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Is Zumba the key to London's Olympic legacy?

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Matt Slater | 11:55 UK time, Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Ballroom dancing, gig racing, hula hooping and Zumba: a fab four when it comes to physical fitness and all were mentioned by callers during a fascinating Radio 4 phone-in on grassroots sport on Tuesday. But are they, you know, actually sports?

The reason I ask is the same reason the venerable "You and Yours" programme was asking. With London 2012 now little more than 200 days away, do we, as a nation, have any chance of reaching our Olympic legacy targets for mass participation?

The short answer to those questions is "no, they're not and no, we don't".

The longer answer, however, is much more complicated and that is what made "What's Your Sport?" such an interesting listen.

Ballroom dancing

Is a group activity, such as ballroom dancing, really a sport? Photo: BBC

Before I get into the meat of the debate I should explain what these targets are all about. Or, more precisely, were all about, as we don't hear about them so much these days.

The first was a general ambition to make the nation slightly less wedged to the sofa and was supposed to be "delivered" by the Department of Health. Doctors and nurses were mobilised to raise the heart rates of Brits of all shapes and sizes for about 30 minutes a week: prevention not cure.

Sadly, the most recent data suggests the early progress made from 2007 has run out of puff.

Fewer than 15 million people fit into this category and any hope of getting that significantly closer to 16 million by 2013 has vanished. Which is what has happened to this target as government policy: not formally dropped, just not talked about.

That is beginning to look like the fate of the other target too, the ambitious goal of getting one million more people to play a lot more sport.

This target - set by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) via Sport England, the agency in charge of "sport for all" - was always going to be trickier as it entails a serious commitment for most in terms of time and money, three sessions a week.

Like the first target, early momentum here is tailing off. What is more worrying is that the numbers for teenagers and women are falling.

There are now about seven million people who play enough sport to meet the criteria, way off the 7.8 million hoped for by this time next year.

Taken together, these two measures of participation add up to nearly 22 million people, aged 16 and older, playing weekly sport. That's 35% of the population.

Put that like, it does not sound so bad, does it? After all, "sport for all" is fine for those who like sport but terrifying for those with memories of frostbitten cross-country runs and the humiliation of being picked last.

But those numbers do not sound so good when you hear that half the population are not doing much exercise at all and nearly three million Brits have diabetes. That last number is up by almost 50% in four years and the vast majority suffer from Type 2 diabetes, which develops in the very overweight. On this trend, there will be 5.45 million cases by 2030.

And it's not just the health time bomb we should be worried about.

Sport, whether you liked it at school or not, can do things other social policy tools cannot. Keeping boys interested in their lessons, giving girls with body image worries some healthy role models, promoting good relations between community groups and giving the nation some feel-good entertainment - sport can help with all of these.

Which brings me back to those activities at the top. None of them would have been picked up by Sport England's researchers because they have used a fairly narrow definition of sport ever since former DCMS minister James Purnell told them in 2007 that the clue is in Sport England's title - no pastimes.

This put the national governing bodies of the respective sports in charge of mass participation. Sport England's role was reduced to dishing out money and collecting results. Those results have been very disappointing but for a handful of sports.

Boys at football training

Sport does not have to be competitive, but it must be accessible, fun and inclusive. Photo: Reuters

I kept thinking about this as caller after caller told the "You and Yours" audience about the exercise they do every week that would not "count" as formal sport.

Diana from Norfolk talked about the netball she played for "giggles with the girls" until some of them got too serious and wanted to play actual matches.

Somebody else emailed in to say they swim three times a week but "can't stand sports", whilst a leisure centre owner in London said she had ripped the squash courts out to create more room for Zumba.

I am not listing these examples to mock them. I list them because they provide clues as to how we can improve our overall fitness and, in the long run, perhaps win more medals too.

Sport does not have to be competitive. It does not need pitch markings. It does not even need to be that organised. But it does need to be accessible, fun and inclusive. That means being more attractive to women, the young and the old, being affordable and easier to fit around busy lives.

Staging great sport in this country in the hope that people will be inspired to start doing it themselves is not a dreadful idea provided it is not the only idea. We also need to open up our best facilities - often in private ownership - for greater public use and we need to encourage more people to take up coaching without charging them an arm and a leg to get qualified.

But most of all we have to stop turning people off sport. If somebody wants to get fitter, what is wrong with ballroom dancing? That could get the competitive juices flowing again and lead to a more sporty activity next. Or the buzz of exercising again could tempt them to add some badminton to their weekly routine.

That is the funny thing about exercise: it can be difficult to encourage if you get bogged down in detail but can pop up in the strangest places if you create the right environment.

A good example of this is table tennis, one of the few "regular" sports doing well participation-wise.

It has made a virtue out of a vice in that inner-city schools with no outside space can put half a dozen tables in the dining hall and get a PE lesson going. Put those tables in shopping malls or train stations and you take your sport to the people. Get a coach there with a couple of bats and some balls and you may just spark an Olympic dream.

There is no magic bullet here and those legacy targets will be missed. But they were worth a shot and the same can be said of foxtrots and polkas and probably Zumba too, although you will never catch me trying it.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Very good thought provoking blog.
    Can't wait for the olympics

  • Comment number 2.

    Dancing is well known to be a wonderful way to get fit and strong. Look at ballet dancers, who exemplify physical strength and power whilst not needing to look like tanks.

    After he won Strictly Come Dancing, Austin Healey said that had he known about dancing training before he would have altered his rugby training, as he was in better shape after 3 months of dancing than he ever had been during his rugby career, and that various injuries had stopped hurting.

    I agree with you Matt, we need to get rid of the stigma attached to getting fit. I started going to spinning classes last year, and was told by my male friends that "spinning's for girls", and that I was obviously just going to meet women. I then challenged them to join me and see if they still agreed that it was only for girls. They did, and are all now hooked on it, from a fitness perspective!

  • Comment number 3.

    Didn't Bobby Gould try to bring in some Ballet techniques into football training at Coventry?? He was only there one season 83-84, maybe that was the reason. I believe he was derided for that approach from inside and outside the game. Maybe Austin was too young at that time.
    Having been nagged at by my mother for years, I eventually went to some free Yoga classes at my gym, something of a revelation I can tell you. No wonder Ryan Giggs uses it, but that may be down to other pressures. I suggested them at my rugby club as the teacher was trying to broaden her client base and was offering a deal, now I know how Bobby Gould felt!!! I'm no yoga nut, but I can definitely see the benefits. Too many luddites in sport.

    As for increasing sport participation? There's only one real answer, forget the adults and get it back in to the schools properly, right from infants upwards. That phase of non-sport in schools was an absolute scandal!! Get more enthusiastic sporty Heads with more PE teachers, and shame those fat lazy parents to get involved with their kids sports. It's a 30 year plan, there are no overnight fixes.

    Some govt. department would bring in a consultant for that advice.

  • Comment number 4.

    Surely being fit and playing sport can be two things.
    Sport is competitive. You can kick a ball around but if you play football that requires two teams trying to beat each other.
    Competition doesn't need to be sport. A confusion enhanced by the olympics!! It is possible to decide which participant is most technical or most accurate etc as in Strictly. But that doesn't make ballroom dancing a sport. Sport requires a measurable target be it most goals; fastest time; longest leap etc
    Totally agree that as a nation we need to be much fitter and we need to produce more, better sportspeople but lets not confuse those two completely separate targets.

  • Comment number 5.

    @ 3+4 - might I suggest a totally different way of looking at sport - split the sciences into physics, chemistry and non-human biology, then join human biology, food sciences and "games" together to make what I'll call "Total Psyical Education" - you'll increase the ammount of time given, help those that wish to coach AND teach as well as just those that wish to be "the next Beckham", give a sound basis to those that no sport is beyond them but keeping fit isn't, appeal to "the next Beckham" or "the next Adlington" whilst making sure that girls (and lads) that abhore sport aren't left out (see point of keeping fit rather than playing sport) and then you'll give to the junior teams a fit, healthy, know hot to be fit/healthy group of particpants.

    I'd not say do away with competative sports in schools but I'd offer a choice in them - after all playig competative football didn't do anything for me as being 5ft6 and always bigger than every other lad out there, I was told - hoof it, play centre-half or centre-forward. Schools PE taught me little (except what I didn't like) - the irony these days is that most people won't get a chance to do most "successful" sports unless they go to Uni.

    Zumba et al. have their place but without the science behind the fitness (mostly food science) it's all useless - most people hit 18 and that's it.

  • Comment number 6.

    All good points, but seems to gloss over the fact that ballroom dancing is an extremely competitive sport (even outside of Strictly!). There are competitions held all over the country every single weekend. The Open Championship at Blackpool is held in the highest regard by competitors from around the world, both at amateur and professional level. The dancers on Strictly are certainly very good, but very few of them can hold a candle to the very top professional couples.

    Ballroom dancing is recognised by the IOC, and is surely as much of a sport as gymnastics and ice skating, which also depend on the marks of judges to determine the winners. Look up people like Michael Malitowski or William Pino on youtube - you'll soon see how fit and talented (as well as competitive!) ballroom gets.

  • Comment number 7.

    Great that the public are starting to think about sport that everyone can take part in and enjoy, rather than just something for elite competitors.

    Several of the national governing bodies have got the message over the last few years. Hockey Nation, the Big Swim, Sky Rides and Explore Rowing are all geared to encouraging people to participate at a level where they feel comfortable.

    Several club sportspeople highlighted the opportunities in talking about the future of Olympic sports beyond 2012 for my blog:

  • Comment number 8.

    @ 7 - re: rowing - this is a reallife experience (I won't name names) - the 5ft 6 rubbish footballer became a 6ft 6 pretty fit lad that wanted to have a crack at rowing (the only thing I could seriosuly see my self doing at any level) and rang my local club i.e. the one that's only an hour away as opposed to two hours and three buses away - yes we'd be interested they said, however we're busy at the moment, we'll get back to you - 3 emails a month apart from me and no response to either.

    In other words - sports like rowing, to some extent track-cycling, canoeing etc. are the preseve of either university undergraduates or the rich.

    I can see why a rowing club might not want a rank amateur but they were looking at rank amateur undergraduates (I was 23-24 at the time) but I daresay that a 18-19 uni student might have been exposed to a sport such as rowing at school - not something this lad was ever going to get chance at - I suspect that a lot of these initiatives are doing just enough to get funding rather than any real chance of an amateur making it.

    I hope I'm wrong.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'll think you will find that Competitive Ballroom Dancing, or Dancesport as it is known, is in fact an olympically recognised sport.

  • Comment number 10.

    I think that the way to get more people playing sport is to have more clubs, teams, basically more opportunities, not zumba.

  • Comment number 11.

    Well written (to an extent) but as an amateur dancer myself, I feel that you have treated Ballroom and Latin-American dance with contempt here. Half an hour of jiving tires me out more than an hour of 5-a-side. Fitness levels obviously vary from person to person but dancing really is much more intense than this blog has given it credit for.

  • Comment number 12.

    Did you actually read the article, rakheshpm? Contempt? Really? Strange. By the by, if you really are more tired after 30 mins of jiving than you are after an hour of five-a-side you are not doing it properly. The five-a-side that is, not the jiving.

  • Comment number 13.

    I am a regular at my local boxing gym. The guys there want to know when some of this "legacy funding" might make it's way down there, as so far it looks like it has been spent on wining and dining foreign officials, and Sebastien Coe's makeup/wardrobe.

    Zumba from my experience is a bunch of obese people causing minor seismic events, which I'm not against, but let's not call it a sport. It's a fitness craze, like Taebo/water aerobics/kettlebelling/hula-hooping etc.

    Sport is different because it instills a mental toughness, not just a physical one. Hence why darts is a sport, regardless of it's lack of physical exertion. In boxing, the analogy would be the difference between hitting a heavy bag for three minutes, and sparring a round. Both great ways of staying in shape, but mentally a whole different bag of onions

  • Comment number 14.

    I enjoyed this post. But i wonder how the budget cuts, and the government's changing priorities for youth sport, will effect the Games' legacy.

    I've tried to unpick some of this in a recent blog post:

    Talking Education and Sport: An Olympic Legacy for 2012

    I'd really value any comments.

  • Comment number 15.

    Matt - yes, I have read it. Maybe contempt was too strong a term but I was referring to your writing off of ballroom dancing as a sport. Zumba may be loosely based on some Latin figures but is completely different - a fitness craze, as LancashireSwinger said. Competitive dancing contains a lot of the hallmarks of the competitive sports you have described. Mental strength (i.e. 'staying in the zone') and physical fitness during competitions and hours of diligent practice are essential if you want to be a winner.

  • Comment number 16.

    Also, on the subject of one hour of 5-a-side versus half an hour of jive - the factor that leads to my exhaustion is probably how seriously I take it. I play 5-a-side one evening a week after work and it is more for recreation than anything else. If I were training to play for a team/playing in an actual match, that would be a completely different story.

  • Comment number 17.

    Gotta stick up for Matt here. I don't think HE was writing off dancing as a sport - he was referring to a definition given to Sport England by the government which differentiates 'sport' and 'pastime'. To me, Matts point was that actually activities such as dancing (or Zumba, or mucking around with some mates and a ball in the park) are perfectly good ways to stay fit, yet they are not counted by Sport Englands participation figures nor are they funded/advertised/supported as part of the push to increase participation and the health of the nation. Perhaps if they were, the figures would look better and, more importantly, more people may be encouraged to take up what could be defined as "non-sport physical leisure activities", including dancing.

    Nobody would argue that dancers are not fit and that dancing is not physical exercise - it's just not (rightly or wrongly) currently defined as a sport.

  • Comment number 18.

    "Sadly, the most recent data suggests the early progress made from 2007 has run out of puff"

    Look no further than the introduction of the Coalition to this country and the irreprable (probably) damage they are causing to grass roots sports in this country. The opportunities now for anyone trying to start working in grass roots sports has plummeted. Since this area is no longer ring fenced in the schools budget then the vast majority of schools are simply getting rid of all the outside coaches they used to employ.

    Sadly the incredible work done to get the Olympics here is being undone by the incompetence of this government.

  • Comment number 19.

    There's an awful lot of social conservatism that goes on when it comes to talking about what is, or isn't sport. The start and end of this article are prime examples of this - though not, I note, the middle. The nation would become a lot less snobbish and a lot happier if there were a greater sense of liberalism about what is or isn't sport, or a sense in which some sports are more sport-like than others.

    Just about anything can be treated as a sport if it is taken sufficiently seriously. As Matt says, it doesn't have to be competitive. I would add that it doesn't have to be a team event, and that it doesn't have to rely on physical attributes. Sure, this deliberately liberal definition errs on the side of inclusivity, and you could abuse the definition to invent a sport of, say, competitive tax return collation. I don't have a problem with that; at least it would be clear who deserved to be the winner, as opposed to the wide range of (nevertheless very worthy) judged sports where the marking may deliberately include subjective elements like "artistic impression".

    There has been a globally recognised world championship of aerobic gymnastics since 1995, testing strength, power of leaps, balance and flexibility as performed in a routine set to music. Why must aerobic gymnastics be considered to be less of a sport than, say, rhythmic gymnastics? Going further, why would it not be possible to recast the core elements of a Zumba routine in a sporting context? Bring it on, I say; the World Games were always sneakily more interesting than the Olympics anyway...

  • Comment number 20.


    I disagree with you on some points, Sport MUST be competitive in order for me to class it as a sport. If it is not competitive then it is a hobby, like going to the gym for example. It also must involve some sort of physical attribute, this doesn't necessarily mean being physically fit but some form of attribute.

    Steady hand for darts, steady arm for 10 pen bowling. I would even have mind games as a sport such as chess and drafts. I once read Nigel Short lost stones during a game with Kasporov.

  • Comment number 21.

    Matt whether we're talking fitness or sport the activity usually needs at least an individual to run it or venue to host it.

    Across the board to conflict with the Sport England encouragement there is greater bureacracy, health & safety and insurance requirements that make it harder for ad hoc sports activity.

    Being a volunteer coach or activity leader is hard enough in these tough times but from an early age education & work now come first and a balanced life style comes second. I continue to provide access to sport and clear the hurdles but others will not be so persistent.

  • Comment number 22.

    It has been stated that thousands of women and teenagers are not participating in sport, but across the country thousands of women and teenage girls (and boys) participate in regular, accredited recreational activity. They work to a set syllabus, take accredited exams . Some will participate in competitions and others will just do it for fun and personal satisfaction. They dance. They participate in all manner of dance from the more energetic varieties of street and cheer leading through to keep fit, jazz, Old Time Dancing, musical theatre, Scottish Highland dancing, the many forms of ballroom plus ballet, tap and modern.

    In 2010 over 1000 ORDINARY people from 30 NGB of movement and dance performed at the Royal Albert Hall at 'On Show', there was no publicity, no TV coverage, but in 2015 they will be doing it all over again!

    It may not be 'sport' in that there are no winners, but across the breadth of 'keep fit' and 'dance' these organisations make exercise, keep fit, movement and dance accessible to those who want to improve their fitness in a fun, social and enjoyable environment.

  • Comment number 23.

    Can I also comment on both the need for, and benefits of being a referee in this context.

    While not actually playing the sport theirselves, it's widely reported that most Premiership referees run a distance that is comparable to the numbers posted by the players they are refereeing. And without a steady stream of keen and fit referees, the opportunities to actually play the sport for those inclined to do so in a competitive fashion will decrease.

  • Comment number 24.

    What is a sport???

    20 years ago when I did A' Level Sport Studies there were 4 requirements:

    It must be competitive (a winner)
    It must have a National Governing Body
    It must be an Institution. i.e. not just Bob and Dave playing their homemade competitive game of grumpyball every wednesday
    It must involve physical activity (This is the most contentious- do Darts/Snooker/Pool Qualify? Backgammon (despite meeting all of the other 3 criteria, does not)

    I quite like the idea that if you do any other form of physical training, that improves your ability in the questionned activity- then it qualifies as a sport.. but this is pure anacdote.

    Ballroom Dancing is unquestionably a sport
    Zumba (which to my knowledge is not competitive) is not (unless there are organised competitions)
    Morris Dancing is not a sport (because again, to my knowledge is not competitive)
    Ice Dancing is a sport

  • Comment number 25.

    anecdote was a typo- I can spell it (just about)

  • Comment number 26.

    If you want to see a grassroots success then look at parkrun ( What started as one man putting on a free weekly 5k timetrial for his runing club now has over 100 events operating every saturday around the UK all organised by volunteers, with plans to start 100 more in 2013 in the UK and around the world. It will shortly be passing the 1 million run milestone and it's still free to anybody who wants to do it - just a one-time registration, print off a barcode, then simply turn up to any event on a Saturday morning and run. Participants range from olympic athletes right through to absolute beginners, and it's quite common to see 3 generations of families all running together every week. The sense of community is tremendous and everybody smiles. A huge success story.

  • Comment number 27.

    I'd like to reassure people it was a running club, and not a runing club as I just wrote - we're runners not wizards!

  • Comment number 28.

    A good blog that raises some interesting questions.

    For me the issue of 'Sport Participation' is one that should be tackled from grass roots up (although this doesn't mean strategies cannot be implemented for getting ages 16+ involved). Some people are competitive, others aren't; this is merely a fact of life. However by focusing on sporting participation the pool of partcipants is instantly narrowed to those who are competitive to begin with.

    I believe that a strategy should be implemented that focuses on 'participation for play'. Play can be anything active, with any equipment, anywhere, any time. The rules of which are flexible at best (if any). The purpose of such a scheme is to breed a culture of enjoyment in our youth, doing loosely sports related activities for the fun of it. With an increase in play participation I'm sure that an increase in sports participation would inevitably follow. Why? Because through exposure through playing a participant may find competitive urges awakening within them, they may then act upon this and seek out a sports club, adding another '1' to the sports participation figures. And if a play participant decides that sport isn't for them, well never mind, because at least they're still active in play. This approach doesn't neccessarily have to be about grass roots, it could be used for 16+ schemes, I just feel it would reap the most reward from a grass roots setting.

    I came accross this idea when a member of the Badminton club I play for set about organising a friendly ladies club with the primary aim of getting people to just play, nothing more, nothing less. They needed no equipment and the rates were extremely cheap (pay as you play). The initial response was slow, but with some help towards promoting the club he started to get more ladies attending. Clearly word got round because he suddenly found himself with fairly high regular attendance figures. A year or so on and it is still running strong, but what struck both of us was the attitude of some of the participants. He found himself in the position of being asked about competitive play, about competitive clubs, some of the girls were asking 'can we get any matches?'! Many are now focising on getting involved in Badminton as a sport!! This occured with no pushing or pressuring on his behalve, without this fun club it's questionable as to whether these ladies would have considered/taken up Badminton as a sport.

  • Comment number 29.

    Wouldn't let me finish my post!

    Granted this is only small scale, but for me it just reiterates that participant isn't about sport, it's about just doing something, anything active!! Once this is addressed then I see only benefits for Sports participation.

    Appologies for going on a bit! I just happen to find this topic of great interest!! Sorry if I bored anyone!

  • Comment number 30.

    @soreshins as a keen runner I think the Park Run scheme is fantastic! There have been several in my local area! my only disapointed is that I can't go because of work!! However several members of my family, and many from my running club attend and have said how much they thoroughly enjoy it!! :)

  • Comment number 31.

    @wirral18, I disagree with you somewhat on your notion that it is all due to the coalition causing damage to grassroot sports. While they haven't, so far, looked to improve it, it was the previous 'white paper' produced by the previous Labour government "Playing to Win" which set this downward spiral we've started to see. They took the emphasis off "Sport for All" and wanted to focus on producing elite athletes to ensure that we come at least 4th at 2012, while trying to increase participation by 1 million from 2008 to this year. The figures, as mentioned in the article, show we are nowhere near reaching this target, the levels increased by around 300,000 from 2008-2010, but drop back down in 2011, so the overall increase is only 100,000 - way short of the 1 million target. The coalition haven't been able to change this official government paper due to it only being used for the last 3 years - there is a certain time period before they can change the policies. Having said that, the coalition have done little to make us feel good about sport. While they have to make cuts due to the ridiculous amount they have spent on these Games (which quite a lot will be wasted), there's going to be little room for Sport England, UK Sport or the Youth Sports Trust to make sufficient changes. All the government wants is one quick fix that will suddenly get everyone participating in sport - which they feel will be this Olympics. They are so set on the idea that the Olympics will help to increase participation, they haven't looked at previous figures which show that no country has had a significant increase in participation post-Olympics. We are too bogged down in success in this country.

    One country that have achieved amazing results for participation are Finland. A recent report showed that they have a staggering 80+% of the adult population doing 3 x 30 minute exercise 3 times a week. This hasn't been a result of any massive sporting success, or a major international event occurring in their country. Instead, what has happened is that they changed to a 'Sport for All' structure back in the 1960s, set out a few policies, and then just left them alone to develop by themselves. They regular monitor their strategies and will perhaps tweek them, but they haven't significantly changed their Sport for All mantra, this is still going strong. Therefore each generation is now bought up with the opportunities to participate if they so wish.

    While this is an example of something that has worked successfully, over a long period of time, it may not necessarily work in this country due to different social, political and economical problems, but they overarching message is abundantly clear: you need to give strategies time to fester throughout the general public. Our governments seem to think that if there is no change after 4 or 5 years, they will scrap that policy and bring in something new, which is entirely wrong. In order to improve participation, we need to change the culture of many individuals from spectatorism to actual participation, which will take time, but the end results should be well worth it.

  • Comment number 32.

    The win-at-all-costs mentality that is currently prevailing in many sports (athletics especially from my experience) means that many conventional sports are no longer an option for the social participant. If you try to "take part" rather than win you are treated like a lower class, if you are allowed to take part at all.

    This culture and the medla based funding structure that supports it has then led to a lot of the winning-is-everything type of people being promoted through the sport which then starts to feed itself on winning without taking any consideration of the majority that are being won against.

    Couple that culture with the regulatory nonsense of child protection and the assumption that everyone in sport is a peadophile until they prove they aren't (notably all the nouveau-pseudo-sports in the article are particularly adult centric and immune to those regulations) and it is no wonder that large numbers of people are looking outside of mainstream sports to enjoy their free time.

  • Comment number 33.

    I must confess that despite my love of sport of all forms and respecting competitors, I find it difficult to find the time to commit myself fully to a sport. As I remain in full time education the sheer amount of time which I am required to devote to coursework and essays renders any attempts at fitness almost impossible apart from twice a week, though once more it is not unusual for one of those to be missed due to homework. Combine this with the effect of having to maintain a part time job in order to start up a fund for university in the long run, I find it unsurprising that the number of teenagers who are not participating in sport is dropping.
    In the time approaching exams, sport tends to go out of the window, an ideal example would be now when revision has nigh on ruled the half term break and has only been broken up by days at work.
    At an age of around 14 it often becomes untenable to continue to a sport with 100% commitment which has 3 sessions a week, studies begin to truly take a hold if one wants to succeed academically. Of my friends I know of only 4 or 5 people who were able to continue playing football for a club as normally the amount of time that training required was too much let alone the match, this was from an initial figure of around 20 who I knew of. At tennis, of 10 who first attended in year 5 the number has gradually whittled down until just two of us remain in regular attendance. Basketball participation within our year has plummeted and now it falls to the younger years who are coached by the few who still find time to attend. Unfortunately I fear the same cycle shall befall them as once did us and despite being strong in numbers of around 25 now by the time they reach years 9 and 10 the numbers shall once more fall.
    Participation in sport for teenagers is perhaps not falling due to lack of interest, but instead, due to lack of time.

  • Comment number 34.

    People need to get a grip and do some exercise. All i hear at work is folk bleating on about their (failed) diet regimes. I don't mind whether folk are dancing, going to zumba or playing football...just as long as they're doing something which may help stop their whinging.

    Perhaps people should be forced? I'm pretty sure they'd enjoy it? :)

    p.s. good stuff again Matt, always up there as the better BBC bloggers.

  • Comment number 35.

    I study physiology and will be graduating this year and I've seen the figures. If our current rate continues we will be a fatter nation than the U.S. and will be leading the world in poor diet and unhealthy lifestyles. Unless of course we change. The fact is it needs to come from multiple sources and challenge people on all fronts. The government, local sport and so far unmentioned on hear employers need to act. Most people make excuses regarding work, family, friends etc. They never think that exercise time could be family time or the hour lunch break could be a good opportunity to go for a walk/jog. Personally employers should make a point of it and given tax incentives from the government to encourage it. Alternatively we could, despite the outrage it would cause, tax people for being obese. Simply a yearly or 6-monthly mandatory check up and if your BMI is over 30 (it should be between 20-25) then you will be taxed. And I hasten to add not without reason. The thing that is crippling the NHS more than anything else isn't the cuts or the managers and paperwork, but the fact that we have a huge amount of preventable illnesses and diseases. Type 2 Diabetes being number 1. However the research also shows that exercising regularly throughout your life (even in retirement!) significantly reduces the chance of cancer, heart disease, mental illness, bone problems even common colds and infections as it boosts your immune system.

    If your a fatty and you feel upset by it then do not go and comfort eat. Go outside everyday and walk for 30-60 minutes and then eat a bit less. In a month you will feel better and in 6 months you won't recognise yourself.

  • Comment number 36.

    Great article, Matt (not least in the debate it has generated) and a subject which is pretty close to my heart.

    I play cricket regularly, as well as cycling and running, and have played football and rugby in the past and honestly believe I have got much out of the playing sports, either competitively or purely for exercise. This extends beyond getting and staying fit and includes developing friendships with like minded people, confidence, co-ordination, etc.

    As such, I've been lucky enough to gain entry to this year's London Marathon and am running for the Youth Sport Trust, whose main aims include increasing kids' particpation in sports for exactly the reason's in Matt's article. You can check them out here -

    I'd love our country to have sport at the heart of everything it does, no matter what your sport is.

  • Comment number 37.

    PS And if you'd like to sponsor me in my run, the Youth Sport Trust and I would be very grateful!!

    Shameless plug over- thanks!! :-)

  • Comment number 38.

    Interesting article and blog, missed this programme but heard another one this week on netball. Looking at definitions of sport it doesn't need to be competitive, the Chambers dictionary defines sport as " recreation; pastime; play; a game or activity, esp one involving physical exercise; ........ ". I am teacher of Medau Movement and an ice skater and the movement I do off the ice helps me on ice. Medau is part of the EMDP the lead GB National Governing Body of Sport for Exercise Movement and Dance. There are areas of our full and associate membership which are competitive but not all. It is a not for profit organisation dedicated to the development of exercise, movement and dance provision throughout England and the UK, it is involved with Sport England and Skillsactive and in a number of initiatives including Dare2 Dance. There is a concept that sport and dance are separate but what I teach is derived from observation of both sport and dance and of ordinary day to day movement done well. Whatever you do enjoyment of the activity is one of the keys to good movement and for me it is all areas of the population that need to be encouraged to MOVE! (written sitting for far too long at a computer!).

  • Comment number 39.

    I think there are two different issues here: Firstly, competitive sport, which some of us feel passionate about; which we want to be good at as a nation and, of course is what the Olympics is all about. Secondly, there is physical activity of any sort - and it doesn't matter if its Zumba or hip hop or running round the park. It does matter, though, to anyone who wants to be healthy, that there is some energetic activity that they enjoy and that is available to them.

    There would not be enough facilities for everyone to take part in competitive sport even if they wanted to. So I say let these other activities coexist and stop knocking them.

    But I also say that we don't do nearly enough to get young people into competitive sport. There is not enough capacity in state schools to coach and run teams in a range of sports for all the students that want to take part. We should be inspiring children and spotting their talent when they are at school. And we should be giving them a chance to have a serious try at a range of sports so that they can find one they like and take it with them into adulthood.

    School Sport Coordinator, NGB coach and Community Run Organiser


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