Variations in Participation Research findings

In September 2009, Sport England commissioned the Futures Company and Mindshare to undertake a project to better understand factors that affect sports participation.

The research looked at variations in sports participation between local areas, and across 11 sports. The research used statistical modelling to better understand a range of factors affecting sports participation and qualitative research to provide further insights into variations in participation.

The research into local variations was delivered in three main stages:

  • Revisiting and updating the model of expected participation
  • Further statistical modelling to understand a wider range of factors affecting sports participation
  • Qualitative research into variations in local participation.

The research into variations across sports was delivered in two stages:

  • Statistical modelling to understand a range of factors affecting participation in 11 sports (athletics, badminton, cricket, cycling, football, golf, rugby league, rugby union, squash, swimming, and tennis)
  • Qualitative research into patterns of participation in two sports – athletics and tennis.

How can the CSP use the tool with partners?

CSPs can use the intelligence with local partners. The insights from the statistical modelling and case studies will help partners to identify key issues/messages that will help them develop effective strategies and interventions to increase sports participation.

What will it tell me?

The statistical modelling of local variations:

  • Confirmed and reinforced the importance of demographic factors, identified through previous work, in driving participation
  • Showed a relationship between participation in sport and general civic participation: people who engage more in cultural activities or civic life engage more in sport
  • Suggests that areas that have received higher levels of Sport England lottery funding have higher participation rates. This may be because lottery funding is an indicator of long-term investment in sport in an area.

The local variations work also provided further insights into factors affecting sports participation (weather patterns, cultural engagement, lottery funding). However, the modelling was not able to establish some of the key relationships (proximity to facilities, local government expenditure on sport) we had sought to test.

Whilst the statistical modelling of variations across sports identified considerable variation in the characteristics of participation across the 11 sports, more general findings included:

  • Gender gap: women are less likely to participate across most of the sports tested (athletics, badminton, cricket, cycling, football, golf, rugby league, rugby union and squash)
  • Asian ethnicity: of the 11 sports, Asian people are significantly less likely to participate than other ethnicities in athletics and rugby union but more likely to participate in badminton and cricket
  • Club sports: for the team-based sports of rugby league, rugby union, cricket and football, there is a negative relationship between sports club membership and gym membership
  • Family sports: in contrast to many sports, frequency of participation in cricket and swimming increases with the number of children in the household. Furthermore, for tennis and badminton, having older children (rather than younger children) increases the frequency of participation.

The case studies produced also provide a range of practical insights into how two local areas (Camden and Derbyshire) and two sports (athletics and tennis) are working to increase sports participation.

London Borough of Camden’s case study highlights the following key messages:

  • Make the most of any natural advantages (environment, demographics)
  • To be successful, investment needs to be sustained over time
  • Local leadership is important.

 Derbyshire’s case study highlights the following key messages:

  • Drivers of participation are complex and broad there is no single magic bullet
  • Civic participation and sporting participation appear to be interrelated
  • Partnerships built on the wider value of sport can increase participation
  • Commitment to sport in an area needs to be sustained over time.

The case study for athletics highlights the following key messages:

  • Club activity is driving participation in sport in local areas
  • Promoting the accessibility and open nature of a sport can boost participation levels.

The case study for tennis highlights the following key messages:

  • Tennis appeals to two different age groups. Distinct approaches for each group are likely to be required to increase participation
  • Marketing the social element of sports like tennis is important. A model similar to the Lawn Tennis Association’s Places to Play system could be adapted to other club-based sports
  • Tennis is a compact sport that can complement other sporting activities and make the best use of available space.

Where can I find out more?

If you have any queries please contact the Research Team at Sport England:

May 2014