I read this BBC report today with interest.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-23778945

It tells of falling participation in physical activity and sport amongst women and growing disengagement of young girls, in the UK. This is based on a study undertaken by University College London, in 2008-9.

The researchers found just 51% of the 6,500 children they monitored achieved the recommended hour of physical activity each day. For girls, the figure was just 38%, compared with 63% for boys.

Granted this was 5 yrs ago and hopefully much has changed since then, and especially following the 2102 Olympics.

But we don’t need statistics to tell us of the deep rooted, endemic problem. We only have look around us to see sedentary lifestyles, social unrest, obesity and other health problems. Nelson Mandela once said sport has the power to change the world. I agree. The benefits of regularly participating in sports and physical activity are well known and unequivocal. The heath benefits are both physical (such as cardio-vascular endurance, co-ordination, flexibility, weight management) and psychological (enjoyment, anti-depressant, mental release, promoting self-esteem). The skills generated through sport, such as time management, focus, organisation, goal setting, teamwork are transferable to other areas of people’s lives. Sport can also build bridges and bring divergent communities together. Increasing participation of in physical activity and sport is an investment in the overall economic, cultural and social health of our nations, and our world.

Change requires a clear understanding the current state of play – in terms of participation (qualitative and quantitative indicators), as well as secondary research into the existing policy and practice framework. A thorough assessment is needed of the barriers/limiters to participation as well as the motivational triggers – eg the factors that influence if, why, and when young women both commence and maintain their participation. And although overall picture may be bleak, there are examples of success and of best practice, among organizations, within different sports, across different regions and countries. Comiling and analyzing this information can hopefully lead to the development of concrete proposals for sustained action, involvement & cooperation between all stakeholders – from the macro to micro level and public and private sectors.

Of course, ‘women/girls’ is not a homogenous grouping, and consideration will need to be given to differences in income level, age, ethnic group, place of residence, as well as the circumstances of physically challenged people.  And in addition to stimulating demand for, and participation in, grassroots participation amongst the general public, it will also be important to examine specific issues around female elite sport, including funding, infrastructure, media coverage and role model programmes.

Barriers and recommendations for action

Based on my own experience and observations many barriers to participation exist. They can be classified as: practical (time, childcare, access to facilities) personal- psychosocial (body/image and confidence; habit, level of interest) financial (costs of membership, equipment, classes) and institutional (lack of mentors, role models, lack of females in leadership roles).  Overcoming such barriers and stimulating interest in, knowledge of and hence demand for sport and healthy lifestyles will require an understanding of the varied drivers (that is, the triggers) that motivate people to participate. They can be grouped into the 5’Fs: 1) Fun & Feel-good Factor, 2) Fitness, 3) Friendship, 4) Fundraising & 5) the Fight (eg the competition).

Taking the barriers and triggers into consideration, the table in the attached document offers up some suggestions for increasing participation among women and girls at the grassroots level. Of course, this list is not exhaustive and hopefully the dialogue will catalyse further ideas, thoughts and suggestions.

BARRIERS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION TABLE