I have been working in the sports sector for 18 years now and during that time, ironically, my activity levels have gone from running six miles a day, playing various sports and keeping active at weekends to just being active at weekends with family. Why and how has this happened to me after being a “sporty person” all my life? Well ‘life’ just got in the way – full time job, kids, travel, injury, volunteering – you get the picture!
The trend of inactivity and declining participation numbers with age is nothing new – or indeed surprising – but it was brought into sharp focus last week with the launch of Sport England’s new strategy. Over the next four years it will be investing £250 million – nearly a quarter of its budget – into getting the inactive more active.
One thing in particular that caught my eye in the new strategy was the inclusion of a behaviour change model that acknowledges that people – very much like myself – fall in and out of sport as they move through their lives. It’s important, as it recognises different inventions are needed to engage different groups and marks a subtle move to a more tailored, bottom-up investment approach.
So what can be done to tackle inactivity amongst women and girls and is there anything we can learn from community sport?
Research by Sport England shows that for a large majority of women it is down to worrying about being judged by others. Hence the run-away success of its ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, which challenges the preconception that those that do sport are fit and healthy, whereas most of us women, however fit, do jiggle, wiggle and wobble…a little or a lot!
Sport England’s insightful ‘Go Where Women Are’ research explores our current understanding of women, their relevant motivations, barriers and triggers to getting more active. Interestingly, when you look at some of the key principles in the report they mirror exactly the same reasons why Sported member groups are so successful at engaging young people in sport and physical activity. For example, changing the offer to suit the people you are targeting; taking activity into the community; using positivity and encouragement to drive action.
It’s the last principle however, that really hits home – ‘People make or break the experience’. The quality of the overall experience, from the welcome you get when you first walk through the doors to the quality of the actual sporting sessions, really is fundamental. But as one of the softer, more intangible aspects of sporting delivery, unfortunately it’s all too often overlooked.
Provide a positive experience that people enjoy, want to repeat, talk about and recommend to friends, and whether you’re female or male, young or old, instead of “life getting in the way”, people will find a way of getting it into their lives.
Tackling inactivity is a key objective for all home nation governments, so what more can be done to help community groups support this goal? We’d love to know what you think, so please leave your comments, ideas and thoughts below.