The Movers List: How Tanayah Sam is using cricket to help others learn from his mistakes

In 2005 Tanayah was sentenced to nine years for firearms possession, but this proved to be the turning point that saw him leave the criminal life behind

Emma Ledger
Friday 13 September 2019 09:10
LZS Movers - Tanayah Sam

“Sport has the potential to achieve real social change, it breaks down barriers,” says Tanayah Sam, an ex-convict turned urban youth specialist.

Between the ages 14 and 21 Tanayah's life spiralled deeper and deeper into crime; he went from selling weed to carrying a knife, gang feuds and stints in prison. In 2005 he was sentenced to nine years for firearms possession, but this proved to be the turning point that saw Tanayah leave the criminal life behind.

“I was determined to break the cycle, so I wrote a plan of what I was going to try to do when I got out of jail,” he says. “After a couple of years I had the opportunity to manage a sports academy in the prison I’d been in. It gave me a great platform to engage with prisoners through a six week programme of basketball, football and cricket, which gained them qualifications. Over the next five years I ended up working in 16 prisons across England.

“The serving prisoners knew I’d been through the system myself and wanted to know how I’d gone straight, and I had real insight into how they were feeling - for example the concerns they had about their release. They were nervous, and I knew what that’s like because I’ve been there. I’d learnt resilience and shared with them the realities of the obstacles they were going to face.”

Soon after, Tanayah combined his love of sport with his understanding of prison life to speak to young people at risk of following a similar path to him. He designed a programme to take into local secondary schools that uses cricket as a tool to open up frank discussions about antisocial behaviour and crime.

“If I’d known the real dangers of being involved in crime at an early age, I think my choices would’ve been different,” says Tanayah, 39. “Everything I saw in films, music videos - the gangsters - it all made it seem fun and alluring. It didn’t seem scary. I was even in jail with my dad in 2008 - there are loads of people who have family members inside who aren’t afraid of joining them.

“I’m on a mission to deglamourise crime and get young people to understand the reality. I found that using sport was a great way to highlight these difficult topics but for children to also feel good. It helps them understand the importance of having a healthy mindset and being physically healthy.”

Having initially set up on his own and visiting schools in his hometown Birmingham, Tanayah formed a company - TSA Sports and Education - earlier this year. He now runs a team of seven who have visited inner city schools from London to Cardiff, reaching over 10,000 young people in the last 12 months.

“We do workshops on knife crime, social media, county lines, healthy relationships for children aged between 11 and 16 - and we team most of what we do with sports - cricket, football and dodgeball, and we’re going to introduce basketball and table tennis.

“I truly believe sport is a better means of engaging young people in difficult issues. When we go into schools we start by asking if anyone knows someone who is in prison and most hands go up. It makes them feel like prison is not that serious - they see people come out ripped with muscles after serving time.

“We explain about prisoners not coping well, about them getting stabbed or raped, or their family members dying. We put out powerful messages, but by following that with sport it helps the information sink in better. The young people can let off steam, run around and be kids and have fun. Through the sport they can have these conversation but it somehow feels less heavy."

As well as partnering with charities such as Chance to Shine, which aims to give children the opportunity to learn through cricket, to run longer 12-week programmes, Tanayah’s work is also reactive, responding to communities where there have been serious violent acts.

"In one situation in Birmingham three young men were shot and one died. That week we worked in nine local schools, and found they knew about it in great detail, some actually knew the victims and were very concerned.

“In our sessions we could get them talking and spread the right information. Then we ended it by playing dodgeball, having fun and letting them forget the stress of what they’d just discussed.

Tanayah Sam is trying to give something back

Lucozade Sport has recognised Tanayah as one of 50 people who are using sport to change communities and encourage more active lives. Tanayah has played an important part in preventing disenfranchised young people in Britain from straying into a life of crime, steering them in a new direction using the platform of sport.

“I’ve seen myself how sport can be a vehicle for changing behaviour, so it’s amazing to be recognised on the Movers List,” he beams. “I just want the message to reach more and more people, my dream is to employ ex offenders to help me grow it further.

“When I speak about my experience I go all the way - I don’t hold anything back. I feel like the more I share the more young people will understand the realities and choose another path. A lot of them say they didn’t know it was really like that.

“The level of violence we’re seeing on our streets is young people trying to tell us something. Hurt people hurt people. They are trying to express their own suffering, so we need to listen, give them a platform and give them the right information to contribute to solutions.”

For more information about the Movers List and to find local facilities and classes to move more, visit

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