How do I increase participation in community sport?

Understanding the context

There is no one solution to increase the number of people taking part in community sport. There are many differences, for example by place or audience, which can have an impact.

For developing projects or programmes it can be useful to follow this process:

  • Prepare and plan – identify the programme objectives and audience, and what you’re trying to change or influence
  • Gather and review relevant information – understand current sporting habits, the motivations and barriers underlying the existing relationship with sport, establish how the audience might be interested in taking part in sport and assess the existing offer’s ability to respond to their needs
  • Develop strategy – define the ideal audience journey and experience and define what is required to achieve this and how this can be done
  • Develop and deliver projects – work with relevant partners to design and launch projects/programmes
  • Evaluate – monitor and assess the impact of the projects against defined measures
  • Learn and refine – learn from the information gathered in delivering the project and the evaluation and refine or scale the programme as appropriate and share the learning to inform other relevant programmes.

There is a considerable bank of research into what motivates or acts as a barrier to sports participation by different audiences. It is important to understand who the audience is and their needs, attitudes, beliefs, motivations and behaviour – both in a sporting sense and their wider lifestyle.

Research by Sport England and our partners tells us:

  • Sport can address a number of needs from achieving goals to looking good, developing skills to spending time with friends and family, and feeling good to having fun. These motivations are universal but may fluctuate for different people at different times in their lives
  • Having an emotional connection to sport as a young person (11-16 years) is a key influence on continued participation in sport in young adulthood (25-34). Young people who have family and friends who take part in sport are more likely to take part regularly themselves
  • More men play sport – around 40% of men play sport at least once a week, compared to around 30% of women – but nearly 13 million women say they want to do more sport. Women are less likely to be confident in their own ability to take part in sport and seek reassurance that it will be suitable for them
  • Attitudes to sport are not necessarily reflected by behaviour – people who are positively disposed to sport may not take part regularly, while others may take part without an enthusiastic attitude. Only a small proportion of the population are passionate fanatics, committed to regularly doing sport
  • Taking part in sport is a choice and making it easy and convenient is key – location, facility type and timing are all important considerations to making sport accessible.

How can Sport England help?

  • Use our Demand and Supply Grid (PDF) as a simple checklist to help you stimulate your and your partners’ thinking on what insights you have about participation in your area
  • Obtain an overview of the sporting landscape in your area using the data in the local sport profile.
  • Use Active People Interactive to drill down deeper into the sports participation behaviour of your target audience and the behaviour in your area
  • Find out more about the different needs and interests and sporting motivations and barriers of the different people in your area using our market segmentation tool 
  • Review research on what appeals to different audiences such as women or young people in our Encouraging Take Up’ section
  • Learn lessons from evaluation reports of our funded projects within targeted settings, such as higher or further education and Active Women in the Encouraging Take Up section
  • People who are more satisfied with their sporting experience are more likely to carry on taking part. Learn the varying importance of the different factors driving satisfaction within different sports from our satisfaction survey results
  • There may be Sport England funding that can support your programme/project
  • There may be national governing body (NGB) programmes and activities that can support your project.

What's the result?

By using the material from these tools together, supplemented by your own insight and evidence, you will be able to:

  • Understand the current picture of sporting participation in your area
  • Identify audiences whose behaviour you wish to change
  • Develop an evidence-based approach to designing solutions using lessons learned in how to best work with your target audiences
  • Strengthen relationships with partners by providing relevant local evidence to support decision-making
  • Design programmes targeted at addressing needs of specific audiences which are more likely to be well received and create sustainable sports participation behaviours.