Activating the inactive is completely different from coaching the dedicated

The way we train our coaches and activators to get more people active
has to change, big time!

Introducing Activity Growers and the Activity Grower Academy

There is an increasing focus on how community sport and physical activity providers can improve the way they engage with people who are not currently active.

Active Lives research covering England released last week reported that 40% of the adult population of England, are active for less than the recommended 150 minutes a week. And 47% aren’t engaging with sport and fitness at least once every two weeks.

But unfortunately, for quite some time many, if not most, coach education programmes have ignored the difficult, but crucial point, of attracting, welcoming and retaining all those people who have had negative experiences with sport and physical activity in earlier life.

Training people to activate inactive people has for been for a while been almost ignored, whereas there are an awful lot of support for people who want to become better sports coaches.

I am not suggesting that technical skills are not important if you want to keep enjoying your rugby, parkour or cricket. So, please do keep running education programmes for coaches within those sports and others, but do not expect the number of people playing your sport or generally being active to grow, just because the ‘converted’ improve, say, their golf swing, back stroke or swing bowling.

Yes, there is evidence that good, quality coaching improves the likelihood that people will stay active for longer. However, too many coaches/instructors are guilty of focusing on the talented participants and ignoring the shy, less sporty, participants in the back.  And then they can’t understand why those people don’t come back.

Inactive people want to enjoy themselves, have fun, improve their skills and be part of a welcoming social and sporting experience.  Yes, if possible, they want to develop their skills, but they want to do so in an engaging way; they don’t want to be put under undue pressure from an over-ambitious and zealous coach.

So, we need to distinguish between ‘sports coaches/fitness instructors’ and the ‘activators’ who get inactive people into regular activity: We propose we call them Activity Growers.

An Activity Grower is a person who removes the barriers inactive people experience when wanting to become more active and then focus on keeping them motivated, engaged and active.

There are 4 key strands for the successful Activity Grower:

1.    They have to be Connectors
Connectors are people who know lots of people; they are not always leaders. A connector has a different role in the community. A leader is the person at the front of the room who act as a voice for the community. A connector is in the centre of the room, often unrecognised, but always creating new relationships often acting in a modest way.

•    Connectors see the potential in everyone
•    Connectors are well-connected, active in civic life
•    Connectors are trusted and create new trusting relationships
•    Connectors believe in people in their community

2.    They have to be Welcomers
Welcomers are people who help newcomers ease into the place, so the initial ‘like-first-day-at-school’ nerves disappear, and they become advocates. Your best marketing tool is a customer who has just had a great experience at your club/centre/session.

A great experience means different things to different people. The people who go on holiday with Club 18 – 30 tend not to be the same ones who spend a couple of weeks with Saga Holidays and vice versa!  The guy who likes a quiet pint in a village pub is rarely seen clubbing in busy city centre on a Friday night! This principle also applies to community sport, so when you attract new people, you really have to conscious of who they are and what you are offering and if that fits in with their needs.

They will always forget what you tell them…but they will never forget how you make them feel!

3.    They have to be great communicators
The Activity Grower is there to stimulate the participants and how he or she engages and communicates is vital. People are different. Some are nervous, some are indifferent and some are excitable, etc.  However, they all have to be motivated; often in different ways.

Activity Growers must be able to communicate effectively with many different kinds of people: players, members, parents, officials and coaches amongst others. They should not be afraid to communicate, lead and inspire people.

They must be comfortable with and competent in using digital communication and social media to stay in touch with people (while observing all appropriate safeguarding rules) is key.  Selfies, Facebook posts, tweets and/or Instagram postings are now a MUST for today’s connected Activity Growers if they want to engage and communicate.

4.    They must be great Follow – Uppers
A key part of every successful project getting inactive people has been great follow – up. The texts to say that ‘it was great to see you yesterday’ and ‘looking forward to seeing you tomorrow night’ are key to ensure that participants, especially during the early days, feel part of something.  Sharing experiences on social media is another great way of following up with participants, and remember, it doesn’t cost a penny.

The complete Activity Grower is probably a rare thing; the Welcomer may not be a digital marketing whizzkid, and the social media nerd may not be a chatty welcoming person so we should look to develop teams of Activity Growers at our clubs/centres/community groups. As an example, when we experience successful school/club links, there is a clear pathway for the young people from trying a sport at school to the welcoming experience at the sports club.

The way forward
Over the 10 years Sports Marketing Network have been helping providers of community sport and physical activity to become more vibrant, visible and viable we have come across some great Activity Growers. So, our 4 point plan, above, is based on best practice; so it works.
We need to support our Activity Growers if we are to reach and engage more inactive people. Here’s how we propose to play a role in that:

Sports Marketing Network will be launching the Activity Grower Academy, where we will provide training and support for would-be Activity Growers and develop a network where they can share ideas and best practice on how to get more inactive people more active.

If you would like to hear more about our plans or have some ideas and/or suggestions, please do get in touch.

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