Raising awareness between adults on participation in sport, exercise and physical activity among children in time for the summer

Summer 2012 was the UK’s summer for sport. As millions tuned in to watch the European Football Championships, Wimbledon, the Test Match Cricket and of course, the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The enthusiasm shown towards sports is staggering, but the problem is that we are either there sat watching it live or sat watching it at home on the TV, and unfortunately some of us still rarely actively participate ourselves.

Over recent years, participation in sport has improved dramatically; however, we can still do a lot better. I believe us adults, as our time has been and gone, should create an environment where children are not afraid to try new things and actively seek to participate in sports.. We need to concentrate on ensuring children are aware and educated on the many benefits of exercise. Hopefully, in years to come our children will be actively participating in physical activity, with the aim to get their children actively involved, and their children, and their children, and…. you get the idea!

Current department of health and children’s guidelines recommend that children and adolescents should participate daily in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity five days per week (DHC & HSE, 2014) in order to avoid being inactive. Inactivity constitutes a major public health threat by increasing the risks of chronic disease and disability (Weinberg & Gould, 2011). This not only causes serious and unnecessary suffering and impairs quality of life, but also comes at a significant economic cost. The direct costs to the NHS, and the indirect costs to society as a result of inactivity, totals to more than £8 billion each year (WHO, 2014).

Raising levels of activity and participation in sports not only improves health outcomes and reduces costs to the NHS and to the wider economy, but can also contribute to a range of positive behavioural outcomes.

Directly below is a brief description of the benefits to be gained from regular participation in sport, exercise or physical activity, which can be divided into three areas of life.


We all know that physical activity is important to children’s current and future health, and to follow the physical activity guidelines produces a range of direct and indirect benefits. Firstly it assists in the control of body weight by increasing energy expenditure and helps to avoid developing adult obesity (Pate et al., 2002). It reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and some site specific cancers (Anderson et al., 2006). Weight resistance physical activity is important for bone formation and remodelling (Field et al., 2001).


Participation in regular health enhancing physical activity may also mediate psychological states. It can reduce depression and anxiety (especially in shy children), enhance mood, self-esteem and quality of life (Tremblay et al., 2000). It is also known to reduce rule-breaking behaviour, to improve attention span and classroom behaviours, and can positively affect academic performance (Castelli et al., 2007). In addition, it was found that students who engage in moderate-vigorous activity had significantly higher grades than those who reported doing no moderate-vigorous physical activity (Coe et al., 2006).


Participating in regular physical activity can also have positive social outcomes including crime reduction and more cohesive communities (Biddle & Mutrie, 2003). Moreover, the Ecological Model (Sallis & Owen, 1997) remarks that individuals affect and are affected by their physical and social environments. In particular, children’s behaviours are primarily influenced by family and school environments. More specifically, having access to programmes and facilities such as physical activity; influences a child’s behaviour (Davidson & Birch, 2001; Sallis et al., 2000).

What are the reasons behind participation?

There is a significant and growing evidence base that is devoted to understanding sports participation and how to increase it (Biddle & Mutrie, 2001; Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2005; Weinberg & Gould, 2011).

A review of the evidence suggests that there are four main determinants of participation: physiological, psychological, socio-cultural and ecological.

Before discussing these determinants in further detail, it is worth noting a couple of important points:

  1. The determinants of participation do not work in isolation; they interact and influence each other as they contribute to the behavioural outcomes (Weinberg & Gould, 2011).
  2. The mix of the determinants vary across the lift-cycle of the participants (Biddle & Mutrie, 2003), and indeed within particular lifestyle stages (Prochaska et al., 1992).

In support, the Transtheoretical model (Prochaska et al., 1992) argues that individuals progress through stages of change and that movement across these stages is cycle, rather than linear position, because many people do not succeed in their efforts at establishing and maintaining lifestyle changes (Marcus et al., 1996). With this in mind, they argue that information and interventions need to be tailored to match the particular stage an individual is in at the time.


Physiological determinates of physical activity among children and adolescents include age, gender and ethnicity. Specifically, girls have been found to be less active than boys, older children and adolescents less active than younger children, and black girls less active than white girls (Adams, 1995).


Psychological determinants include confidence in one’s ability to engage in exercise, perception of physical or sport competence, having a positive attitude toward physical activity, enjoyment of physical activity, and perceived benefits from engaging in physical activity.

In contrast, perceived barriers to physical activity such as lack of time or feeling tired are negatively associated with physical activity among youth.


Socio-cultural influences include support for and participation in physical activity in peers and siblings, parental levels of physical activity, parental support, and parental income.


Ecological determinants include access to play spaces, facilities, availability of equipment, and transportation to activity programmes.

Something for the parents

Encouraging your children to play sports is one of the best ways to help them develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime. However, some parents take that support too far by focusing on winning rather than the development of skills and enjoyment. The line between encouraging your child and pushing him/her beyond his/her abilities can be somewhat easy to cross. Youth sports parents occasionally need to be reminded of some of the basic elements to help children become happy, healthy and confident young athletes.

  • Encourage your child to try and play any sport he or she enjoys.
  • Support your child’s decision to not play a sport if he or she does not want to.
  • Let your child make mistakes.
  • Enjoy what your child does and can do.
  • Encourage your child to set goals and measure their progress.
  • Encourage your child to develop their own self-awareness of the skills they have gained.
  • Remind your child of the health benefits of playing sports, and encourage him or her to focus on positive health behaviours.
  • Encourage your child to compete against him/herself, and use competition as a way to improve his or hers own abilities.

How as coaches do we care for our athletes? Caring Agenda

How as coaches do we care for our athletes?  Caring Agenda


How do coaches care for the their athletes?


It can be argued that by coaches spending numerous hours before and after training practices or matches, planning and organizing the team that this demonstrates care for their athletes? But is this enough?


Jones, Armour and Potrac (2004) found that the elite level coaches invest high amounts of time and energy into their work, whilst carrying out their duties in a committed, caring and conscientious manor, this can be related to all coaches at all levels, but isn’t this what is expected of coaches, and if so does this mean by doing this they are caring for athletes at all times.


Jones (2009) also suggests caring occurs through connections and relationships and within these relationships caring can consist of dialogue and confirmation; dialogue can be seen as talking, listening and responding whereas confirmation entails encouraging the athletes. However, these elements of caring that Jones (2009) suggest seem to be commonplace in the coaching environment, and again are something that would be anticipated from a coach.


So what is this caring? Noddings (1992) suggest caring is about building a relationship between the carer and the cared for (coach and the athlete) taking time outside of the session to build upon a relationship. However is this as simple as this may see, Noddings (2003) wrote “to create a climate where it is likely that attempts at caring will be well received, the cared-for must feel that the one-caring has regard for him or her” this would imply that the athlete being cared for must actually feel like the coach is genuinely interested in them the athlete.



Agne (1988) provides an insight into the types of characteristics that a caring coach might exhibit,  ‘Caring is the orientation of those who tend to express a high sense of self-efficacy and who internal in their locus of control. These people who care depend on their own initiatives to solve problems in these efforts, rather than to mainly rely upon others. Caring coaches are less inclined to blame other for failure in these initiatives or to blame factors outside of themselves or their control.


Furthermore Tarlow (1996) developed a number of characteristics associated with caring. These were time, sensitivity, empowerment and dialogue, Tarlow points out that it does not matter if the dialogue given to the athletes is confrontational or empathetic, but what is important is the relationship in which this confrontation is in i.e a good coach athlete relationship. This can be related to coaches at the elite end of sport.


When thinking about caring the trouble most of us as coaches have is that we already think we care, which can be linked back to Jones, Armour and Potrac (2004) which suggested caring is investing high levels of time and energy into their work which is what every coach automatically does. However the issue we have as coaches, is what we actually care about, and the consequence this may possibly have on the athletes we coach.


Jones’s previous work drawed upon the distinction between caring about and for athletes, Certainly in many instances coaches seem to care about their athletes but to care for them implies a deeper level of involvement, it implies an engagement in the athletes welfare and development.

Caring can be given a social stigma as something that is soft or fluffy, it can be seen as something that is very one-dimensional and can lack real meaning, however it can be seen as something that is essential in building upon a coach-athelte relationship which can encourage the self confidence of an athlete.

Noddings (1992) proposed three key areas that can influence caring within the coaching practice, caring for and caring about, the relationship between carer and cared for and lastly cares and burdens.


Caring for and about an athlete are commonly what most coaches can relate to, as coaches do care ‘about’ the athlete and example of this would be the coach caring for the success of the team or that the athletes have an enjoyable experience, but this is not directly caring for the athletes, caring for the athletes can be characterized by action based attention to detail which focuses on the individual needs of the cared for (athlete)


However there are cultural barriers that face caring. Within specific sporting environments it is not always acceptable to care, this could be in a hyper-macho situation i.e international standard of coaching, but this raises the questions of caring covertly, caring doesn’t have to be as mentioned early a fluffy soft act, But a clear action.


Gilbourne and Richardson, 2006 describe how caring can be demonstrating within a football environment. “These people (coaches) possessed empathic, compassionate and altruistic qualities. These attributes appear to work effectively in soccer settings when they are contained within behavioural norms that constitute a culturally acceptable ‘way of being’. These thoughts should be expanded on a little. Soccer is often an abrasive setting, consequently the caring qualities, outlined above, often manifest covertly through ‘action’ rather than overtly via a demonstrably tender disposition.”


When looking at caring in your coaching environment, think about each individual athlete and how you could better demonstrate care, and do you as a coach act differently to those who you do not favor as much as other athletes.