What encourages or inhibits children and youth participation in sport?

From a socio-cultural perspective, sport is prominent in the lives of Australians. With respect to young children, 60% or more of Australian children aged 5-14 participate in some form of organised sport outside school hours. There is international consensus that regular participation in physical activity like sport offers benefits to individuals, communities and countries, and that the strong foundations in movement competence that can be developed through child and youth sport participation may assist the choice to be physically active in adolescence and adulthood. Keeping children who start playing sport involved therefore offers many potential benefits to the individual and community health.

Research suggests that the reasons why children join and stay involved in sport include family influence, the individual desire to continue, the enjoyment that would be lost if one stopped playing, the loss of social opportunity if one stopped playing, and a sense of belonging that comes with being associated with a club. Weinberg et al (2000) found that for youth, the most significant reasons for being involved in sport was to be able to do something they were good at. In other words, feeling confident in one's competence assists the choice to stay involved in sport. Elliott and Drummond (2011, 2013, 2015) found that the enjoyment derived from positive social interactions, support and involvement from parents, coaches and peers as well as perceived competence are major factors in keeping youth playing sport. Therefore, the social climate created by the club, the supportive relationship the coach is able to develop with the player, and supportive relationship between player and parent/s, are key factors requiring attention if sport clubs and school sport teams wish to retain players.

In a study we published in 2015, it was found that the most common reason children played sport were friends or family who participated in the sport. Some participants were motivated to play the game they watched on television, suggesting a reason why sports fight for media exposure and televised product. When participants asked what they liked best about sport, the most common answer was 'friendship'. The most common thing they disliked about sport was 'losing'. Extended periods of 'losing' become 'boring'. In our study, teams picked on the basis of talent were viewed as a motivating factor for many to withdraw from the sport. Youth had a desire to participate, and when participation was minimal or withdrawn as they were not talented enough for consistent game time and team selection, the individual was likely to drop out of the sport. Game time is a critical factor in promoting youth retention in sport. The role of the youth sport coach, who is often the one deciding on selection policy and a key element in players relationship with the game, was also important in youth retention. The coach is the 'gate keeper' to player game time. Further, players also wanted to know that they were liked and respected by the coach. The importance of coaches knowing their players as people was indicated.

For mre detail about the background literature and the findings of this study, see Agnew, D., Pill, S., & Drummond, M. (2015) Investigating the elements that encourage or inhibit youth participation in Australian football


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