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Sport Participation in Australia

Value of sport participation

Programs intended to increase physical activity have predominantly been linked to health outcomes and the corresponding potential savings in health care costs. In addition to health benefits, participation in sport and active recreation is also seen as another way to improve personal wellbeing, and as a forum for creating social capital through social connectivity and resilience.


Sufficient physical activity reduces the risk of developing a range of non-communicable diseases and illness including:

  • coronary artery disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses
  • dementia/cognitive decline in older adults
  • some cancers
Personal and social

While all physical activity provides significant benefits, sport—particularly team-based sport—can provide stronger outcomes including:

  • improved resilience and mental health outcomes across the life course
  • positive role models
  • social connectedness
  • higher likelihood of meeting PA guidelines and continuing PA long term

Community-based sport participation in Australia generates an estimated AUD$18.7B value per annum in social capital, including:

  • direct economic benefits
  • avoided health costs
  • educational benefits
  • the value of the volunteer and not-for-profit networks

Access to resources
Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

Additional resources

  • Brain Boost: How sport and physical activity enhance children’s learning, what the research is telling us, Smith J, Government of Western Australia, Department of Sport and Recreation (2015). This report is a follow-up to one published in 2010, it updates the latest research supporting the positive link between physical activity (including sport) and cognitive development and academic success. It details findings from Australian and international research published in peer reviewed journals and it provides summaries of intervention and longitudinal research, correlational studies, and research reviews.
  • Golfing regularly could be a hole-in-one for older adults’ health, Omar Saeed, M.D. and Fareed Suri, M.D., American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference – Poster Presentation TP172, Heart Foundation, (12 February 2020). Regularly golfing, at least once per month, was found to lower the risk of death among older adults. While the protective effects of playing golf have not been linked to reduction of heart attack and stroke risk, researchers note the positive effects of exercise and social interaction for older adults unable to participate in more strenuous exercise.
  • MATCH: Spotlight on a Canadian Study on Sport Participation, Julie Goguen Carpenter and Mathieu Belanger, Sircuit, (November 2019). The Monitoring Activities of Teenagers to Comprehend their Habits (MATCH) study is unique in the world (Bélanger et al., 2013). It followed nearly 1,000 children for eight years, from ages 10 to 17. Participants completed questionnaires administered three times per year about their level of participation in specific sports and physical activities, associated motives, and key influences including screen time, sleep, barriers to participation, and life events. MATCH recently completed its 24th and final survey cycle in June 2019. Since 2011, it has provided a foundation for insight into the determinants of sport and physical activity participation as well as factors that influence these behaviours. To date, MATCH results were the subject of six graduate student theses, 20 published or under review manuscripts, and 60 presentations at academic conferences. Analyses are still ongoing, but some of the key findings areas are summarized.
  • Organized sports in childhood linked to better emotional health in adolescence: study, Press Canadienne, Montreal Gazette, (9 June 2019). A study of Quebec children has found a link between consistent participation in organized sports in childhood and better emotional health once the child reaches the age of 12.
  • Report reveals 'value of swimming', Connect Sport, (8 November 2019). Swim England has called on the Government and healthcare professionals to “maximise the benefits” that swimming offers to society after publishing research on the economic impact of the sport. According to the ‘Value of Swimming’ report, swimming is helping to save the health and social care system more than £357million a year.
  • Study confirms golf's huge benefits, The R&A, Golf Australia, (30 September 2020). An international research study backed by The R&A has found new evidence to suggest golf can provide significant health benefits to older participants in the form of improved muscle strength and balance. Underlining the sport’s capability to improve the physical health of participants, the evidence suggests golf can improve quality of life through muscle strengthening, improved balance, aerobic exercise (equivalent to gym-based work or yoga) and social interaction.
  • Yet another reason sport is good for you! Roy Morgan Research, Article 6118, (17 March 2015). The latest findings from Roy Morgan Research show that the 1.35 million Australian adults who participate regularly in some kind of team sport are noticeably less likely than the average Aussie to experience depression, anxiety or stress. Between 2013 and 2014, 25% of Australians aged 18+ reported experiencing stress at some point in the preceding 12 months, compared with 21% of those who regularly play a team sport. This difference is most striking among the under-25 age group, with all three conditions being far less common among those who play team sport on a regular basis. Incidence of anxiety fell from 31% to 17%, depression from 17% to 8%, and anxiety from 20% to 10%.
  • Active Citizens Worldwide report finds physical activity contributes over £800m in healthcare savings annually, London Sport , (11 October 2019). A global initiative established to help cities across the world achieve a step-change in physical activity levels for their citizens, Active Citizens Worldwide uses data and analytics to provide policymakers with increased knowledge and insight to help transform physical activity within their cities. The findings, which draw on research and analysis from the cities of Auckland, London, Singapore and Stockholm conducted by leading global management consultancy, Portas Consulting, form part of the second Active Citizens Worldwide annual report, which was formally launched today (11 October 2019) at the Active Citizens Worldwide Conference in Singapore.
  • Australia: the healthiest country by 2020, National Preventative Health Taskforce, (2008). This report outlines the national preventative health strategy, with seven strategic directions: (1) shared responsibility by developing strategic partnerships, (2) acting early and throughout life, (3) engaging communities, (4) influencing markets and developing coherent policies, (5) reducing inequity, (6) the needs of Indigenous Australians, and (7) refocusing primary healthcare towards prevention.
  • The economics of exercise: Measuring the business benefit of being physically fit, PJM Economics for AXA PPP healthcare, (September 2019). Highlights the substantial return on investment businesses could stand to make from increasing physical activity levels among employees. According to the study, if all employees met the recommended guidelines of doing 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity per week (just over 20 minutes per day), it could deliver up to £6.6 billion in direct productivity gains to businesses each year.
  • Everybody Active, Every Day: An evidence-based approach to physical activity, Varney J, Brannan M and Aaltonen G, Public Health England, (2014). This report from Public Health England, an autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health, provides evidence that physical activity reduces the risk of many preventable diseases. It also supports the role of physical activity in enhancing the life of everyone, from children to mature age.
  • Intergenerational Review of Australian SportBCG Consulting for the Australian Sports Commission, (2017). Together, sport creates significant value for Australia, with at least $7 returned on every dollar expended in the sector. This high rate of return is a combination economic benefits, the network of volunteers and not-for-profits, avoided health costs, and education benefits.
  • Getting Australia Moving: establishing a physically literate and active nation (game plan), Keegan R, Keegan S, Daley S, Ordway C,, Centre of Excellence in Physical Literacy and Active Youth (CEPLAY), University of Canberra, (2013). Physical inactivity costs the Australian economy about $13.8 billion annually in healthcare costs, lost productivity and premature mortality. This report presents the case for increasing physical literacy amongst children in Australia, with a view to promoting physical activity and healthy lifestyles. Physical literacy is a concept capturing: (1) the ability to move effectively; (2) the desire to move; (3) the perceptual abilities that support effective movement; (4) the confidence and assurance to attempt movement challenges; and (5) the subsequent ability to interact effectively with the environment and other people. Children who become physically literate are more likely to achieve sporting prowess, athleticism, cardiovascular fitness or more time spent being active; which are amongst a long list of positive outcomes.
  • Sport and Social Capital, Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2012). In contrast to the evidence supporting the positive impact of sport and active recreation on health, much less is known about the social impacts. It is argued that sport provides opportunities and settings for social interaction, sharing common interests and enhancing a sense of community. This report examines the associations between participation in sport and physical recreation and social wellbeing using a range of indicators from the Australian Bureau of Statistics' 2010 General Social Survey.
  • The Value of Community Sport and Active Recreation Infrastructure, KPMG prepared for Sport and Recreation Victoria, (2020). A report commissioned by Sport and Recreation Victoria revealing economic benefits to the tune of $7.04 billion annually. The report is the first ever comprehensive investigation into the economic, health and social impacts of community sport and active recreation infrastructure in the state.
    • By providing the perfect setting for communities to come together, connect, volunteer and learn, the report highlights the $2.6 billion in social benefits community sport and active recreation infrastructure delivers to the state.
    • There are also the health benefits supported by community sport and active recreation infrastructure which include improved mental health and well-being, reduced risk of chronic illness, increased productivity is estimated at $2.3 billion.
    • Economic benefits through construction and on-going employment include more than 13,000 full-time equivalent positions sustained through the delivery of sport and active recreation at facilities - injecting $2.1 billion into communities.
  • Value of Swimming, Swim England, (November 2019). As the national governing body for swimming, water polo, diving and synchronised swimming in England, Swim England commissioned this research to build a robust evidence base around the specific benefits of water-based activity. The findings show how swimming can positively contribute to physical and mental wellbeing, to individual and community development, and help to reduce the burden to the health and social care system. Some of the key benefits suggested by this report include that swimming is already reducing health and social care costs by up to £357million a year. This includes estimated savings from dementia, strokes, diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer, depression, and reduced GP and psychotherapy visits by those who swim regularly. Additionally, across the different datasets analysed, a positive association was seen between swimming and: social connectedness; trust (in general and of neighbours); community cohesion; volunteering; percieved ability to achieve goals; life satisfaction; and, health and mental health.
  • Exploring the Association Between Sport Participation and Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression in a Sample of Canadian High School Students, Jessica Murphy, Karen Patte, Philip Sullivan,, Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, Volume 15(3), pp.268-287, (September 2021). The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between athletic status and symptoms of depression and anxiety in a large sample of Canadian high school students. Our results support earlier work, concluding that sport participation has beneficial effect on adolescent mental health. Results indicated a significant association between Varsity Sport (VS) participation and symptoms of depression and anxiety in the sampled adolescents. In both males and females, those who participated in VS had lower anxiety and depression scores than those who did not participate in VS. This effect held true regardless of participation status in Outside of school sport (OSS); however, the effect was stronger among those who participated in both VS and OSS. Such results suggest an additive effect of sport participation, in that more sport participation is associated with lower depression and anxiety scores. Although the beneficial effect of VS participation was seen across sexes, the relationship between VS participation and anxiety and depression scores was stronger in males.
  • A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for children and adolescents: informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport, Eime R, Young J, Harvey J,, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 10, article 135, (2013). This paper presents the results of a systematic review of studies published between 1990 and 2012 on the psychological and social health benefits of participation in sport. Thirteen different psychosocial aspects of health were identified in the literature. The most common positive health benefit from sports participation was improved wellbeing, followed by reduced stress, reduced distress, increased social functioning and vitality. Participation in sport is advocated as a form of leisure-time physical activity for adults and young people that can produce a range of benefits.
  • An interpretive analysis of life skills associated with sport participation, Holt N, Tamminen K, Tink L and Black D, Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise, Volume 1(2), pp.160-175, (2009). The purpose of this study was to examine how people may learn life skills through their involvement in regular competitive sport programs. The research showed that it was not the sport itself that taught participants these skills; rather, athletes’ stories revolved around social interactions they experienced in sport. The most meaningful aspects of competitive youth sport related to participants’ interactions with peers. Without exception, sport provided participants with opportunities to expand their social network. In general, this finding is consistent with previous research that shows engagement in organised sport activities exposes youth to people with whom they might not otherwise engage. In addition to the general concept of developing friendships and peer networks, more specific social skills were acquired, including the ability to work with other people. No distinction between team and individual sports was found.
  • Childhood Sport Profiles Predict Mental Health in Adolescence, Isabelle Doré, Marie-Pierre Sylvestre, Catherine M Sabiston,, Conference paper presented at the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity conference, Hong Kong . (June 2018). This study examines the longitudinal associations between three sport profiles (recreational, performance, non-participation) in childhood and mental health in adolescence. Participants include 756 children age 10-11 years at inception, from the longitudinal Monitoring Activities of Teenagers to Comprehend their Habits (MATCH) study. They self-reported their participation in organized and unorganized PA in questionnaires administered every 4 months over 5 years during class time. Involvement in performance or recreational sport profiles in all 5 years was associated with flourishing mental health, relative to involvement in ≤4 years. the authors conclude that sport participation, especially in performance sport, during childhood and adolescence is associated with higher mental health in adolescence. If replicated, these findings support developing strategies to encourage children to engage and remain involved in sports into adolescence, to positively impact mental health.
  • The contribution of sport participation to overall health enhancing physical activity levels in Australia: a population-based study, Eime R, Harvey J, Charity M,, BMC Public Health, Volume 15, article 806, (20 August 2015). This study examined the contribution of sport to overall health-enhancing leisure-time physical activity (HELPA) in a sample of Australian adults, aged 15+ years. Data from the Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey (ERASS), N=21,602, were analysed to categorise leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) as HELPA or non-HELPA, and to categorise HELPA activities and sessions of HELPA activity by setting and frequency. The contribution of sport to HELPA was estimated, both directly through activities and settings classified as sport per-se, and indirectly through other fitness activities related to preparation for sport. The results indicated that 82% of respondents reported some LTPA in the 12 months prior to the survey. Overall, respondents reported 37,020 activity types, of which 94% were HELPA. Among HELPA activities, 71% were non-organised activity, 11% were organised but not sport club-based, and 18% were sport club-based.
  • Enhancing life prospects of socially vulnerable youth through sport participation: a mixed methods study, Super S, Hermens N, Verkooijen K,, BMC Public Health, Volume 14, article 703, (9 July 2014). The results of this study support efforts of youth care organisations and local sport clubs to improve the life prospects of socially vulnerable youth through sport participation.
  • How adolescent subjective health and satisfaction with weight and body shape are related to participation in sports, Dyremyhr AE, Diaz E, Meland E, Journal of Environmental and Public Health, Volume 2014, article 851932. Physical exercise is positively related to self-reported health but has negative associations with body image for many adolescents. Health promotion efforts should consider this paradox and stimulate physical activity and sports along with body acceptance.
  • Integrating public health and sport management: Sport participation trends 2001-2010, Eime R, Sawyer N, Harvey J,, Sport Management Review, Volume 18(2), pp.207-217, (2015). Using data from the Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey (ERASS) from 2001 to 2010, the aim of this study was to examine physical activity participation levels and trends in Australia over a decade. This paper also discusses the potential synergy between the public health and sport management domains to collect and analyse sport participation data and provide an evidence base for policy development.
  • Organized sport trajectories from childhood to adolescence and health associations, Howie E, McVeigh J, Smith A, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Volume 47(7), pp.1331-1339, (2016). This research identifies organised sport trajectories from early childhood to late adolescence in a cohort of Western Australian children/adolescents. Data were taken from participants in the Raine Study at ages 5, 8, 10, 14 and 17 years; for physical activity, body composition, and self-rated physical and mental health. Three trajectory classes were identified: (1) consistent sports participators; (2) sport dropouts, and; (3) non-participants (girls) and sport joiners (boys). Gender differences included: consistent participators – boys (55%) and girls (47.5%); sport dropouts – boys (37%) and girls (34%); non-participants – girls (18%) and sport joiners – boys (8%). Differences in long-term health outcomes were examined across the organised sport trajectories. Both boys and girls who remained physically active had significantly lower lean body mass and reported better mental and physical health. The difference in health outcomes supports the need to encourage youth to maintain physically active.
  • Overweight and obese men’s experiences in a sport-based weight loss intervention for men, Timothy Budden, James A. Dimmock, Brett Smith,, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Volume 50, 101750, (2020). The authors explored men’s experiences of a male-only competitive sport-based weight loss program. Men highlighted competition, accountability, and camaraderie as driving positive outcomes. Being around likeminded and similar men makes the program attractive to overweight and obese men. Sport and competition allows men to offset ‘un-masculine’ behaviours (e.g., non-drinking). Highlights the potential of leveraging competition/masculinity to drive healthy behaviour.
  • The participation in organised sport doubles the odds of meeting physical activity recommendations in 7–12-year-old children, Kerli Mooses, Merike Kull, European Journal of Sport Sciences, Volume 20(4), pp.563-569, (2020). The purpose of this study was to determine the contributing role of organised sport participation to daily physical activity (PA) and to describe the PA during training. Children aged 7–12 wore the accelerometer for 1 week. Children with activity data for a minimum of 5 days were included in the analysis (n = 492). More than half (52.5%) of the children participated in an organised sport at least once a week. Participation in organised sport three or more times a week increased the odds of meeting PA recommendations. On average, children acquired 23.3 ± 15.3 min of moderate to vigorous PA (MVPA) during trainings, while boys accrued more MVPA minutes compared to girls and the training time MVPA decreased with age, respectively. Each additional MVPA minute during training increased daily MVPA by 1.3 min. On days with training children accumulated 24.9 more MVPA minutes compared to days without training. In conclusion, these findings highlight the importance of organised sport in supporting the PA levels of children. However, participation in the organised sport only is not sufficient to meet PA recommendations, and therefore, PA should be supported throughout the day.
  • Relationship of participation in specific sports to academic performance in adolescents: A 2‐year longitudinal study, Toru Ishihara, Toshihiro Nakajima, Koji Yamatsu,, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, Volume 30(8), pp.1471-1482, (2020). Data regarding participation in sports activities, types of sports activities, academic performance, and cardiorespiratory fitness were obtained at baseline and after a 2‐year follow‐up. Participation in sports activities that require more complex motor skills and individual sports activity was directly associated with an improvement of academic performance from baseline to follow‐up. Furthermore, quitting sports activities was negatively associated with academic performance via a reversal in cardiorespiratory fitness gains.
  • Should toddlers and preschoolers participate in organized sport? A scoping review of developmental outcomes associated with young children’s sport participation, Meghan Harlow, Lauren Wolman and Jessica Fraser-Thomas, International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Volume 13(1), pp.40-64, (2020). Organized sport is offered at increasingly younger ages, with many programs geared towards preschoolers, toddlers, and infants. While sport is promoted as an amendable context for healthy development of school-age children, little is empirically known about potential benefits or risks associated with organized sport participation in early childhood. A scoping review of nine electronic databases identified English-language, peer-reviewed, original research articles which addressed psychological, emotional, social, cognitive, or intellectual developmental outcomes of organized sport involvement of children aged 2–5 years; included studies were appraised for quality. Findings offer preliminary evidence that early sport participation is related to primarily positive outcomes (e.g. enhanced social skills, pro-social behaviours, self-regulation), while negative and inconclusive outcomes were also identified. Results suggest limited existing research has primarily relied on parent or teacher proxy-report or assessment, and reinforces that little is known about toddler and preschooler organized sport participation as a distinct form of physical activity, despite pervasive availability of programming, and positive parental perceptions of early enrolment.
  • Years Participating in Sports During Childhood Predicts Mental Health in Adolescence: A 5-Year Longitudinal Study, Isabelle Doré, Catherine M. Sabiston, Marie-Pierre Sylvestre,, Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 64(6), pp.790-796, (June 2019). Sport participation promotes mental health and prevents mental illness. However, the association between specific sport profiles and mental health has not been examined. We investigate the longitudinal association between number of years with a recreational or performance sport profile and mental health during adolescence and whether these associations differ by sex. Both recreational and performance sport profiles in childhood and early adolescence are positively associated with mental health in late adolescence. To promote mental health, strategies to encourage youth to engage and remain involved in sport are warranted.

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  • Monitoring Activities of Teenagers to Comprehend their Habits (MATCH) study results, IHDCYH Talks Entretiens de l'IDSEA/YouTube, (1 November 2019). The Monitoring Activities of Teenagers to Comprehend their Habits (MATCH) study is unique in the world (Bélanger et al., 2013). It followed nearly 1,000 children for eight years, from ages 10 to 17. Participants completed questionnaires administered three times per year about their level of participation in specific sports and physical activities, associated motives, and key influences including screen time, sleep, barriers to participation, and life events.

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