A blast from the past!

I was clearing through a cupboard at home the other day when I came across my Honours thesis titled ‘An analysis of constraints to participation in recreation and physical activity’. It would be fair to say this nicely bound report hasn’t done a lot other than collect dust since it was completed in 2001. After reading the abstract it got me thinking as to whether my report still has relevance to the way in which sport and recreation organisations think about ways to engage people in sport and recreation today.

The fundamental question my research looked at was what factors limiting people’s involvement in recreation and physical activity are considered most important? The results indicate that structural type constraints such as lack of financial resources, time and services/accessibility were typically reported to be most important however these constraints were not found to be significantly associated with decreased levels of participation. Instead, intrapersonal constraints related to individual / psychological reasons and a lack of interest /awareness were shown to be significantly associated with decreased levels of participation.

The research tested a model which considered constraints were experienced in a hierarchy from most proximal (intrapersonal) to most distal (structural). Intrapersonal constraints as the most proximal and considered the most important as they must be overcome before other types of constraint are encountered.

So how does this relate to the contemporary ways in which sport and recreation organisations are attempting to increase participation?

My first observation would be that since my thesis and the preceding research that it drew from, consumer behaviour and market driven approaches have evolved in the sport management sphere along with the development of frameworks such as Sport Australia’s Drivers of Participation. These frameworks identify a range of drivers and barriers to participation extending from governance, product design, infrastructure, commercial, market insights, workforce and communications.

These frameworks are extremely valuable and have helped many sport and recreation organisations evolve their product offering to meet current customer expectations and respond to competitors from other industries vying for an individual’s leisure time. I would however suggest that we need to continue to look beyond factors such as cost, time, product, commercial and address constraints at the intrapersonal level -individual / psychological and a lack of interest and awareness in order to have the greatest impact on participation levels into the future.

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