Jennie Price: Sport’s moment is now

Our chief executive Jennie Price explains how the entire sector needs to embrace change to get the nation active

19 May 2016

Sport can be a powerful force for good. Whether it's playing in a five-a-side football league every week, doing a gym session or going for a bike ride with your children, playing sport and getting active can improve your physical health and mental wellbeing. It can enrich you personally, enhance your community and contribute to the economy.

This was a key feature of the Government's new strategy for sport, Sporting Future, published in December 2015. 

With this firmly in mind, Sport England has developed its own new strategy Towards an Active Nation, published today.

With more than one in four of us doing less than 30 minutes of physical activity a week and one in six deaths caused by inactivity at a cost to the economy of £7.4 billion a year, we are particularly interested in what we can do to get more people active.

Changing behaviour

We know this is no easy task. Changing behaviour is a complex process which requires commitment both in terms of time and money and a rebalancing of our resources. So we have today committed to triple the amount of money we invest in tackling inactivity, bringing the total over the next four years to over £250 million.

This represents 25 per cent of our total resource and means we will be the single largest national investor in people to whom sport and physical activity is either a distant thought, or not even on their radar. We all have things that are popular with lots of people but are simply off our personal radar. For me it's gaming. It just never enters my mind to play a game when I turn on my computer or pick up my phone. 

Another important aspect of Towards an Active Nation is its emphasis on groups who are typically much less active – such as women, disabled people and those from poorer and disadvantaged backgrounds. It's vital that we treat everyone as a potential customer and put their needs first. At the very heart of what we do.

We will use behaviour change principles to help the sector understand what they might want or need, and design every aspect of the sport or activity they offer to be appealing, from the moment they first investigate it to when it finishes and they think about whether they will do it again.

We have already used this approach with our This Girl Can campaign to great effect. By addressing the unifying barrier that stops so many women from getting active – a fear of judgement – and giving women the confidence to manage that fear, the campaign has so far inspired 2.8 million women to do some or more sport.

Working with new partners

But we can’t do this on our own. We want to partner with a wide range of organisations who understand how to reach inactive people, know what motivates them and what barriers get in their way. We have been trialling this type of collaborative approach through our Get Healthy, Get Active programme since 2013, working with less typical sporting partners like the mental health charity Mind. Over 30 pilots have so far been delivered, with more than  36,000 inactive people taking part. The latest research shows that over half of people who started attending sessions were still active three months later.

As well as a focus on tackling inactivity, Towards an Active Nation will deliver against the five health, social and economic outcomes set out in Sporting Future. Our new investments will include:

  • Dedicated funding to get children and young people active from the age of five, including a new fund for family-based activities and offering training to at least two teachers in every secondary school in England to help them better meet the needs of all children, irrespective of their level of sporting ability  
  • Piloting new ways of working locally by investing in up to 10 places in England – a mix of urban and rural areas
  • Investing up to £30m in a new volunteering strategy, enabling more people to get the benefits of volunteering and attract a new, more diverse range of volunteers
  • Helping sport keep pace with the digital expectations of customers - we want it to be as easy to book a badminton court as it is to book a restaurant
  • Working closely with National Governing Bodies of sport to support people who already play regularly, and help them do so more efficiently and sustainably.

In identifying these priorities, we guided by the over 1,000 responses to our public consultation earlier this year, including feedback from national governing bodies of sport, local authorities, charities and voluntary organisations. Overwhelmingly, respondents welcomed the direction set by Sporting Future and encouraged us at Sport England to make bold choices in setting our own strategy. We have taken them at their word and I am looking forward to putting this strategy into practice, as is the whole team at Sport England. I hope you will join us.