Sport for Social Good, the way forward for sport?

“No man is an island, entirely of itself…

John Donne (1572 – 1631)

“Sport has an incredible power to do social good and that is what our new strategy is all about. We will invest in sport and physical activity that shows how it can have a positive impact on people’s lives, how it brings communities together while ensuring it continues to make a significant contribution to the economy too.” British Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch.

The British government has launched a new strategy for sport and physical activity in England which moves beyond merely looking at how many people take part (community sport in the UK is devolved to the four home nations).

In the future in England, funding decisions will be made on the basis of the social good that sport and physical activity can deliver, not simply on the number of participants. Success in sport will be defined through five key outcomes:

  • physical wellbeing
  • mental wellbeing
  • individual development
  • social and economic development
  • economic development

You may be based outside England but we are convinced that benefits of a sport for social good strategy and culture is universal.

It is clear that there is a fundamental mind-set shift from looking at the number of adults playing sport to looking at how sport can contribute to national well-being and the economy. There will also be a focus on those people who do not tend to take part in sport, including women and girls, disabled people, those in lower socio-economic groups and older people.

By its own admission, the Government ‘does not underestimate the scale of the change that is needed’.

It is also significant that meeting the needs of the customer is now being seen as being important: As Jennie Price Chief Executive, Sport England, puts it: “If we’re to see a further step change in the total number of people playing sport, we need to take a similar, consumer-focused approach in areas where the figures are stubbornly low.”

Great strategies are fine, but rarely work without developing new cultures and skills

We have learned, over the years, that having a new strategy is only one, albeit important, step in changing the attitude and behaviour of a whole sector, such as sport and physical activity.

The phrase “organisational culture eats strategy for breakfast” was coined by American management guru, Peter Drucker, and we also believe that sentiment applies to this sector.

For many ‘traditional’ sports development professionals this new strategy will require a significant shift in the way they work, and they will have to develop a much-improved ability working with providers of community and commercial sport and physical activities, with a wide range of non-sport partners from health to regeneration and with different levels of government.


Major English sports governing bodies (NGBs) recruit marketing people from outside sport

The Amateur Swimming Association, England and Wales Cricket Board, The Lawn Tennis Association and the Rugby Football Union all have appointed Heads of Growth/Participation who came from senior marketing/communications positions within major fast moving consumer goods businesses. They include Sony, McDonalds, Mars and Coca-Cola.

Should the sports and leisure sector be looking at recruiting more people from community groups, health providers, economic development, education and housing to bring in the skills and understanding required to deliver sport for social good?


For innovative and enterprising providers and partners within sport and physical activity, the Sport for Social Good strategy represents a massive opportunity for growing their enterprise and impact.

Building communities through sport – growing sport by working with communities

For providers within the Sport for Development sector (StreetGames, Greenhouse, Saracens Community Trust etc.) this new strategy represents an opportunity for becoming more ‘mainstream’ and for the partners, such as County Sports Partnerships that have already started going down this route, their foresightedness will stand them in good stead.

Sport does compete for the resources of the community. Community groups, faith, arts, etc. are also vying for volunteers, goodwill and money – if they are better engaged and involved than you and your club they will be more successful in attracting support and resources.

At the same time many of our non-traditional, successful community sport/activity providers from outside the traditional sports world regard the success of their community engagement as just as important as the outcomes of their sporting activities.  Often, because their roots are in the community they design and deliver the programmes to suit people’s real needs, not what the club coach wants to do.


Gaelic sports creat sport for social good with their communities


The Gaelic Athletic Association is Ireland’s largest sporting organisation which promotes Gaelic games such as Hurling, Football and Rounders.


Their clubs have always been embedded within their communities and the whole ethos is that this is much more than just sport. Just look at the mission statement of the GAA:


The GAA is a community-based volunteer organisation promoting Gaelic Games, culture and lifelong participation.

  • Community is at the heart of our Association. Everything we do helps to enrich the communities we serve.
  • We foster a clear sense of identity and place.


Could other Governing Bodies of sport across the British Isles learn from the GAA?


Sport for social good creates a positive cycle of sporting and community prosperity


The more people from outside your club and sport feel that by being involved with you, there is a sense of greater purpose, the more likely they are to want to volunteer at, and work with, your club.  In particular young people who volunteer want to have an impact on society, the club (ensuring vibrancy, visibility and viability), users/members (providing great service), other volunteers (adding value/having fun) and finally, themselves.  It also helps to attract new members who feel your club is more relevant to them because they feel you are ‘part of their world’ and vice versa.



Sport for social good creation could involve new and heightened forms of collaboration. While some opportunities are possible for a club to seize on its own, others will benefit from insights, skills and resources that cut across sport, community, business and public sector boundaries. This applies especially for larger projects, including Asset Transfer where a consortium could take over a public authority facility for the benefit of the community.  Here it is absolutely vital that all partners share the same values.

Sports Marketing Network at the forefront of sport for social good

For some time, the Sports Marketing Network (SMN) has been advocating a kind of sport for social good model.  We have found that sports providers who share values with their community not only do more good, but they also attract more members, partners and volunteers. A win-win situation all-round.

Through our series of Enterprise and Collaboration in Community Sport conferences held in Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh and London we have partnered with, amongst others, Sport Wales, sportscotland, Sport NI, The Irish Sports Council, Senscot, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and London Sport.  We have brought together 100s of professionals from all across sport and physical activity learning about innovative solutions and meeting community entrepreneurs and sports bodies who are at the forefront of the sector.

We have also trained and advised a wide range of clubs, enterprises, NGBs, local authorities and other providers of sport and physical activity on how they can become more enterprising and play a bigger role in their communities.

Two concrete initiatives providing practical inspiration, training and support are required to ensure this strategy is successfully implemented

The Sport for Social Good conference will highlight best practice, successful collaborations, great case-studies from trailblazers who are already practicing sport for social good and experts within specific areas, such as measuring outcomes and working with non-sport partners. This conference will be held in May and SMN are currently discussing this with various partners,

The Sport for Social Good toolkit will be aimed at interested partners, where SMN will provide workshops, guides, templates and online networking opportunities on how to develop initiatives which truly will meet the five outcomes the Government want to be met within the strategy. This toolkit will then be launched at the May conference.

Based on SMN’s work over the last 10 years, The Guide to Sport for Social Good will include case-studies, proven tools and ready-to-use to-dos. Subscribers will have access to SMN’s website which will be launched in May dedicated to this area:

Get in touch

Would you like to learn more? Have a chat? Got a story to tell?

Send us an email or give us a call.

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