YOUNG people are sharpening up their football skills as well as keeping out of trouble in a new project in Blackbird Leys.

Oxford United has started the scheme with support from Thames Valley Police to offer free coaching sessions to youngsters.

The force is encouraging eight to 19-year-olds to the evening Blackbird Leys Leisure Centre sessions in a bid to stamp out antisocial behaviour by giving them activities to be involved in.

Those who attend will sign a police behavioural contract and will lose the right to attend the two-hour sessions if this is breached.

Players are also set to attend some of the sessions, paid for with a £10,000 grant from Oxford City Council, to run twice weekly during the Easter, Summer and Christmas holidays.

Club community and development officer Rob Lees said: “The main reason we are doing this is to reduce crime in the Blackbird Leys area and give young people a brighter future.

“We are hoping to put on these coaching sessions to get more young people involved and get them out of crime and give them something to do.”

Ten youngsters attended the first session last Thursday and each can take up to 20 participants, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Player ambassadors Josh Ruffels, who works with eight to 11-year-olds, Jake Wright, who looks after the 12 to 15-year-olds, and Michael Raynes for 16 to 19-year-olds, are set to make appearances.

The application to the council’s holiday activities fund for the grant was supported with statistics from Sgt Mark Brock of the Blackbird Leys neighbourhood policing team.

He said: “The idea is that when the children arrive they have to sign a behavioural contract. Should they then breach this then they are asked to leave the initiative. To them that is a big deal.”

Many issues the scheme seeks to tackle are not crimes, he said, but “kids hanging around with nothing to do, kicking balls against windows, annoying people, kids being kids to be honest”.

Latest figures, for February, show 60 reports of antisocial behaviour to police in Blackbird Leys, Greater Leys, Rose Hill and Littlemore compared to 42 in February 2013.

He said: “We are hoping this will impact the needless antisocial behaviour that is reported and free up police to concentrate on other crimes.”

Eight-year-old JJ Taylor, from Blackbird Leys, took part in the event on Tuesday.

He said: “We played a match and a penalty shoot out. It was really fun.”

A city council spokesman said: “We are pleased to be able to award Oxford United Football Club with money from the council’s holiday activities grant which will enable young people to take part in football activities during the summer.”