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What Can Elite Athletes Teach NGBs about Community Participation?

Posted: Sat, 19 Jan 2019 12:05

What Can Elite Athletes Teach NGBs about Community Participation?

Criticism of the LTA by Sir Andy Murray caused one of our hottest debates on Linkedin this week. In an interview last week Andy Murray claimed the LTA had not done enough to increase player participation in the sport off the back off his success.

To sports people it seems obvious that if they have been successful they can pass on their knowledge dirve and passion to get others involved in the sport THEY love.

Any quick glance at Sport England APS figures will show the steady decline in participation figures but my question was what can an elite sports star like Andy Murray do to help, and understand the grass roots barriers to his sport?

The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) announced its National Academies and Regional Player Development Centres (RPDCs) as part of its new 10-year vision for performance tennis in Britain. The strategy aims to set new standards for player development:

Player Pathway strategy from the LTA.

It looks like the LTA will try to bring Andy inside the 'tent' but lets see how long that lasts.

The arguments are quite nuanced but and i don't want to belittle the efforts of sports stars to put something back - but the trick is to find the right part of the system for them to put back into. I would contend that is generally not at grassroots where sport is having to reach out into communities it has not generally tried to reach in the past - the non sport and physically inactive. The whole sector is struggling with this despite all the insight that is around.

I believe this is a constant challenge for NGBs the size of the LTA - being responsible for schools, clubs, player pathways and elite support for the top player sin the world. At the dame time the NGB will be under commercial pressures, governance and the need to diversify the player base in an increasingly competitive market for the leisure hour & £pound. Children, Teenagers and adults have so many choices to fill their leisure time. Tennis like many other traditional sports is struggling to keep up. But I am no sure what understanding Andy would have of the insight into why people aren't taking up the sport. Over my many years of working at both ends of the sports world I find elite driven sports people the worst at understanding why not everybody wants to do their sport!

Don't get me wrong -there are some wonderful Foundations set up my sports stars here and abroad, but these seem to work where the stars let go and allow either professionals to run them or even better let go completely and let communities design their own responses.

This is my overall beef with the system at the moment. Well funded programmes parachuting their short term solutions into an area and then disappearing. The delivery pilots from sport England lessons and some more whole systems thinking approach is required to make the fundamental shift required to get us Active.

One side point is that high profile sports stars and others can be very good at attracting funding - which at one level looks helpful. But again I would contend that all too often this squeezes out local community innovation where the greatest impact could be found.

And as we get deeper in Austerity it is becoming increasingly obvious the sport and physical activity policies are a sticking plaster to the much greater challenges of poverty, inequality and lack of diversity across the sector. No wonder we have such little success general at engaging the most deprived communities.

This is not a swipe at all the good work being done by those who have decided to put something back - but a plea for us to use evidence, not be beguiled by the stardust and accept that there will be limited 'expertise' across the segments of the population we need to attract nd often no understanding of the disengaged who we most need to be physically active.

Tags: Featured, Sport England, Sports Policy, Sports Think Tank