Sporting Future: a new strategy for an Active Nation, the first sports strategy for England in 13 years, promises to focus energy and resources in new ways to get more people active. It’s a wide-ranging document, covering more than 80 pages, so here’s a summary of some of the most important points.
First, funding will be targeted at specific groups with lower than average participation rates, including women, people with disabilities, those in lower socio-economic groups and older people.
This has to be good news. Research shows that disadvantaged young people are far less likely to play sport than their more affluent peers, yet 70% want to do more sport. In part this comes down to a lack of opportunity - young people in these communities have fewer chances to play sport than their more affluent peers.
Second, there is an increased focus on encouraging physical activity, rather than just traditional sport participation.
This is a smart move. Many people want to do more team sports like football, but the traditional sporting offer doesn’t work for everyone. We need to be braver and more innovative in our thinking, addressing not just how we introduce people to sport, but how we keep them coming back for more.
For years, organisations like StreetGames, our network of projects and our partners and National Governing Bodies have been pioneering new ways to get young people active.
From consulting with thousands of young people across the UK, we've created sessions that meet their needs. Young people say to us that they want a vibrant and varied offer that requires little commitment and is more social than competitive. We call it ‘doorstep sport’.
They tell us they that prefer doorstep sport or other traditional offers. Young people like to relate to the group leader who they feel runs flexible sessions for their benefit and often the doorstep sport coach will come from a nearby estate.
The preference for non-traditional sports is more pronounced amongst women. Many women see the environment of traditional sport as 'not for them'. The girls we work with tell us they want to take part in activities which are informal and fun, whether that's a Zumba class, a casual hit with a badminton racket once a week, or multi-sport sessions where anything goes.
Third, funding will be available to organisations that activate children as young as five.
The end to the embargo on central government expenditure on children under 14 is a welcome game-changer. It will be especially important in disadvantaged areas all over the country where excellent youth sport projects cry out for support for their work with this younger age group. If a child has lots of choice of cheap fun-sport on their doorstep, there is a good chance they will become active for life.
Another overarching theme of the strategy is that sport should be used to deliver social good. Indeed, the Prime Minister says, “We will be much bolder in harnessing the potential of sport for social good.”
We wholeheartedly support the recognition of volunteering as a stand alone form of engagement which is "a good opportunity to build social inclusion and community cohesion." Volunteers benefit sports projects, develop skills and gain qualifications that improve the chances of gaining employment.
In line with the Government’s ambition to create 3m apprenticeships, the strategy challenges the world of sport to be better at employing apprentices. StreetGames is leading Trailblazer, sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills that shapes a new apprenticeship programme in sport for good.
The new qualification will be train mainly young people - many of whom will themselves have been involved in ‘sport for good’ programmes – to change lives and change communities through sport. This new qualification is designed to meet the demands of the new sports landscape that is shaped by this new strategy.
The strategy is a positive step for communities that are blighted by high rates unemployment and anti-social behaviour. Joining a well-designed youth sports club can help young people to keep themselves out of trouble and give them a way of life that improves their chances in the employment market.
Overall, the strategy is good news. It aligns Government policy with ways of working that demonstrably change lives and change communities. The strategy accepts it’s vital to support young people to find their own way to an active lifestyle, empower them to make healthier, positive lifestyle choices, and to provide more volunteering opportunities. From now on, sports providers will be expected to design their offer around the customer’s needs and motivations and to design out the barriers that people face to becoming active.
But setting a strategy is one thing – making it work is where the real job begins. At StreetGames, we’re looking forward to working with the Sport England and the wider sports community to deliver on the strategy’s ambition and get the nation active.
Jane Ashworth OBE is StreetGames Chief Executive.