Are Sports and Physical Activity Communities

We are all different…

Let’s face it: Some people prefer to do their sport in a structured club environment where you train and are being coached and play/compete on a regular basis and you are part of a social network. Others prefer to go to the gym, go for a run or a swim or play some five-a-side as and when they want to and have the time and motivation.

However, there seems to a strong growth in the number of groups where people get together on an informal basis, enjoy their sport and physical activity and communicate via social media.  They don’t have constitutions, policies for this and that, are not affiliated to any governing bodies of sport…in official terms, do they really exist?

These activities rarely take place in ‘official’ places for sport and physical activity, such as clubs or leisure centres as these people and groups can not, and will not, commit the structure and regime required by the ‘establishment’.

Yet, you see these people and groups running in the streets, playing basketball, cricket or tennis in our parks, on their BMX bikes, playing five-a-side football, well almost everywhere…the list goes on.

I have no idea of how many of these people and groups there are out there in the different countries and regions where we work and are involved, but there thousands and counting…and they are often innovative and enterprising and better at engaging with their communities.  Normally they are not incorporated nor do they have a constitution, but they use social media, texts, websites etc. to engage and communicate so their users do feel involved and part of ‘something’ – a community. This is one of the reasons we call these groups Sports And Physical Activity Communities or SAPACs for short.

Not all of these SAPACs are necessarily started by people at the grassroots but in a number of cases they are set up and developed by regional and national community sports enterprises which operate almost on a franchising model. Various forms of ‘streetsport’ have been particularly popular when setting up these franchised SAPACs, which is all great, but the key to their impact and sustainability lies in the engagement of local communities and community entrepreneurs.

Unfortunately, despite their drive and community engagement these SAPACs do often face a number of challenges, especially if they have to use facilities.  How to get recognised as a ‘proper provider’, how to generate enough income to hire facilities and how to engage with ‘the system’. It sometimes seems that funders and official bodies like the outcomes generated by these communities, but at the same time they often do not like their ‘unruly’ nature which means that they are difficult to pigeon-hole.

It is already happening out there…

There are some great examples sports and physical activity communities around:

Run Dem Crew http://www.rundemcrew.com, based in London say on their website:

“We are not a running club and we do not jog. First and foremost we are a family and a community who run hard, run fast and run strong. Formed in the winter of 2007 by DJ, poet and writer Charlie Dark, as an alternative to traditional stuffy running clubs, Run Dem Crew is committed to change and the upliftment (sic) of the next generation. RDC works closely with young people across London providing mentoring and advice along with the opportunity to explore London in a safe, unique, positive and supportive environment. As well as exploring the streets of London the Run Dem Crew also celebrates the diverse urban environment that surrounds the 1948 space with post-run workshops, films and talks.

Be you a marathon veteran or taking your first steps towards your first race, the Run Dem Crew caters for runners of all abilities with runs split into five groups according to fitness and pace.”

Another example is London-based GoodGym //www.goodgym.org.

On their website they say that “GoodGym helps you get fit by doing good: we’ll connect you with physical tasks that benefit your community and keep you fit. Run in a pack to work on a community project, do one-off missions to help vulnerable people or commit to visiting an isolated older person. You’ll get the help of a qualified trainer and support to achieve your goals.”

Glossop-based WellFit CIC //www.wellfitglossop.com is an innovative and energetic social enterprise which is trying to change the world – or at least that bit of it around Glossop.  They believe that a little bit of physical activity does you good and we work with GP surgeries, schools, local sports clubs and community groups to find ways to help people break the habit of inactivity.

They like to call what they do “doorstep PA”. Primarily they work in areas of deprivation because they want to help smooth out “health inequalities” but once they establish a session whether it be in a pub, at a school or using another community asset they don’t put up any unnecessary barriers..

So could the ‘established’ sports system work with and support these sports and physical activity communities and could both parties benefit?

With modern technology, it should be relatively simple for traditional sports clubs or leisure centres to engage with these informal communities and perhaps even help them being set up.  They can then live in happy harmony with the more traditional activities, servicing these groups. Who knows, some of the community members will want to join the club, the centre, play in a team or league, etc.

One tool which has been developed to help manage these communities is http://www.playcaddy.com.

Much of Playcaddy’s appeal in this area comes from their member centric focus, as they have built a platform designed to engage players with a community, and ultimately to get people playing more through increased transparency of activities and better communication. They also offer the ability to connect communities together offering both administration and participation benefits across dispersed community networks.

So without stifling the creativity of these informal communities could established sports providers grow their membership, engage with new people and groups, be invigorated and help to grow sport and physical activity – win win?

Could our County Sports Partnerships become the local/regional hubs for the sports communities? Could our governing bodies be a bit more relaxed about their membership criteria? (We understand that Run Dem Crew were told by England Athletics that as these 200 runners do not operate as a constituted club, they could get involved. A bit of a shame, one would say!

Could our community football/cricket/rugby clubs operate social sides who play as and when? Could they operate teams/activities during ‘non-social’ hours for the 25% of the population which works in hotels, supermarkets, Police etc? Could we create early morning cricket activities for Asian cab drivers for when they finish their shifts?

Through our soon-to-be-launched Sports Enterprise Connections we will be linking up with these Sports Communities – let us know what you think?

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