The publication of a 159 page report yesterday into why people take up and drop out of sport is a valuable addition to research around participation and will likely help to establish clear guidelines on how public policy can match and adapt to the needs of the population.
It is an area in which we believe business can play a key role through supporting initiatives that are well put together, clear in purpose and outcome and deliverable through local communities at each stage of life cycles from school through to retirement.
We have identified 10 key take aways to emerge from the report:
1. 88% of primary school children are engaged in some form of organised sport at the time they leave the first stage of their education. There are questions over how long a time is spent on physical education in school but the baseline is good and needs to be maintained.
2. Television comes in for much criticism with regard to children and sport yet the research shows that at primary level there is little if any negative impact on children who watch more and in fact there is a positive impact on those who watch sport on TV wanting to go out and kick a ball or run or shoot hoops like those they have just seen.
3. The impact of television does kick in at secondary level though, together with other constraints on time that lead to a first significant fall off from sporting activity. It tends to happen less in sport through clubs and more in school where the desire to ‘get away’ may be more prevalent and heightened by peer pressure among those who are participating but at less than the top most competitive level.
4. The impact is heightened at exam time in first the Junior Cert Cycle and then again in greater number at the time of the Leaving Cert. Changes to the curriculum and greater credit for sport will lessen this impact but care needs to be taken particularly with girls for whom the drop out rates are higher and the return to sport slower. Our Sport for Daughters initiative is an idea we will bring to life in 2014 to assist in this.
5. There is a bounce back in transition year showing that it is more a question of time than tiredness with sport that is the biggest challenge. Clubs and sporting bodies should devise specific programmes to attract or keep players during this year when life habits can be formed or modelled.
6. A critical point in drop out seems to be in the final year of secondary school. This will be in part due to perceived pressure on exams yet this report and many more in international circles suggest that sports participation will improve exam performance whether through a more competitive edge, better physical fitness or other factors.
7. If children can be kept playing at this critical age it will have massive benefits later in life. as it is 75% of 16+ basketball players stop before reaching their early 20’s, over 50% of GAA players and 23% of soccer players. The latter will be negated by the popularity in workplaces of five a side games and it may be that the 3×3 Basketball and Super 7’s hurling initiatives in recent years will help reverse this if promoted properly.
8. The most important advocates of sport will be those who play themselves as opposed to any formal campaign. 70% of people who play are introduced by teachers, family or colleagues. Sport is essentially a social activity, at individual and especially team level and the social bonds are the ones that have the greatest impact.
9. There is a recognised belief in the benefit of sport. The key area of how policy can translate this to actual activity will lie in behaviour and very specific interventions. When we were involved with the first year of the Arthur Guinness Projects this year one of the projects to win funding was a dragon boat fitness programme developed to help those recovering from breast cancer. The right exercise can reduce recurrence of the disease by as much as 40% yet this was something those behind the initiative discovered for themselves, not through the health system. Specific, targeted programmes are essential to change the behaviour of niche groups and then spread to others.
10. The promotion of sport and health is the responsibility of all of us as individuals. As parents, as friends, as colleagues. We should not wait for Government to tell us what to do. We should act within our own organisations to push and harry for a better approach. If we saw a friend about to be hit by a car we would yell out. It is time to do the same in sport. In a positive way of course and at a time when giving is uppermost in our minds, what could be a greater gift than a life of physical health, achievable through sport.