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Evaluating a rugby sport intervention programme for young offenders

Dave Williams (School of Life and Medical Sciences, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK)
Leann Collingwood (School of Life and Medical Sciences, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK)
James Coles (Saracens Sport Foundation, Saracens Rugby Club, Hendon, UK)
Stefanie Schmeer (School of Life and Medical Sciences, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 2 February 2015




Interventions intended to aid offender re-entry, rehabilitation and desistence based around specific sports and championed by sporting institutions have been introduced in custodial settings. Though research evaluating these is positive (Meek, 2012), conclusions are often hampered by the absence of control groups in such work. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the Saracens “Get Onside” rugby-based intervention at HMP YOI Feltham, while employing a non-randomised control group.


In total, 24 young offenders took part. Those in the treatment condition experienced a ten-week course which included a range of activities leading to accredited awards, exercises in functional skills in literacy/numeracy and 72 hours of rugby sessions. Those in the control condition were matched on key static factors, crime attitudes and aggression. Self-reported measures of pro-crime attitudes, aggression, self-esteem, and impulsivity were taken once before the start, once during, and at the end of the course for both groups.


As predicted, self-reported scores measuring attitudes towards aggression and crime did differ significantly across groups, with those experiencing the intervention showing more positive values by the end of treatment compared with others. However, measures of impulsiveness and self-esteem showed no change.

Research limitations/implications

Revisions are suggested in respect of both the self-esteem and impulsivity measures, and future work needs better control over the match between treatment and comparison groups.


Concerns over the potentially iatrogenic effects of contact sport interventions with offender groups may be misplaced, and the benefits of sporting interventions are replicated in a between groups design.



This research would not have been possible without the kind assistance of Glyn Smith and Juan Mouton, P.E Instructor and “Get on Side” Coordinator HMPYOI Feltham, and all the participants that helped.


Williams, D., Collingwood, L., Coles, J. and Schmeer, S. (2015), "Evaluating a rugby sport intervention programme for young offenders", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 51-64.



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