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New places and new people – a different approach to engaging with inactive people

London Sport may have found an answer to the question of how to get more inactive people active

(hint: it may not necessarily involve sports clubs, leisure centres or sports coaches)

Over the years we have seen study after study, read report after report and listened to many conference presentations, all talking about how to get physically inactive people more active.

And, it has to be said, whatever figures you see, that we haven’t really seen massive increases in the number of inactive people taking up sport and physical activity. We do have plenty of people involved with sports coaching and sports development praising the wonders of being active, but in many cases, they talk to themselves and not to the inactive and the people and places they connect with. So, what to do? How do we engage with the inactive people and get them active?

For a while, London Sport, the County Sports Partnership for London, has been studying and considering how to develop a broader and better workforce for getting people active. A couple of weeks ago they published a framework for realising the ambition of London becoming the most physically active in the world and you see the document here.

The challenge of the traditional workforce
The research reveals that 48% of inactive Londoners don’t feel that the traditional workforce (sports clubs, leisure centres and sports coaches), meet their current needs.

At the same time, 38% of people within the traditional workforce in London see working with inactive people as their role (which means that almost two-thirds of sports coaches and clubs in London do not see working with inactive people as their role). Please read that again – yes, so, a large majority of people involved with sport and physical only want to engage with people who already active.
No wonder then that 78% of the traditional workforce doesn’t feel confident that their approach works effectively with inactive people.

So if a cricketer wants to improve his reverse sweep or a gymnast wants to develop her somersault then the traditional coaches at our community sports clubs or leisure centres are more than happy to work with them. But for the inactive person, perhaps with less talent, the situation is more bleak – sop where and to whom do they go get motivated to become active? Answers on a postcard, please.

So, despite all our coach education, club development initiatives and legacy programmes from London 2012 and Glasgow 2014 there is a considerable gap between the traditional sports delivery system and people who simply do not feel that the current places and people where they want to join. (Yes, this research only covers London, but in our experience, these figures represent a fairly universal picture).

Yes, as London Sport points out, we need a better workforce, which can provide a better experience catering to the diverse needs of the inactive part of the population and a broader workforce which involves non-sport organisations from housing to faith centres.
Inactive people want to enjoy themselves, have fun, improve their skills and be part of a welcoming social and sporting experience. Yes, if possible, they want to develop their skills, but they want to do so in an engaging way; they don’t want to be put under undue pressure from an over-ambitious and zealous coach. Also, they want to be active in an environment which they know and where they feel comfortable and at home, which is probably not a leisure centre or sports club full of fit people in leotards!

So, we need to distinguish between ‘sports coaches/fitness instructors’ and the ‘activators/hosts’ who get inactive people into regular activity: We call them Activity Growers.

An Activity Grower is a person who removes the barriers inactive people experience when wanting to become more active and then focus on keeping them motivated, engaged and active.

  1. They engage with local communities and link up with inactive people based on their age, health condition, ethnicity, demographics, and/or location
  2. They are welcoming people in all shapes and sizes
  3. They provide experiences which all types of participants can enjoy
  4. They tell their story through photos, videos and hashtags. From flyers to Instagram – efficient and effective communication
  5. They develop the enterprise culture and skills which can help ensure long-term sustainability
Here based on our work with hundreds and hundreds of all types of providers are some suggestions on how to keep people active from cradle to care-home. • Understand people life stages and adapt your customer offering, experience and communication to each of them. From child to teenager, from boy/girl about town to young parent, and so on. From All-Star cricket for 5-8-year – olds to walking football/basketball to the older generation and everything in between • We are all different and want to be listened to and treated as individuals • We all want to have fun. But, what fun for the coach is rarely what is fun for the average 14-year old. To keep people stay within sport they will have to love it, otherwise, they will lose heart and leave. Get them involved, put a smile on their faces and help them to progress at their pace. Remember that love does change over the years so you will have to change with it.
So, there seems to be a great scope for developing much more innovative solutions for engaging with the ‘hard-to-reach’ communities. Golf in mosques and care-homes, cricket on beaches or football on housing estates, the list goes on…
Remember, this is about getting people active and not about winning medals (having said that, Moen Alli, the England cricketer started playing with a taped tennis ball in a car park…)

Yes, London Sport is absolutely right. If we are to attract and retain more people in sport and physical activity we need to recruit and develop a much broader workforce based in our communities.

Here a Sports Marketing Network we would be delighted to be involved with delivering that.