Jennie Price: Getting the most out of grassroots sport
Tuesday, 17 July 2012
For the first time, more than 15 million people in England are playing sport every week. This is 1.3 million more than when we won the Olympic bid.
The fact that more people are choosing to play sport is the result of both strong investment and a fresh determination among those involved in community sport to make it more relevant to those that matter – the participants. It's fair to say there was a time when if you wanted to play sport you needed to fit in with what was on offer. Now sport is starting to fit in with what you need. Many sports are really listening to what people want and then delivering it.
There's a way to go, but we are starting to see the investment and change of approach having an impact on the numbers. Our latest research shows that in the last six months, 21 sports saw an increase in participation.
The Olympic and Paralympic Games are helping by putting sport in the shop window as never before. Sports that would usually struggle to attract any media attention will be beamed into millions of homes. We know that this alone won't transform grassroots sport, but it gives those sports a brilliant opportunity to reach out to more people.
Take hockey for example. They missed a trick in 1988 and since London won the bid, they've been working hard to make sure that, this time, they're in a great place to turn the inspiration of the Games into participation. Through their Hockey Nation campaign and their version of the Torch Relay – the Big Dribble (pictured above) – they've increased participation by 25,000 in the past six months.
It's really important we make sure that people in every corner of the country benefit from the Games coming to our nation – and that's where our Olympic legacy programme Places People Play is making a difference.
Today we're announcing more than £19 million ($30 million/€24 million) of investment in 377 community sport projects the length and breadth of England through our Inspired Facilities fund.
We know that tired and run down facilities can be off-putting to and stop people taking part. By addressing this issue and investing in local facilities, we're helping more people to get involved and we're helping the dedicated people at local sports clubs who play such a vital role in community sport.
The lottery reforms have meant we've been able to put really significant amounts of money in the legacy programme. But of course, such investment doesn't simply remove the underlying challenges in sport.
We need to do more to open up sport to disabled people and reduce the gender gap. And increasing participation among young people remains a big challenge. Up until this year we have focussed our attention on people aged 16 and over. We now recognise that we need to start younger. Over the decade after a person turns 16 they will leave home, move from school into further or high education, get a job, have their first serious relationship and even have their first child. So we need to get more young people playing sport regularly before all these life-changing events happen.
We also need to be aware that from around the age of 14, they are making more and more of their own choices so we need to make sure that they are picking sport for themselves because they want to, not just because they've been told to do it.
We are working with sports themselves and other groups to attract more young people to sport and to keep them playing more regularly. And we're seeing early evidence that this approach works. Our Sportivate programme has shown us that by letting young people choose the sport they want to play at a time and place that suits them, they're more likely to get involved and – critically – stay involved.
There's some way to go before we can say sport is something that most people do regularly but it is heading in the right direction. We are passionate about what we do and with the will, the knowhow and the money to continue on this path, we will help more people create a sporting habit for life.
Jennie Price is the chief executive of Sport England