Young Adults and Sport: motives and barriers

I am delighted to tell you that today's is a Guest Post.

It is the first of a series of guest posts, focusing on sports participation, written by some exciting young researchers and academics.

Here, Matthew Reeves talks about the participation of young adults.

“The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life's morning.  The significance of the morning undoubtedly lies in the development of the individual...” (Carl Jung)

I’d like to start by thanking Richard for inviting me to write a guest blog – something I haven’t been asked to do, nor tried to do, previously.  We’ll see how I get on!

I’m going discuss ideas around the motivations and barriers that teenagers and young adults face with regard to their participation in sport.  Jung’s statement, above, may appear to focus upon the ‘older’ person however, there is one key thing to remember:  the drop out from sport and physical activity is highest amongst adolescents, thus bringing “the afternoon of human life” further forward than we may like to think (at least from a sporting/physically active perspective). 

Before discussing what barriers young adults face it seems reasonable to discuss why young people want to initially take part in sport and physical activity.  The motives young adults and adults have to participate in sport may well be different from those of younger participants.  Sports psychology research has concentrated on explaining motives for participation and adherence, looking at variables such as gender, age and culture.  The contexts for previous research have tended to be specific sports codes, with the sample population typically being youth, adolescents and/or elite level sports people.  However, there are some researchers who have suggested that research on the motivation of adult engagement in sport and physical activity has dramatically increased as the benefits of moderate, regular physical activity have become better recognised.  Such research has tended to approach the matter from a health perspective, especially investigating peoples’ health related behaviour.  Such approaches have created a sizeable gap within our knowledge of adult motivations to participate in sport and phsyical activity.  For the sake of brevity, I wont go in to detail on the studies included in the writing of this piece, I have simply summarised the key findings. 

There are multiple motives as to why adults take part in sport.  The following are the broad motivating factors that adults (18 or 50) or older adults (50+) have cited as reasons why they take part in sport:

  • Physical Fitness and Health
  • Social Motives / Enjoyment / Relaxation / Appearance
  • Personal Challenge
  • Mastery Orientation / Weight Loss
  • Sense of Achievement / Competition
  • Medical Sanction
  • More Energy

The categories above have been listed in sequential order as to the number of times they have been found within the research literature.  However, it is important to note that many of the categories overlapped and had a direct interplay with each other.

Unsurprisingly, the picture of demotivation is as complex as its more positive counterpoint.  The reasons offered by one particular study for dropping out and discontinuing participation in sport are equally as varied and include:

·      It was no longer fun
·      No longer interested in the activity
·      I didn’t like the coach
·      I want to participate in other activities

Critically, research has suggested that the majority of reasons for discontinuation are negative and are likely to have a significant impact on future participation decisions.  It is estimated a significant proportion of children drop out of sport each year.  Whilst some drop out of one sport and continue participating in an alternative, others discontinue participation completely.  The literature suggests that adolescence is a period where discontinuation from sport and physical activity is at its peak.  One particular study sampled youth sport participants and found that while over a quarter of children were participating in sport at 10 years of age, this dropped significantly to just over 3% at age 18 years of age.  Females, in particular, indicate that negative physical and emotional experiences in sport led to their decision to discontinue participation. This parallels other research findings, suggesting females drop out of sport because it is too competitive and because they do not see themselves as competent.  Similarly, males suggested that the competitive nature of participation led to their withdrawal (i.e. when they were unsuccessful).  

Adolescents and young adults also describe transitions within education (and from education to employment) as having a negative impact on participation in sport.  However, self-motivation, self-efficacy and self-concept are described as factors between those who maintain participation during such transitions and those who drop out and discontinue.  For example, the young women in surveyed in an American study who ‘never participate’ suggested the transition to secondary school and beyond negatively impacted their participation as they had less time, less energyand their social groups had changed.  Mention was also made that participants felt more self-conscious during this time which also lead to their discontinuation in sport.  Conversely, while the young women who ‘always participate’ experienced similar transitional challenges, they acknowledged that their self-motivation and commitment to sport enabled them to successfully negotiate these key periods of development.

A national study categorised the barriers to preventing adults from taking more exercise into five main types:  

time; and

Although time barriers appear to be important for both men and women, women are more likely to report emotional barriers to exercise (e.g. ‘I’m not the sporty type’).  This is likely to be related to perceptions of competence where individuals avoid participation in activities because of self-presentational concerns.  I feel this is a good time to direct you to the final blog entry I have been asked to write regarding the development of fundamental movement skills during childhood and adolescence – it will close some of the potential gaps developing at this point.

Predicting adult involvement in physical activity is an area which has received cursory research interest over the last 40 years or so.  The dearth of literature associated with this area, an inconsistency of approach and theoretical foundation has left findings somewhat inconsistent and conflicting.  Research, to date, has also tended to focus upon factors associated with participation in ‘team sports’, thus leaving individual participation in sport largely under researched.

The final point to make is that some of the research literature suggests physical activity habits developed in childhood and adolescence may be associated with physical activity levels in adulthood.  These findings are somewhat conflicting and further investigation into this phenomenon is required.  From the individuals’ perspective, understanding the reasons underlying continuation and discontinuation in sport and physical activity is critical and encompasses factors, such as skill competence and psychobehavioural factors, as well as social factors, such as motivational climate.

Well – that finishes my first attempt!  I hope you have found it useful, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions; I will of course check comments posted on the blog.  The reference list contains all research referred to throughout and other pieces which underpin the blog itself.

Further Reading

Bailey, R., Collins, D., Ford, P., MacNamara, A., Toms, M., and Pearce, G. (2010). Participant Development in Sport: An Academic Review. Leeds: Sports Coach UK.

Biddle, S. J., and Bailey, C. I. (1985). Motives for Participation and Attitudes Toward Physical Activity of Adult Participants in Fitness Programs. Perceptual and Motor Skills , 61, 831 - 834.

Biddle, S., Coalter, F., O'Donovan, T., MacBeth, J., Nevill, M., and Whitehead, S. (2005). Increasing Demand for Sport and Physical Activity by Girls. Edinburgh: Sport Scotland.

Butcher, J., Linder, K. J., and Johns, D. P. (2002). Withdrawl from Competitive Youth Sport: A Retrospective Ten-year Study. Journal of Sport Behaviour , 25(2), 145 - 163.

Davey, J., Fitzpatrick, M., Garland, R., and Kilgour, M. (2009). Adult Participation Motives: Emperical Evidence from a Workplace Exercise Programme. European Sport Management Quarterly , 9 (2), 141 - 162.

Malina, R. M. (2001). Physical Activity and Fitness: Pathways from Childhood to Adulthood. American Journal of Human Biology , 13, 162 - 172.

Seefeldt, V., Malina, R. M., and Clark, M. A. (2002). Factors Affecting Levels of Physical Activity in Adults. Sports Medicine , 32 (3), 143 - 168.

Matthew Reeves is a Researcher and Teaching Support Officer in the Faculty of Education, Community and Leisure at Liverpool John Moores University.  His research interests are sports development and physical education policy and coach education and development.  Matthew has worked on a variety of international, national, regional and local projects.
Twitter:  @MRSportEdu

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Participant Development in Sport


Core skills and capabilities?

Early Specialisation?

Talent Development?

Critical Periods in Development?

There is increasing demand on coaches and teachers to keep informed of relevant research evidence, and to adapt their work accordingly.  Evidence-based practice is accepted as the default position for those claiming to be professionals in sport.

The trouble is ... Well, there are a few troubles.  For example:

  • Some of the research literature is highly complex, and uses arcane jargon;
  • Some of the literature seems to contradict itself; and
  • There is awful lot of it out there.

Dave Collins, myself and a small group of subject experts from physiology, psychology and sociology carried out a comprehensive review of the literature on participant development in sport on behalf of sportscoachUK in 2010.

Click on the image to get a free copy.

The report turned out a lot more 'comprehensive' than we'd imagined at the start, and it is certainly the most thorough review carried on playing, developing and improving in sport.

It also includes HUGE list of references.

It offers a critical analysis of such hot topics as LTAD, early specialisation, and talent development.  It also gives an examination of the assumptions that underlie most sports development programmes.

The review was written as a reference document for sportscoachUK, and so the tone is at times quite technical.  So, we also wrote an Executive Summary, which is available by clicking the next image:

The Review team was:

Richard Bailey, PhD, RBES Ltd

Dave Collins, PhD, University of Central Lancashire

Paul Ford, PhD, University of East London (Now BOA)

Áine MacNamara, PhD, University of Limerick (now UCLAN)

Martin Toms, PhD, University of Birmingham 

Gemma Pearce, MSc, University of Birmingham 

We hope this resource proves useful, and makes some contribution to the quality of sporting experiences of all.

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What's the point of Grammar Schools?

The journalist Daniel Knowles has written an interesting article about Grammar Schools in the Daily Telegraph.  Part of its interest lies in the fact that Knowles takes a critical stance to a subject that has traditionally been simply taken for granted by the right-wing press.

Here is an extract of the article:

New grammar schools are a distraction from real educational reform

But what I have realised is that selection does not by itself improve a school. Rather, grammar schools help bright children precisely because if you put bright children together, they individually do better. And quite obviously, that comes at the cost of a reduction in the number of the brightest, most motivated children in the ordinary comprehensives. As I said earlier, I believe I did well at least partly because most of my peers were equally bright and motivated, and from the same sort of middle-class-background, and so I had to work to compete. It is that competition that I would have missed most had I failed my 11+.
This highlights an uncomfortable truth: affluence, motivation and intelligence (and the three usually come together) are not just individual strengths; their mere presence drag up results for others. I may have done less well at a comprehensive, but someone else – another bright child who failed the test – might have done a little better. Statistically, this shows. In Kent, which has one of the most extensive grammar systems left, 55 per cent of the poorest pupils get GCSE results in the bottom 20 per cent nationally. On that measure, it is close to being the worst performing areas in the country.
We have to admit it: there is a trade-off here. The extreme benefits of grammar schools for those few who attend come partly at the expense of those who don't. Selection at 11 leaves too many bright children behind, while adding to the segregation of our schools by class. Our education system needs reform and Michael Gove is doing an excellent job of trying to change attitudes in much of the state system. But he should be very wary of embracing selection. Tests don't improve schools by themselves; they just redistribute the children.

I live and have taught in Kent, myself, and have seen private tuition emerge as one of the few growth industries in the area.  Well-meaning parents send their offspring to tutors increasingly early in their schooling, placing more and more pressure on them to pass 'The Test' (which, of course, happens around the same time as SATs). 

The motivation to succeed is not to get a place in a Grammar School so much as NOT to get a place elsewhere.  Ability is not the criterion for enrolment with a private tutor; what's needed is a combination of fear and wealth.

Yet Grammar Schools remain hugely popular with large sections of the public, and especially with members of the Conservative Party and its supporters.

The debate usually falls back on a series on unsubstantiated assumptions, such as:

- Grammar Schools' selection methods for year olds are valid and reliable, and are not biased in favour of those from upper socio-economic groups (there is substantial anecdotal evidence from Primary teachers and parents that this is not the case);

- Grammar Schools create a 'rising tide that lifts all ships', in other words, they create higher standards for all (most independent data suggest the opposite is the case; as the article hints, those authorities that have Grammar Schools tend to perform worse than the national average);

- Selection is, in itself, the best pedagogical solution to the needs of the most able (evidence from systematic reviews shows this is not necessarily the case);

Of course, the case for Grammar Schools is usually either a personal or political one, and rarely muddies its hands with evidence, or the educational needs of young people, as a whole!
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Exercise: the Movie!

I recently stumbled across this short film about the importance of exercise, by Dr. Mike Evans of the University of Toronto.  It is a great example of how to make quite complex ideas accessible.

I wonder whether this approach can be used to explain other topics?
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David Cameron the 2012 Olympic Legacy

UK Prime Minister David Cameron defends the legacy of the London Olympics.

What do you think?

Do you think he sounds convincing?
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Funding an Olympic Legacy - thank God for Jeremy Hunt!

Billy Connolly used to joke that the Queen thinks the world smells of wet paint because everywhere she goes has been freshly re-painted!

I think of these words whenever government ministers and other official-types boast of their access to 'the voice of the people'.  How would they possibly know?  They are, after all, surrounded by people whose main function is to make sure they don't ever meet the dreadful general public, which is a demographic known to be notoriously off-message.

So, maybe be should take Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's comments with a pinch of salt:

"I'm continually surprised by how few naysayers there are. I was expecting there to be a much higher volume. If you look at the run-up to Sydney and Vancouver, there were many, many more sceptics than there have been in the UK.

"Locog has done a superb job in helping get the public fully behind the Games. There will always be a few sceptics but the closer we get the more they are starting to realise that this is going to be an extraordinary moment and they will feel perhaps just a tinge of being a party pooper."

The simple fact is that, post-Blair, government ministers simply never get to spend time with critics and 'party poopers'.  So all of their ideas are, for all they know, marvellous, touched by genius and hugely popular.

The context of Hunt's comments was the announcement of another tranche of spending on the London Games, aiming to make the 2012 Olympics a large-scale advertisement for Britain.  This includes a £39m marketing campaign (in which a group of Brits barely known outside of Central London travel the globe with flags), and a doubling of the budget for the opening and closing ceremonies (am I alone in not really caring about these parts of a sporting event?).

Mr Hunt is also expected to announce new policies designed to address the concerns raised by ... well, pretty much everybody, about the inexplicable cuts to the budgets for school sport.

"We remain 150% true to the vision Seb [Coe] outlined in Singapore in 2005. We remain totally committed to that.  It's a difficult period in terms of public spending.  I think we've got a very good plan in place that will convince the sceptics we can deliver on a fantastic sporting legacy as well as a fantastic economic legacy."

Coe's vision of an Olympic Legacy proved to be untenable at a time when funding for PE and youth sport in England was probably more generous than in other any country in the world.  But somehow Mr Hunt claims to have discovered a way to salvage that legacy.  And presumably without lots of money.

Genius!  Or so he no doubt has been told.

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An Olympic Legacy for 2012


"We can no longer take it for granted that young people will choose sport. Some may lack the facilities.  Or the coaches and role models to teach them. Others, in an age of 24-hour entertainment and instant fame, may simply lack the desire.  We are determined that a London Games will address that challenge. So London's vision is to reach young people all around the world.  To connect them with the inspirational power of the Games." 
(Lord Coe, Singapore, 6 July 2005)

"At the moment I don't see the policies being put in place that will build on the inspiration of the Games for young people and that will change their lives for a lasting sports legacy … There are too many schools still on two hours or less of sport a week, with no links to the local communities and clubs and volunteers, and that is a missed opportunity in the last six years. Politicians of all parties have the responsibility for setting policy and we have not seen that vision delivered."

[Note: Despite first impressions, it is not the case that everyone in the United Kingdom is a Lord!  There are also Ladies, Sirs and Dames.  And, of course, their servants]

It is widely held that the UK’s somewhat surprising victory in the competition to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games was at least partly the result of its representative’s ability to articulate a compelling legacy for the Games, that went far beyond the glories of two weeks of elite sport in July.  The Olympic Games is the biggest sporting and cultural event in the world – in the language of sport economists, it is a ‘mega-event’ – but there is an increasing expectation for hosts to provide more than just a sporting spectacle.

As can be seen from Sebastian Coe’s comments, taken from his rousing speech before the final decision of the host city was made, the UK bid was premised on using the Games as a stimulus for long-term social, economic and environmental change.  Likewise, London First, which represents big business in the capital, has asserted that,
“the 2012 legacy must be much more than a successful tournament and the regeneration of the Olympic Park site itself.  The Games must enhance London’s reputation as a dynamic, international city; catalyse the physical transformation of East London; and contribute to a step-change improvement in the skills, aspiration and employment of some of the country’s most deprived communities”.

But there have been increasing numbers of dissenters who have questionned successive governments’ commitments to the wider agenda of the Games.  Colin Moynihan’s statement is most significant, perhaps, because it came from someone very much within the UK’s sporting establishment.  And his is not a lone voice of concern.

The idea that major sporting events should seek to provide such a legacy has become commonplace in recent years.  Commentators usually refer to two examples as instances of successful legacy.  The Barcelona Games of 1992 has been hailed as a great success at almost every level, especially in terms of social and economic regeneration in the region.

But it was the Sydney games in 2000 that set the standard in terms of long-term and diverse effects.  Aside from the considerable improvement in sports performance in the host nation (Australia’s medal tally went up from 41 to 58, and stayed beyond the pre-Sydney level at Athens), its really significant benefits are more intangible.  The international perception of Sydney, and Australia as a whole, as a tourist and business destination has been transformed in the years following the Games and, according to some, the Olympic ideals - such as inspiration, friendship, fair play, perseverance, mutual respect, unity and joy in effort – somehow managed to bring about a reappraisal of attitudes to human and social rights.

Whether or not the Beijing Games can be considered a success depends, to a large extent, on whether or not we think that these political issues, especially human rights, matter in sporting events.  Seb Coe apparently does not think they do.

Of course, the selection of these cities to make the case for the Games is deliberate.  It would be naïve in the extreme to suppose that the hosting of a mega-event necessarily  results of regeneration.  For every success there are many more empty stadia, economic crises and lost opportunities.

In this respect, there are lessons to be learned from the analyses of Bent Flyvbjerg and his colleagues into the planning of megaprojects, such as tunnels, bridges and transport schemes.  They conclude:

“Rarely is there a simple truth … What is presented as reality by one set of experts is often a social construct that can be deconstructed and reconstructed by other experts” (Flyvbjerg, et al, 2003, p.60).

Flyvbjerg has demonstrated that on numerous occasions the advocates of such huge projects systematically misled the public in order to secure support and funding.

However, every case presents a possibility, and it is hard to deny the multifaceted potential of a well-planned, well-executed, well-supported Olympic Games for the host city, region and country. 

The Institute for Public Policy Research and Demos outlined five dimensions of an Olympic legacy for the London Games:

1) The social legacy – sport can in certain circumstances, provide an opportunity to involve a diverse range of people in delivering projects;

2) The employment legacy – there is little doubt that the London Olympics will generate a large number of new jobs, but there is a need for a more nuanced understanding of the employment potential of the Games than in terms of simple claims of numbers of jobs created;

3) The environmental legacy – there are fairly obvious environmental challenges presented by any mega-event, such as accommodating vast numbers of visitors, traffic and transport demands, energy and waste management;

4) The cultural legacy – culture as well as sport is supposed to create the foci of the Olympics.  The 2012 Games has the potential to focus international attention on the areas distinctive cultural assets.

5) The sporting legacy – the Games could act as a vehicle for stimulating increased participation, funding and facility development.

Yet, for all of the gushing excitement of politicians in London, many questions remain unanswered.  The research base on the wider effects of large-scale sporting events is still incomplete.  Academics have been critical of the misapplication of economic data by the promoters of such events for their own ends.  For example, whilst it might be the case that certain Games have resulted in the generation of more jobs in the region, critics have argued that the great majority were short-term, low-paid, or both.  And, of course, there is the danger of focusing on the benefits of an event without weighing up the costs.

Numerous groups have expressed concern at the growing expenditure associated with the event, at last count about £10billion, and the organisers of the 2012 Games have been criticised for their seeming reluctance to discuss their financial management and plans with external agencies.  Others have been critical of the relative investment in elite performance and the other aspects of London 2012.

Certainly, for a proposal based explicitly on young people’s participation and social transformation, discussions of actually implementing strategies have been negligible.

In an essay in Prospectmagazine, David Goldblatt presented a compelling case for Britain to start to take sport seriously.  More than three billion people tuned in to watch matches in the football World Cup in 2006, and the Olympics, for all of its faults, remains even more significant internationally.  No language or religion has sport’s scope or participation.  So the potential impact of the London Olympic Games in 2012 could be massive.

But if advocates for sport are to start to realise the sort of cultural importance that the arts have taken for granted for years, they will also need to be judged by the standards of planning, delivery and accountability that are normal in public life.

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