Skip to main content

The importance of sport

17 December 2015

Engagement in sport and physical activity by children and young people needs to be thought of as a journey...different offers need to complement each other, but also recognise the transitions that young person experience” Sporting Future: A Strategy for an Active Nation Turning 16 is one of the most important transitional periods of life. It is when young people start to determine the direction of their lives and form habits which continue into adulthood. That’s why the drop off in participation in sport and physical activity post-16 needs to be tackled. The decline in sport participation is well documented. The 2015 Active People research found that participation levels at age 14 are 80% for boys and 70% for girls. Once they reach 18 there is a sharp drop – to 60% for boys and 40% for girls. The Government’s new strategy Sporting Future: A Strategy for an Active Nation, published today, takes a new approach to getting people active for life. Instead of counting participants and looking at structures and organisations, it focusses on the needs of individuals and communities. This is a positive step in the right direction. It’s hoped that with careful investment and partnership working, the participation drop off can finally be halted. But this can only be achieved with the help of a sector which has more experience of working with this age group in larger numbers than any other – colleges. There are 335 further education (FE) and sixth form colleges in England, which together educate over three million people including 773,000 16 to 18-year-olds (compared to 442,000 in maintained schools and academy sixth forms). In the past, very few agencies have understood the work of colleges, and colleges themselves have sometimes found it hard to understand sporting networks outside further education. However, the Active Colleges programme, funded by Sport England Lottery fund, and the creation of AoC Sport as the lead agency for college sport and physical activity, has made a real difference both strategically and in terms of local participation. What’s pleasing is that there are a number of parallels between the experience of the college sector in recent years and the direction of the strategy. Individual development A focus on individual needs is core business for colleges. In 2013, the Government introduced Study Programmes, and colleges now provide students with a rich mix of qualifications, work experience, volunteering, English, maths and employability skills – so they are fully equipped to move onto higher study or employment. Investment to help colleges integrate physical activity into these programmes of study is a proven method of either retaining or re-kindling the interest of young people in sport or being active, and it should be maintained and developed. Social and community development Colleges are diverse and vibrant and operate in every local community. Each one works with an average of nearly 600 employers. Around 29% of adults and 22% of young people in colleges are from an ethnic minority background, whilst 111,000 are aged over 60. There are 140 sport venues, 240 restaurants, and 50 theatres run by colleges – all acting as community centres with a critical social function. With targeted interventions, we can use these to combine physical activity or sport opportunities and increase participation significantly. Physical well-being and mental well-being Since 2012 there has been a 5% rise in sport and physical activity participation amongst FE students, and the proportion of participants who are female has risen from 30% to 34%. In addition to the Active Colleges programme, one of the reasons for this increase has been the creation of AoC Sport to help colleges develop a strategic approach to sport and physical activity. This has been achieved despite cuts to college funding. Economic development For every £1 invested into college courses, there’s an economic return of between £20 and £30. Colleges have used sport not only to widen participation but also to show how the development of a broad sport curriculum and quality teaching and learning can develop partnerships with employers, national governing bodies of sport, professional clubs and community sport. These have a lasting effect on education, employment and health outcomes, and make a significant contribution to core college business and the local economy. With AoC Sport now working closely with ukactive, Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity, employer groups, and contributing to the development of new apprenticeship standards, the ability of colleges to deliver against the skills requirements of the industry has never been greater. Sport and physical activity makes a real impact. Research with students found that 72% who took part in college sport said it enhanced the student experience and 79% said it improved their mental wellbeing. Until now, the potential of the college sector has been almost completely overlooked in the sport system. The Government’s new strategy offers a real opportunity to invest in capacity at a local level to change behaviour, halt the post-16 drop off and influence lifelong habits. Colleges are well placed to deliver and we’ll be working to make sure it’s achieved. Clare Howard is the Former Deputy Managing Director of AoC Sport.