increasing personal and social skills, and consequently long-term behavioral improvements. Fairbridge is a major provider of such programs and the considerable resources available to the evaluation allowed for far more comprehensive research methods than are usually possible in evaluation studies. These methods included follow-up interviews with participants a year after they had started the program. The study took a “theory of change” approach, led both by program managers’ hypotheses about how the program achieved its objectives and by the views of key policy stakeholders on the validity of the research methods used to establish program efficacy.The evaluation showed that personal and social skills (measured by an internally validated, self-completion measure) were shown to have increased over the initial 5-day part of the program, for a sample of 318 young people. Although the gains in these skills did not appear to be maintained a year later, they were good predictors of the long-term behavioral improvements, which included better performance in jobs and education, stable housing arrangements, and having a positive attitude toward self and others. These results suggested that the gains in personal skills preceded the longer term impacts.The academic perspective offered by this paper adds to the original evaluation by both offering a commentary on the use of the theory of change approach, which aims to understand the process of change as a result of the program, and to influence a change in policy; and also by placing the findings in the context of understandings of how and why this type of program might achieve its objectives. The evaluation began from stakeholders’ perceptions of causal relationships rather than academic theory. Thus, following the results, the paper includes a critical synthesis of findings with understandings from previous research. This discussion considers the difficulties of determining the extent to which an initial apparent increase in personal skills, or a positive predisposition to the program, was the most important factor determining long-term impacts. It is argued that it is more realistic to understand the impact of such programs in terms of generative, rather than successive, causality, with methodological implications for further evaluations. The overall results are related to theoretical understandings of the impact of such programs as facilitating the development of young people, including increased confidence and ability to tackle the circumstances that have put them “at risk.” Overall, it appears that the program achieved these results and that the supportive relationships with program staff were of key importance in the longterm. Initially, the nature of the sports activities was important in gaining involvement. The results are consistent with these activities acting as a catalyst for the development of mentor relationships with staff and as a medium for longerterm personal development.





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