The “Leher playground” in Bremerhaven’s Goethequartier on a Sunday afternoon: Aytac Alsancak has laid out mats between two shipping containers – the open-air boxing ring is ready. 17 children aged 4 to 13 are waiting impatiently for boxing training to start. The 21-year-old Alsancak has been giving voluntary boxing lessons in the hotspot district for a year; Wednesdays in the mosque, Sundays in the “Leher schoolyard”. He does this as part of the “Hood Training” initiative.

“There is always life here,” says “Hood Training” founder Daniel Magel and lets his gaze wander over the square with play equipment, large open space and children playing. The 40-year-old wants to offer kids solid structures and a perspective with free boxing training in troubled areas. “During boxing training you learn respect, punctuality, helpfulness and cleanliness,” says Magel. Much of this is not a given for young people in problem areas; they are often among the “educational losers”. “It’s important for them to do something where they can assert themselves.”

The educator launched “Hood Training” in Bremen 13 years ago – what this means is training in your own neighborhood. The initiative has now grown into a highly regarded social enterprise financed by donations and sponsorships. It is active in socially disadvantaged areas, especially in Bremen, but also in Berlin, Hamburg and Munich.

Magel came from Kazakhstan when she was twelve

Magel knows life in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods from personal experience. At the age of twelve he came to Germany with his family from Kazakhstan. A year later, the family moved into one of the many high-rise buildings in Bremen-Tenever. He hung out a lot with “guys who weren’t so easy.” Alcohol, drugs and crime were on the agenda. “I did a lot of shit before I graduated high school.”

But that’s not all: while he was still at school, he and his friends offered boxing training to children in the high-rise complex. A housing company made empty rooms available free of charge. After graduating from high school, the friends parted ways and the sports program stopped. After studying special education to become a teacher, Magel picked up where he left off, founded “Hood Training” and built the first open-air gym in Tenever.

“Finish school”

Because of his success, others followed in other parts of the city, as well as in the correctional facility, where he worked as a social worker for several years. In addition to boxing and strength training, “Hood Training” now also offers music competitions, school groups, video projects, hip-hop workshops and graffiti learning holidays. The network that Magel has built up for this purpose consists of trainers, educators, graphic designers and artists. Along the way, the children got to know role models who encouraged them and said: “Finish school,” says Magel.

This Sunday in Bremerhaven it’s all about boxing. Coach Alsancak is busy taming the lively 17 children for an orderly training session. “The offer has been very well received,” says Chris Carstens from the “Quartiersmeisterei Lehe”, which coordinates the offers at the “Leher Pausenhof” for the city.

The coach as a role model

Alsancak is there every Sunday to train the children. Even the little ones are here without parents. “I didn’t have anything like that,” he says. With a role model like he is for the children, things in his life might have turned out differently. He started boxing early and even fought at championships. But at the age of 15 he started “doing nonsense”. “I was disoriented and had the wrong friends.” When he was 18, someone plunged a knife into his chest, just missing his heart. He says his religion and boxing gave him the strength to change his life. The voluntary boxing lessons for the kids “became his passion”. “The children are the future,” says Alsancak, who earns his living as a temporary worker.

One person who comes to training regularly is 16-year-old Philip. Boxing training is not only fun for him, it also helps him in everyday life, he says: “I can control my emotions better.” When he’s 18, he wants to train children like Alsancak.

Magel is impressed by Alsancak’s efforts. “He’s reliable, punctual and a stable guy. That’s what counts,” he says. Next year, Alsancak will begin training as a social assistant at “Hood Training”. “We have a lot of plans for him,” says Magel. On Sundays he will continue to train with children and young people at the “Leher playground”. Real ring ropes will soon be added around the open-air boxing ring.