Youth MMA programme sees incredible results in Northern Ireland

Illustration: Graphic comparing reported attitudes of young people at the beginning and end of the Youth MMA project The Ulster Amateur MMA Association (UAMMAA) has reached the conclusion of its pilot youth MMA programme, “Fight to Unite”, and has reported inspiring results following an independent evaluation. The Fight to Unite pilot ran for 18 months as a government funded collaboration between UAMMAA and the Northern Ireland Youth Forum. The youth program is a continuous fixture at the ZKJ Dojo north of Belfast. UAMMAA President Danny Corr provided with survey results (scroll down for graphics and comments) from an independent evaluation highlighting tremendous social and community development as a result of Fight to Unite. The results will now be used to source additional funding and the prove value of MMA within communities. The report stated: “We have witnessed very significant distance travelled in the delivery of this project. Many of the young people have continued to engage with NIYF and the ZKJ DoJo. We see it as a hugely significant piece of work and are further developing the methodology with the support of agencies that we have identified as being equipped to offer additional support to at risk young people. We are now branding this work as ‘Fight to Unite’ and can see a significant strategic fit to T:BUC and various other government policy.”

Above: Fight to Unite youth mentors Pearse McFall, Jack Corr and Emmet Corr, with UFC referee and IMMAF consultant Marc Goddard
Against the backdrop of a troubled history in the region, Northern Ireland’s national governing body for amateur MMA announced last year the government’s recognition of the benefits that MMA can bring to youths in building positive relationships across divided parts of the community. Youths from the age of 11 to 18 attended for free to learn aspects of MMA, health and fitness, plus personal and social development within their community. Fight to Unite is funded through a government Strategy called “Together: Building a United Community (TBUC)”, and is based on four key priorities aimed at building on the progression that has been made in the community over recent years:

  • Children and young people.
  • Shared community.
  • Safe community.
  • Cultural expression.

In addition, the Ulster MMA Association hosted the in-demand IMMAF certification course for officials, hosted by UFC referee and and IMMAF consultant Marc Goddard. The international level certification course for referees and judges took place on September 17 & 18 at the New Centre in Belfast. Entry requirements included national level certification and recommendation plus two years of officiating experience. Goddard summarized his ‘fantastic’ experience in Northern Ireland, explaining that all comers, regardless of experience, left the course having gained valuable knowledge. He also paid tribute to the inspiring efforts of the UAMMAA team who are ushering in great development for sport at a grass roots level. “It was fantastic,” Goddard told “There are always varying degrees of experience, some of the guys had been around from way back and are very experienced referees, but everyone left the course having learned and gained more experience and clarity to take forward and spread across their country and regional shows that they work with. It was a good time, it always is, and there’s nothing more fulfilling than taking part in these certification courses and seminars. “I was so happy for those guys in Ulster. UAMMAA is its own body, separate from the UK. Danny Corr, Rodney Moore, and a shout out to a guy called Declan McFall who is the silent man in all this, those guys’ outlook and attitude with Danny is so encouraging. I can’t say enough, it’s so positive, warming and welcoming. I love what they’re about; I would say to other countries, talk to UAMMAA and see what’s working for them because they are reaping the rewards.” Young people’s comments on what they felt they learnt from taking part in Fight to Unite, recorded via survey. Scroll down for comparative charts illustrating outcome of participation: I don’t like it when people use bad words to describe other people based on their religion or skin colour. It has give me a better understanding of other cultures, and helped me change stereotypes that I had of other communities They are just the same as us you know, I mean they are in to football, fishing, MMA and all the rest – just because they are a different religion doesn’t matter Young people can be the solution to lots of these problems. We don’t usually get a say in these things but we have a right to I have changed big time! I now respect people regardless of their race or culture It has helped me have a better understanding and treat people the way I would like to be treated I have learnt that there are no differences and learnt to respect people from what they come from and what they do I look at things differently and get involved with things more, instead of just sitting there and let other people do it. I feel I am a better person Confident, patient, relaxed, independent, wanting to talk more When we looked at other religions I realised that the Islamic people’s culture sounds really interesting This programme has helped me to understand more about people from different backgrounds. It breaks down barriers that were in your head from before We’ve learnt a little about social class and the troubles – its rubbish that it’s all the poor ones that are affected the worse – being poor is one thing that makes us the same A lot of the trouble has involved adults. We want to work to make our community better I have a better understanding of events that happen ‘on the other side’ which I did not before, no one ever explained to me things the way it happened Before the course I never really interacted much with ‘the other side’. I had no negative views but I didn’t really have knowledge of any other communities I have more courage to give my opinions. I understand more about other cultures and religions. I understand more about what’s on the news. I look at things differently and get involved with things more, instead of just sitting there and let other people do it. I feel I am a better person. I don’t feel the same sense of anger or hatred towards other communities. I’ve grown up in the shadow of an orange arch in my community along with flags and emblems which have made me fearful. Whilst I don’t agree I can understand the opinions of my friends who identify with these things. We got time and space to talk about some really hard issues. This allowed us to try and understand what is going on in the news a bit better. I have seen my confidence grow highly throughout the duration of the course, even my views on different religions. I have learnt to respect other cultures just as I respect my own. I learnt loads and loved the youth work bit. This project has really helped me. I now have a job due to the confidence it has given me. I feel better about myself, my community and people different from me now. I want to live in a place where my culture is respected. I felt this during this programme. Bigotry is a cancer in our Society. This project has helped me understand that diversity is a good thing. Prior to this I was not so sure. Make love not war!!!!! I have grown as a person and can see physical and mental benefits. My outlook of the North of Ireland is different and more positive now. I used to use drugs and get involved in some bad stuff – sectarian stuff. The DoJo has changed my life. I have learnt so much and the project has given me purpose in life. I want to do more and believe I can achieve. I used to not know anyone from another community – now I have loads of good friends and see we are all the same ulster-data-1 ulster-data-2 ulster-data-7 ulster-data-6 ulster-data-5 ulster-data-4 ulster-data-3 By lead writer and website manager, Jorden Curran

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