The campaign for real community sport

The time has come to focus on developing and delivering more welcoming, innovative and engaging community sport

As we celebrate Team GB’s success at London 2012, the calls for more investment in community sport, in particular school sport, are coming from a number of sources. 

There has for a long time been this mindset that as long as we build some wonderful new facilities, people who have never been involved with sport before will miraculously turn up from nowhere. 

Often it is not about facilities or money – I have certainly had many ‘off the record’ conversations with people involved with community sport who tell me of wasted investments in facilities which were built with little consideration as to whether the people, passion and processes were in place to attract and retain customers.

Over the last seven years I have been training and supporting literally thousands of sport deliverers from clubs, schools, community groups, community trusts and local authorities on how they can deliver welcoming and vibrant sports experiences in a sustainable way.  Yes, I have met many fantastic people who are working hard to grow community sport, but it has to be said I have also met too many people who are quite happy with the status quo and who are just looking for the next grant and an easy life.

To illustrate my point here are a few recent postings from the BBC website:

“I’m a 38 year old who is partaking in a team sport weekly. In my experience the people running facilities either haven’t a clue about encouraging adults to participate regularly, or, more likely, they simply don’t care.”
 “We must embrace the changing cultural and social behaviour among young people. That is a far wider social issue and it starts in schools. I have a son who plays Sup air and his friends who skateboard and play street soccer. They do not wish to be told by “olds” what to do and play by their rules. This generation may play sport, just not on the establishment’s terms.”

“I’m a governor of a primary school right next to a large sports centre. The 12 five a side pitches are unused all day, the running track, athletics field and gymnasium likewise. Like most small schools with very limited facilities, we have talked to the council about being allowed to use the outdoor or indoor facilities. The answer – only if we pay the going commercial rate, which as a small school we simply can’t afford to do.

Please explain to me why on earth we have to live with such a ridiculous situation that the council employs staff, heats and lights a gymnasium, mows the outdoor pitches that are never used during the day, but won’t let primary schools use them? What would they have to do extra? Nothing.
There will not be an Olympic legacy unless the facilities we have are enabled/forced to be made available to schools and young people.”

We believe that the time has come to develop an environment with a much more outward-looking and customer-focused culture. Where skills such as listening to people’s lives and speaking people’s language help create more welcoming experiences and where innovation is key to adapting to constantly changing lifestyles. Community sport needs to adopt a new mindset and learn a new skill set – taking the best from successful social enterprises and the hospitality and wider leisure sector. It has to recognise that sport operates in the ‘experience’ business, competing for people’s leisure time and attracting them away from shopping centres, cinemas, bars and restaurants along with the need to compete with the apathy of watching TV.

 This is why we propose to launch the campaign for real community sport.  The key objectives of this initiative are to create a movement where people can learn, share ideas and experiences, celebrate best practice and gain confidence in making community sport more welcoming, enterprising, innovative and relevant. The campaign will include (if you have any ideas, they are certainly more than welcome):

  • We will highlight the great work that is already being done
  • We will run events where people working in the sector and volunteers in clubs can get together and learn and share ideas and experiences on how to grow community sport. Initially we would propose to run 6-8 regional events
  • We will set up a website where people can access thoughts, tools and to-dos, including case-stories, templates, action plans and top tips
  • We will set up an Awards programme where best practice is celebrated
  • We will create a network of like-minded people
  • Gradually, we will be growing the momentum and more and more people from schools, clubs, governing bodies, local authorities, community trusts and social enterprises can be part of the Campaign for real community sport.


This new approach will not be confined to sports participants only. The 70,000 Olympics Games Makers represent a huge potential for clubs to attract as volunteers, but only if clubs apply a more modern and welcoming approach to their volunteer leadership and support. The following quote from an Olympic volunteer (from highlights the challenge clubs are facing, if they are to capture some of the great people who have volunteered.

“My Olympic volunteering experience has starkly highlighted the essential role of volunteer support in developing, inspiring and encouraging volunteers. Olympic volunteers had regular emails, text messages, 12-hour telephone support Monday to Sunday, and letters. During training fellow volunteers have been refreshingly impressed with the level of support – one volunteer had a replacement uniform hand-delivered to her home when she realised it was too small.”


Yes, the challenge of creating the momentum of the campaign for real community sport is going to be considerable.  That is why we need all the help, support and ideas we can have – and that includes you. Please.

 We would be really grateful if you could let us have your thoughts, ideas or offers of support for this initiative.  Whether you are a volunteer at a club, work in a leisure centre or as a sports development officer, work for a governing body or CSP or run a community sports enterprise – please do get in touch.

 We look forward to hearing from you.


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