Natural Born Leaders nurtured at Alliance partner Strike Martial Arts Academy

05/04/2019 – Under the guidance of multiple world kickboxing champion Daniel Quigley, Strike Martial Arts Academy, a Fight for Peace Alliance member in Northern Ireland, is nurturing groups of young people to fulfil their leadership potential. Strike’s programme, Natural Born Leaders, works to support young people to build leadership skills and have a positive impact on their peers and their community, all alongside their martial arts training. The programme is delivered in partnership with St Columbs Park House, a fellow Alliance member based locally in Derry-Londonderry.

“Natural Born Leaders is a continuation of a previous project called M-Powered that we delivered to a group of around 25 teenagers. That programme ran for three years and 13 members of this group decided to progress on to this new two year Natural Born Leaders project”, explains Daniel Quigley, Head of Strike Martial Arts Academy.

On the programme, participants continue their combat sports training, which is at the core of Strike, but this is combined with personal development, all with a focus on leadership. “What we are doing is encouraging the young people to build their leadership skills”, says Daniel. “Some of the group have become mentors and peer leaders in the junior combat sports sessions and participants have also taken courses leading to national qualifications in citizenship, sports leadership and youth work. It is all about continuously trying to give them the opportunities to progress their skills.”

Plans are in place to create a formal youth council responsible for discussing issues that are going on in the community, and in the academy, and a space for young people to have input in strategic decision making processes. “We have been fortunate to be able to work with these young people over three years, with an extra two now being added, and so the programmes have had a really big impact on the young people’s lives,” says Daniel. “This is something that we are really excited about and we can track their progress as they go on to university, full time employment or whatever they want do.”

The communities that Strike serves face a number of issues including those related to suicide and mental health, sectarianism, drug abuse and bullying.  For Daniel, the personal development element of Strike’s programming really makes them stand out. “We do a lot of anti-bullying work and talking about sectarianism. Earlier this year there was a bomb in Derry and so it is trying to break down the barriers. We are a mixed club and so religion doesn’t matter, Strike is a safe space for young people and it is located in a neutral venue and so it attracts young people from all areas and all communities.”

The work done at the Strike Academy itself , meanwhile, is only one element of the Natural Born Leaders programme – a separate part is run at a local prison. In this arm of the programme, groups of up to five individuals complete an eight-week course which combines non-contact sport with personal development activities. As Daniel explains, the programme creates a safe space where participants can work through issues they are facing in their lives: “We work with young men aged 18 to 23, we do non-contact sport and mediation and we talk about self-control and the values that sports give you. We then apply that to everyday life – it’s very powerful.” This approach has seen notable success, namely in terms of reducing anxiety amongst participants and helping improve sleeping patterns.

Having attended training at the London Academy three years ago, Strike continues to be a part of the knowledge exchange and mutual support which is central to the Fight for Peace Alliance. “The Alliance has been a massive help and it is something that I am really glad I got involved in”, notes Daniel, “I have been going for five years here with Strike and to be connected with other clubs has been a massive help and I hope a massive help also in the future as we keep going forward.”