Providing positive experiences of sport and physical activity at a young age can help to build the foundations of an active life. Community clubs, groups and organisations can play a big role in providing positive experiences of sport

Why is it important for your organisation to be accessible to Children and young people?

All children and young people (CYP), defined as anyone under the age of 18, have the right to benefit from being active in a safe environment which provides a great experience. There are a wide range of physical and mental benefits for CYP of being active. However, Sport England research shows that less than half of CYP aged 5-15 in England meet the Chief Medical Officers recommendation of 60 minutes activity each day. Research also shows that CYP volunteering in sport and physical activity is decreasing (Sport England Active Lives, Children and Young People Survey 2019/20).

Organisations delivering opportunities for CYP to be active or volunteer can help to address these issues and improve CYP’s lives on a long-term, sustainable basis by supporting the creation of healthy habits. Community organisations are also ideally placed to offer activity opportunities, as it is recommended that half of CYP’s physical activity should happen outside of their educational environment.  

Research shows that activities that are fun and enjoyable are the biggest drivers in engaging CYP and provide many benefits for young participants. These include increased motivation, confidence, competence, knowledge and understanding, all of which can help encourage CYP to participate in sport and physical activity on an ongoing basis. It is also evident that more active CYP are happier, more resilient and trusting of their peers. Sport England refer to these foundations of an active live for CYP as Physical Literacy. The more components of physical literacy that an organisation can embed and enable through their offer, the more they can support CYP to be active.

Being accessible and providing positive enjoyable experiences to CYP can have a number of wider benefits to your organisation including:

  • Helping your organisation become more representative of the local community you serve.
  • Enhancing your organisation’s reputation locally and encouraging people to promote your offer, including through word of mouth.
  • Supporting the growth and sustainability of your organisation. Attracting more CYP to your organisation will bring in new members, participants and volunteers across all ages, as their parents/carers and other family members may also want to get involved.

Top Tip: Word of mouth can be a key marketing tool for this group. CYP are highly influenced by their social groups, so providing a positive experience to them can be communicated to 4-6 of their peers/friends, on average, who may then decide to attend or volunteer at your organisation.

Being able to understand and meet the needs of CYP is essential to delivering a great experience. It’s important to recognise the different factors that can impact their needs and their ability or desire to participate or volunteer at your organisation, such as:

  • Their age and background.
  • Their previous experiences of sport and physical activity.
  • Different lifestyle changes they might experience.
  • Barriers and challenges to being active or volunteering.
  • Other opportunities, interests or commitments competing for their leisure time.

These factors will affect all CYP differently. Organisations should take time to understand the individual needs and circumstances of CYP and explore how these can be met through the opportunities and activities on offer. To help you do this, consider exploring the following:

  • What is important to the CYP within your organisation or those you want to attract? What is motivating them to attend sessions at your organisation?
  • Ask CYP what they want the offer to look like and what an enjoyable experience would include.
  • Follow up with CYP after activities to ask them what they enjoyed and what they would change, so you can ensure that your experience meets their needs. This doesn’t need to be a formal consultation exercise and could be a simple as asking participants after the session.
  • Consider whether past experiences of sport (including within an educational environment) shaped their views of taking part or volunteering in sport or physical activity.
  • Consider the individual personalities, circumstances and life stages of the CYP already involved in your organisation or that you want to attract. For example, are they a young child or a teenager? Are they going through a big life event such as starting secondary school, or about to leave school?
  • Consider their different demographics. For example, are they from a group that is traditionally under-represented in sport, like people from an ethnically diverse community or lower income family? The wider inclusivity section of our website provides more information on being accessible to different demographic groups.

When identifying the needs of CYP it is important for your organisation to treat them as individuals, who all have unique needs, wants and reasons for participating and/or volunteering. Working to understand what is important to CYP can help organisations support them to become active in a way that is right for them, leading to sustainable activity habits.

There are a number of different elements that CYP associate with a great experience within sport or physical activity. Providing a great experience is key to maintaining ongoing engagement between them and your organisation. Sport England research shows that children and young people are seeking experiences that are:

  • Social. Organisations should aim to provide an environment where children and young people are with their friends, feel comfortable and enjoy spending time as part of their social lives.
  • Interactive. Use technology where possible to engage children and young people. This could be through the sessions that you offer or how you promote your offer. Check out the communications section below for more information.
  • Rewarding. Try to create opportunities for CYP to give something back or enhance their skills, like helping to run sessions. This can help to boost their CV and give them new experiences.
  • Personalised. Ensure your offer and activities are tailored, where possible, to the needs of CYP and fits in with their lives. Your organisation should listen and respond to the needs and wants of CYP, and encourage them to be part of decision-making processes. This will help to generate a sense of ownership.
  • Inspiring. Find ways to inspire CYP to get involved, such as by highlighting role models. Sport and physical activity often competes with wider interests or priorities but CYP respond well to meaningful experiences; those that benefit them as an individual, reinforce their place in their social group or help them develop.

UK Coaching have also produced a video to support coaches to understand and help young people positively change their sporting and physical behaviours. Check out the video

Further information relating to coaching CYP can also be found on UK Coaching’s website. Use the search function and type in ‘Coaching Children’.

Research shows that there are a number of different words that children and young people associated with a great experience, outlined within the word cloud below. Incorporating as many of these aspects within the activities and services you offer both participants and volunteers will help ensure that your organisation delivers a great experience.

Word chart detailing great experiences
Last modified: Thursday, 16 December 2021, 12:53 PM