Sport and youth development

"For youth services to have a significant impact it must put sport and recreation at the core of its delivery."

A few months ago, it was revealed that there was a neighbourhood where a majority of children are obese. It was also was recently been reported that in the past four years there had been a 41% rise in young people being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. According to StreetGames UK, over 4.5 million 11 – 25-year-olds in England do not achieve the Chief Medical Officer's recommended levels of physical activity. Also in the headlines is the rise of young people involved in gang crime, both as victims and perpetrators. If that wasn’t enough, according to the National Trust’s 2018 Macquarie Youth Index; young people's happiness and confidence are at the lowest levels since the study was launched. A shocking 21% of young people think that their life will amount to nothing, no matter how hard they try. 59% say the unpredictable political climate makes them anxious about the future. On top of all this, according to the ONS "10% of people aged 16 to 24 were "always or often" lonely" and 1 in 10 children and young people are affected by mental health problems.

Faced with these challenges, some have suggested that the answer is to make youth services a ‘statutory duty’ for local government. In fact, the Education and Inspections Act 2006 already states that local councils must provide “educational and recreational leisure-time activities”. It is funding and quality that is not sufficient or mandatory. However, just as important is impact and delivery.

For youth services to have a significant impact it must put sport and recreation at the core of its delivery. According to the mental health charity, Mind; physical activity, sport and the natural environment can improve our overall physical health and mental well-being. It can:

  • Reduced the risk of some diseases (such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes)
  • Lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure
  • Help lose weight, build stamina and ensures healthier bones and organs
  • Gives people more energy and less fatigue
  • Improves sleep
  • Help us deal with stress, anxiety and depression
  • Clears thinking
  • Improves confidence self-esteem
  • Create positive social networks
  • Improves social skills
  • Reduce stress and anger

It can also teach informal skills as well. Such as teamwork, leadership, loyalty and discipline. But also we need to change how we deliver sport and recreation. It needs to be inclusive, universal and diverse.

Growing up, my main access to sports was via school through P.E. However, this was limited by time, equipment and expertise. But just as importantly, my knowledge of sports and my general physical fitness was not the same as my classmates. The end result was that P.E. felt like a nightmare, and by association, sports became less appealing as well.

Options are good because different physical activities achieve different and overlapping outputs and outcomes. Boxing - upper body strength and discipline, football – lower body strength and teamwork. But also, different students have different needs. Whether it’s physical fitness, knowledge of the sport, or even need for the informal outcomes (skill and values).

For sport & recreation is a natural and easy method for youth development, but only if its delivered properly. Start by:

  • Personalising how sports are taught by taking into account each service-users’ needs and design programmes around that person needs
  • Diversity is good; provide as many options as possible as different sport achieves different aims
  • Develop a framework to ensure quality and well-funded provision nationally
  • Have the programmes compulsory to attend, but not measured by attendance in schools but by participation both inside and outside normal education hours
  • Go beyond schools and sports clubs; have programmes organised by local authorities, with schools delivering as part of that programme. Unlike schools, local authorities can legally operate within their constituency. This means that local authorities can act strategically in ways schools can’t

Sport has the ability to teach, such as soft and even more technical skills. It can challenge many of the issues that young people face, directly or indirectly, sch as isolation, inactivity, obesity and negative relationships. But what also matters is how it implemented.


John Morris is a Young Fabian. Follow him on Twitter at @johnny_in_london

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