Life-long participation in sport

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It seems like a long time ago now, playing sport in school, 14 years to be precise, maybe I wasn’t the best, that role was for the big kids! But I loved to play more than anything, as did my peers, fast forward 14 years and I’ve coached in the MLS, been a personal trainer and achieved an Honours degree in community sport development. But it still surprises me how often friends say ‘I wish we could play soccer every day like in school’. While some may feel I was blessed with a steady upbringing it’s shocking the mannor our children are being given access to sport especially how their experiences at a young age shapes their feelings for life.

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What are the benefits of sport?

For most the answer is usually either fun, to win or for fitness, sometimes a combination off all 3. Other benefits such as a lowering pressure on hospitals by increasing cardiovascular wellness, improving peoples social skills, offering alternatives to binge drinking or anti-social behaviour are often not thought about.

Amateur level and grass-roots sports offer the chance for local people to come together and enjoy something fun, learn to work in teams, motivate each other to succeed and enjoy something different and challenging in their lives. However there are many barriers to participating in sport such as:

  1. Financial barriers – not everyone can afford the price to take part in sport.
  2. Opportunities – Lack of sport in an area or lack of information about sports available in a community.
  3. Previous experiences – Poor previous experiences often deter people from returning to play.
  4. Health issues – Feeling unable to take part in sport or physical fitness.
  5. Motivation – Do not recognize the benefits of taking part.
  6. Religion – Some religious beliefs prevent the chance to participate particularly in mixed sex recreation facilities.

A distinct lack of tackling these issues is causing a direct negative influence on peoples lives. It may seem unsurprising that the US has the highest level of obesity ( and while crusaders like Jamie Oliver, may point the finger towards food options offered to children I feel it’s time we also look at recreation opportunities.

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So what can we do?

As coaches, parents and volunteers in the sports industry you’re already helping massively by dedicating time and effort in this field (no pun intended).

Whilst I’d love to lecture about best practices in training and key disciplines sports clubs should take I’ll lengthen the lifespan of my  trusty keyboard with the following simple ideas that should help your club, your players and yourself develop:

  1. Especially at a young age sport should always be played for fun and development we are not playing to become professional at this age and our motivation should remain intangible.
  2. Advertise as much as possible particularly in schools and try to setup links from schools to your club it benefits your registration and peoples knowledge of opportunities.
  3. Parents who shout ‘encouragement’ in anyway considered pressured or undermining should be spoken to regarding the teams firm stance on playing for fun. Many studies show the detrimental affect pushy parents can have, there’s a great article here about this.
  4. Children love being in charge because it’s not something they experience very often so utilize opportunuties for them to be in control of their own learning. For example in football you can place a target on the floor and mark different distances to throw from giving the player the choice of where to aim from.
  5. Always, always use positive reinforcement this can not be underestimated these early stage experiences are key to long lasting affinity to physical activity as well as being directly motivational at the time.
  6. As parents and coaches you act as the biggest motivator of all, children want to impress you so encourage them to take part and remind them that the final result is not as important as taking part.
  7. When playing a fixture it is of the highest importance that game time be shared equally. Do you think it’s likely you’ll remember a U10 hockey game you played in? Do you think you’re more likely to remember a U10 hockey game your coach played you for 2 minutes in?
  8. Any rules you implement must be enforced e.g. ‘if you don’t come to practise you don’t play at the weekend’. If you can’t enforce this rule you can’t expect children to play fair either or listen to referee rules.

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I’m sure a lot of this is common sense but I hope it helps as a reminder that yes we want people to play sport and enjoy it but we should also aim to shape each child’s life-long participation.


Peter Cosgrove

About This Author

Peter is a former professional sports coach and current community manager for teampages.com

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