I have been working with young people since I was 19 years old. One of my favourite questions to ask a young person is, “What’s your dream?” It was this exact question that led me to seek assistance for a youth to fulfil his dream to become a boxer.
Narish, the youth, has made significant strides in the Singaporean boxing scene. He faced many childhood adversities and did not have role models to guide him while he was growing up. Personally, I witnessed his growth as he picked up boxing. He managed to overcome his unfortunate circumstances to achieve greatness in the boxing realm, which translated to growth in his other spheres of life.
It got me wondering how effective it would be if I could enrol more youths in a boxing programme. This was when I chanced upon the Spartans Youth Outreach Boxing programme and decided to enrol a couple of my youths. The journey that awaited me was beyond my wildest imagination.
The story of “Zack”
Zack’s life wasn’t easy, filled with domestic violence and neglect. Led away from familial safety, he sought solace in gangs, substance abuse, and promiscuity.
His transformation came when he joined Spartans boxing youth outreach programme. There, he met many people and heard many stories. One of the most inspiring moments for Zack was with Amir Khan. Amir Khan was one of the guest speakers. He shared his life story on how martial arts impacted his life. Amir Khan pursued his dreams against the odds that he faced in his life. He didn’t let setbacks or limitations determine the path he was going to take. This showed Zack that a life of crime was not the only pathway forward.
The story of “Dan”
Dan’s life was full of unrelenting crisis, filled with abuse. He was removed by the child protective services to be placed in safe places. Often, he found himself suicidal in prolonged depressive states.
Dan’s high point in life came after joining Spartans boxing youth outreach programme. He managed to pick him up through sheer determination and the physical activity helped his condition. Over time, his moods stabilised and he was motivated to do boxing. He was even offered an admin job at one of the clubs which allowed him to sustain himself. The change motivated him to complete N levels and enrol with ITE. Now, he is in higher Nitec and trying his best to complete the programme. This gives him a fighting chance in life to achieve bigger things for himself.
Some of these boys were victims of complex trauma as a result of the numerous adversities they experienced in their childhood. Yet, they came out as victors after joining a boxing programme. For them, a more active approach such as boxing was beneficial for managing the physical impacts of trauma. I witnessed how boxing relieved their tension rather than them trying to calm their impulses through their former coping mechanisms. I discovered that the youths were able to experience significant release as they were working with the impulse and energy rather than against it.
I can personally testify of the transformation of every youth in the programme. Their growth began when they were willing to try something new like boxing. They had embraced their failures and worked through their discomfort. This process of redefining discomfort was a necessary part of adopting a growth mindset: It meant that they showed up even when they didn’t have the mood for it. It meant that they pressed on when they felt like giving up.
Pressing through these moments of discomfort fostered their growth. Over time, the boys learned to push past their comfort zone and understood what progress looked like. You have to dig deep and press on sometimes, and the programme helped facilitate the process, strengthening their individual sense of grit.
Project Grit, which will be done in partnership between Impart and Spartans Boxing Club, builds on these youths’ experiences to bring something better. Group therapy is interwoven with traditional boxing and fitness training to bring a programme that marries the best of mind and body care.
The 12 week pilot will work with youths aged 13-18 years, with sessions split into two parts. The first half consists of group therapy led by a clinical psychologist / psychotherapist and the second half is traditional boxing and fitness training led by a professional boxer and boxing coach.
Through group therapy, youths are equipped with practical skills which empowers them in terms of interests, education and/ or employment.
Through boxing training, youths will learn boxing fundamentals and self-defense techniques while promoting the development of physical fitness and healthier lifestyle habits.
Drawing on the power of community, this programme uses the Developmental Relationships Framework to engage and nurture the youths-facing- adversities. The youths will be brought on learning journeys to visit different companies for exposure to possible working environments. And there will be guest speakers from varied walks of life who will inspire the youths to aspire towards their future selves with their life stories.
Put together, we will empower a community of peer supporters, volunteers, role models and professionals to support youths-facing-adversity in a safe, trauma-informed space to build resilience, and mental health skills, inculcating values, and imparting relevant life/vocational skills using a psychological toolkit called FutureSelves.
I hope every little moment of interaction during Project Grit will help youths-facing-adversity to experience a span of new narratives about themselves, their prospects, and their communities. Consequently, youths will be better positioned for adulthood and the workplace.