A football coach who works with young people at risk of being affected by serious violence and knife crime says children need to be given the tools, space and role models to make better decisions.

Martin Schooley, inclusion lead at the Brighton and Hove Albion Foundation, is in charge of the Reboot and Targeted Kicks programmes which uses mentoring and football to boost young people’s self-esteem and help them understand their emotions.

He said the programmes provide the children with support and opportunities to make friends. Youngsters are also educated on the consequences of knife crime.

“They’re young kids, they’re very impressionable,” he said.

The Argus: Children taking part in a Kicks sessionChildren taking part in a Kicks session (Image: The Brighton and Hove Albion Foundation)

“They’re very vulnerable and in some cases they come from very poor backgrounds so they haven’t quite got the support mechanisms that some kids are very lucky to have.

“We just see them as children. We’re non-judgemental.

“Generally, we see a massive improvement with people once they’ve become involved with us.

“Young people want to feel connected and loved and they want to find their own way. You can’t tell a child what to do a child has to decide what they want to do.

“It’s about giving them that space and that guidance when they need it and of course there are boundaries around behaviour.

“Young people are clever enough to know when something is good for them.

“When we’re all lonely and not in a good place we make bad decisions. That’s the same for children.”

Reboot mentors young people aged ten to 17 who are referred by Sussex Police.

Mentors provide support over a 12-week period to help identify strengths and support young people to feel good about themselves, create and achieve personal goals, feel confident about overcoming difficulties and setbacks and understand and manage emotions and behaviour.

This article is part of our Cut Knife Crime campaign.

Our mission is to reduce knife crime and the number of people being injured and killed in stabbings through:

  • Increasing the use of knife amnesty bins.
  • Educating young people about knife crime and making them aware of the effects it has on not just the victim, but those around them
  • Having more bleed control kits in pubs, shops and businesses

Targeted Kicks is part of a national Premier League programme, aimed specifically at young people aged eight to 12 who are involved with, or at risk of being involved with, serious youth violence.

Alongside football sessions, Targeted Kicks provides mentoring support for those young people, who have been referred to the programme by local organisations including police, social services and charities.

The Argus:

“With Reboot they have someone on their side, someone who is listening to them, they’ve got someone who is normalising their emotions, not their behaviour, but their emotions,” said Mr Schooley.

“Kicks gives people a social space and something to do.

“A lot of communication outside of school is done online and there’s no boundaries, no consequences for bad behaviour online. Things escalate quite quickly.

“Young people socialising with others from different backgrounds under supervision is priceless.”

Mr Schooley believes social isolation, online tensions and fear contributes to young people committing knife offences.

He also spoke of children becoming entangled in county lines drug dealing and the need for education to show young people the realities of the exploitative crime.

“It’s about reassuring young people that people aren’t out there to do each other over,” he said.

“It’s also about convincing people they have the skills to cope, they’re intelligent and there are better ways to earn money.

“Education is needed on the realities of working in county lines.”

The Argus: Martin leading a sessionMartin leading a session (Image: The Brighton and Hove Albion Foundation)

He has called for a more “joined up” approach between charities, police and other organisations to tackle the issue as well as a supportive environment for young people who are in trouble.

“I think we need to support young people when they’ve been identified rather than chastising them for it,” he said.

“There needs to be a non-judgemental approach and they need to be talked through the consequences.

“There are no winners, if you carry a knife you’re more likely to get in trouble than if you haven’t got a knife.

“We need a network that helps support young people make the right decisions.”