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Landmark report reveals that enjoyment is single biggest factor in motivating children to be active

by Jo Sayer 21 Mar 14:15 GMT
Active Lives Children Survey 2017-18 Attitudes © Sport England

  • Survey of over 130,000 children and young people reveals that enjoyment above all is the strongest driver of children and young people's activity levels simply understanding the health benefits of being active isn't enough.
  • Children who are active and enjoy it are happier, more resilient and more trusting of other children and young people.
  • Sport England CEO Tim Hollingsworth calls on schools, the sport and leisure sector, and parents to ensure that enjoyment is at the heart of any activities they provide.

World-leading new research published by Sport England today, carried out independently by Ipsos MORI, provides the richest evidence yet on which factors positively influence the chance of a child being active. The release comes at a crucial time, given the imminent release of the Government's School Sport Action plan, its green paper on preventing long-term health conditions, and the plans to use physical activity to integrate communities and reduce childhood obesity.

Currently around three million children and young people (43.3%) are active, but a third of children (32.9%) are less active, doing less than 30 minutes of activity a day.

To understand this, Sport England's Active Lives Children and Young People Attitudes Survey which is the largest survey of its kind asked children about their attitudes towards sport and physical activity. The results prove for the first time that children's physical literacy impacts not only the amount of activity they do, but also how much they benefit from this activity.

Physical literacy means that children have a positive attitude towards five elements of taking part in sport and physical activity: enjoyment, confidence, competence (how easy they find it), understanding (that it is beneficial) and knowledge (knowing how to get involved and improve).

The key findings are:

  • Physically literate children do twice as much activity. The more of the five elements of physical literacy children have, the more active they are.
  • Enjoyment is the biggest driver of activity levels. Despite the majority of children (68%) understanding that sport and activity is good for them, understanding has the least impact on activity levels.
  • Children who have all five elements of physically literacy report higher levels of happiness, are more trusting of other children, and report higher levels of resilience (continuing to try if you find something difficult).
  • Physical literacy decreases with age. As children grow older, they report lower levels of enjoyment, confidence, competence, and understanding. Previous research from Sport England shows that activity levels drop when children reach their teenage years.
  • The results also reveal important inequalities among certain groups of children which must be tackled:
  • Girls are less likely to say they enjoy or feel confident about doing sport and physical activity (58% of boys enjoy it, compared to 43% of girls. 47% of boys feel confident, compared to 31% of girls). In children aged 5-7, boys are more likely to love playing sport, while girls are more likely to love being active.
  • Children from the least affluent families are less likely to enjoy activity than those from the most affluent families, and previous research shows they are also far less likely to be active.
  • Black children are more physically literate than other ethnic groups particularly boys, but are less active than the population as a whole.

Commenting, Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive at Sport England said: "This is a critical moment for all of society to better understand what will motivate young people to get active. This survey gives us the richest evidence yet that sport and physical activity for children needs to be fun and enjoyable above all.

"The fact that a third of children aren't nearly as active as they need to be demonstrates that we need to do things differently if we want to build a generation of young people who want to take part in physical activity as children and into adulthood.

"With previous research showing that active children have better levels of attendance and achievement, we must prioritise physical literacy with the same vigour that we address numeracy and literacy. Doing so could not only help teaching and learning outcomes, it could be hugely beneficial for the physical and mental health of our children.

"We hope these results will be considered and acted on by all who deliver activity and sport. At Sport England, we look forward to playing our part to get children active as we roll out our national programme to train over 17,000 secondary school teachers in how to offer a greater breadth of PE and school sport that meets the needs of all pupils."

Mims Davies, Minister for Sport and Civil Society, said: "The message is clear - fun and enjoyment is what gets and keeps children active. We know an active child is a happier child but too many are losing the confidence and enjoyment of sporting activities as they get older.

"Our upcoming cross Government School Sport Action Plan will help to ensure all children have access to quality PE, sporting sessions and clubs - in school, after school, during weekends and holidays.

"I want to work with the sector as they play their part in making sport and physical activity both enjoyable and engaging for young people of all abilities and backgrounds."

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: "We are committed to helping young people live happy and healthy lives by staying active. That's why this Government introduced the first-ever strategy to tackle childhood obesity as well as boosting the PE and Sport Premium to invest £320 million every year to help primary schools deliver sport.

"We are also encouraging more young people to get involved in physical activity last year we announced plans to help more children swim confidently and are working with leading sporting bodies, including the Premier League and England Hockey, to increase participation in competitive sports in our schools.

"That all comes ahead of our School Sport Action Plan, which we will publish shortly, to help get more young people active and enjoying the benefits of sport."

Read the full report: Active Lives Children Survey 2017-18 Attitudes Report [PDF]