Lots of little victories add up to a big difference made

January 22, 2019

Victory Boxing is an inspirational Nelson organisation that is achieving incredible things with the young people in its community. We sat down with founder Paul Hampton to find out what makes this gym tick.

How has Victory Boxing grown, and what is it like today?

In 2013, we had about 60 kids coming through our doors, and we just ran the one programme. Now we run six days a week, and last year we had 450 kids in our youth programme, and we have a programme for people with Parkinson’s disease, and a programme for women recovering from breast cancer. Another group we get regularly is the Inclusive Sports Trust, which brings in people with disabilities and special needs.

And we have many hundreds of people coming through our fitness classes. Those classes aren’t just about getting fit; as with all our programmes, it’s about mental health and overall wellbeing. That’s why we make sure we’ve got a welcoming environment. We get a whole range of sports teams; we’ve had the NZ Sevens in, we’ve had Crusaders, All Blacks and Defence Force groups.

Our youth programme is still our main focus and the backbone of our organisation. And one of our key principles is that everyone is the same. So the NZ Sevens players will train beside someone who has been on the couch for 10 years and is trying to make a change. That’s how we do it – everyone is treated like an individual, and one who is going a bit better can help another one along.

Some people see the word ‘boxing’ and think we’re all about training people to fight. That could not be further from the truth. We are teaching those skills, but it’s very much about the bigger picture. We are always talking to the kids about what’s expected both in and out of the gym, and about upholding our values – Respect, Responsibility, Caring and Determination.

For many of our kids, they have done bloody well just to get to the gym. So when they get here we are very consistent and organised. We always start with a welcome and fruit and water, and that’s always ready when they get here. A lot of young people don’t have consistency in their lives so we make sure we are super consistent.

What do you do, as Programme Director?

My role involves making sure the environment is catering for everyone coming through the door, making sure our standards stay really high, looking after all our volunteers, looking after our gym and our gear, and working with our board, who are very passionate about the work we do.

I also often get asked to speak about our story, which is a nice thing to do. And another big thing is strategy – making sure we’re running a really tight ship, having a clear plan, securing our funding, and making sure we’re always improving and looking forward.

We also work with partners – the police, Oranga Tamariki, and alternative education providers. With some of our young people, we have to work very closely with them. That involves visiting schools, going to meetings, putting together plans for our higher-risk kids.

What sort of positive changes have you seen from the youth programme?

We had one young guy who was very well-known to the police. He wasn’t feeling supported by his family, he wasn’t eating well, wasn’t doing any of those important basics.

We got him into the gym and he ended up training six days a week. We did a lot of work around food, sleep and making the right choices. We got him into some alternative education so he could get the NCEA levels that he needed. He even ended up doing some competing.

Those scenarios don’t come without their battles. The kids have so much going on that’s out of your control. They can make 99 good decisions and one bad one, and then you have to go back to the drawing board. It’s not all fairytale stuff. But it just comes down to caring about their future.

A lot of young people that we deal with are in a bad place; they are talking about self-harming. If you can be part of the process that gets them to where they can see the light at the end of the tunnel, that feels good.

Can you tell me about your coaching staff? How does Skills Active come into the picture?

I often get people asking to be volunteers, and we are very selective. We are heavily reliant on our volunteers and we’re lucky that they are so professional and committed. So we sat down with Denise [Clarke] from Skills Active and talked about some options for further development, and she suggested the National Certificate in Developing Coach.

That was a fantastic opportunity for us because the training is so comprehensive; it has made it easy to get our people ready to meet all the necessary criteria. For instance, working with kids, we’ve got the Vulnerable Children’s Act to adhere to, and Book One in the Skills Active programme is all about ethics. Then there is session planning, managing groups, health and safety, being professional and appropriate, speaking correctly, using the right terminology, and so on.

Right from the word go I noticed our volunteers were upping their game. Their competence and confidence levels increased. I went from a place where I was running all of the groups, to then just being present, to not having to be present – I could be in the office working with other people.

Along with that, Shane Cameron runs a short course called Counterpunch and he was down here in 2018, so we paid for all our guys to do that course as well.

What we’ve seen is that our numbers remain really high, because the coaching is good, the environment is good, the sense of belonging is there. If the coaching is poor, people don’t turn up. When people are consistently here in large numbers, that is the best feedback you can have.

For our young people, it’s great when they see their trainers looking to learn and grow. But also for our volunteers, they may have come in here with their own little battles, and this is an opportunity to improve themselves and get a qualification when that wasn’t on their radar before.

What’s next for Victory Boxing?

One thing we’ve got planned for in 2019 is a trip to Redfern in Sydney. We are going over with our Police Youth Aid officer. They have a similar programme there that is in partnership with the police. This is an important trip for us because although there are a lot of boxing gyms in New Zealand, what we do community-wise is a little bit rare. So this is about learning and inspiration and motivation, finding ways to get better, and looking at pathways for our people once they have graduated from our youth programme.



Photo: Paul Hampton, at right, with Developing Coach graduate Amber Rowland-Connor, centre, and Skills Active's Denise Clarke, at left.