19/03/2012 18:49 GMT | Updated 19/05/2012 06:12 BST

Sport Relief - Sport Can Be a Lifeline for Young People

I grew up in Preston next to four housing estates and went to a school notorious for crime. A lot of the kids in my neighbourhood spent their time hanging around the streets nicking stuff and getting into trouble. For me it was all about the cricket.

The first time I played I was nine and wore a hand-me-down Man United tracksuit from the Smiths, who had six boys and lived across the street.

I played football at school too but that was mainly so I didn't get beaten up for being a cricket kid. I used to keep my head down and tried to get through school unscathed. That meant avoiding the kids outside the school gates that wanted to beat someone up.

But it was nothing like the levels of violence that happens on the estates here in London. I was lucky growing up because I had a solid family background and my dad and brother were into cricket.

Not all young people have a role model at home, opportunities, or hope for the future and that's why they can end up on the wrong track.

So projects like Street Elite run by the Lord's Taveners and Cricket For Change , which is funded by Sport Relief, can be a lifeline for young people who aren't in college or able to get a job.

Using Sport Relief cash, it trains young people living in some of the capital's most deprived areas to become sports coaches and deliver cricket, football and rugby sessions to kids on the kinds of estates where they've grown up.

The idea is that they'll inspire kids to live a crime-free life rather than join a gang and end up in prison, or even dead.

I met two of the trainee coaches recently who have either been in, or on the periphery of gangs but have now become role models.

18 year old Sulieman lives in Hackney and has lost several friends to gang related deaths.

Sulieman isn't in a gang but knows people who are and says children as young as 11 are carrying guns and drugs for older gang members and talking about wanting to shoot people. He loves cricket and youth works and wants to use his experiences to reach out to them.

Then there's Shaddai who was in a gang and has spent time in prison. He says prison changed his life for the better. Now all he wants to do is encourage kids to stay on a positive path.

It's great that a project like this gives young people the chance to turn their lives and the lives of others around. And I think it's really important that the person delivering the sessions is someone that the kids can relate to. It's making the very best out of what could have been a potentially bad situation.

I believe that sport gives you purpose and direction and a sense of being part of a team. It's obviously far better to focus on something positive, as opposed to something destructive. Sport makes you feel good and proud. Cricket has certainly done that for me.

I never expected to come here and hear some of things I have. There's clearly a lot of untapped cricketing talent out there and projects like this help make cricket more accessible to young people.

After visiting this project, I've seen where your money goes and know it makes a big difference.

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