What is Sport?

What is Sport?       
Prepared by  Prepared by: Dr Ralph Richards, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport, Sport Australia (formerly Australian Sports Commission)
evaluated by  Evaluated by: Mark McAllion, Chief Executive Officer, Vicsport (April 2016)
Reviewed by  Reviewed by network: Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN)
Last updated  Last Updated: 4 September 2018
Please refer to the Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer page for
more information concerning this content.

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Any definition of ‘sport’ will be contentious, since there are descriptors of sport that may be considered exclusive, and other descriptors that could be interpreted in different ways. There are also many closely related terms; such as social sport, recreational sport, physical activity, physical education, physical literacy, exercise, etc. that, depending upon the context in which they are applied, may look like ‘sport’.

The etymology of the word ‘sport’ comes from the Old French ‘desport’, meaning leisure.  The oldest definition in the English language dates from around 1300 and means ‘anything humans find amusing or entertaining’ [source: Wikipedia]. The first English language use of the word ‘sport’ to mean a game involving physical exercise appeared in the mid-1500’s [source: Online Etymology Dictionary].

What we perceive as ‘sport’ in one instance may not be in another; sport takes on many forms and is constantly changing based upon societal norms, trends, and new directions.

Key Messages 


Sport is more generally defined as a human activity capable of achieving a result requiring physical exertion and/or physical skill which, by its nature and organisation, is competitive and is generally accepted as being a sport.


However, an activity we perceive as sport in one context may not be in another context. Sport takes on many forms and our notion of "what is sport" is continually changing.


There are a number of factors influencing our willingness to engage in sport, these factors also shape our perception of what is (or is not) sport.

In practical terms ‘sport’ has been operationally defined by its social interpretation as well as its strong association with physical exertion and performance measures. Many Governments invest in ‘sport’ with an aim to leverage the positive health, societal, economic and cultural benefits for individuals and their communities. Therefore, it is likely that any definition of ‘sport’ (in its many different contexts) will imply a certain type of outcome. The definition of 'sport' has evolved in a similar way that definitions for ‘health’ or ‘personal wellbeing’ have changed in our society.

Major documents and reports provide a picture of Australia's sports sector, what it looks like now, and what we want it to be in the future. We devise strategies to increase the capacity of ‘sport’ to fulfil a number of personal and social objectives. ‘Sport’ is often operationally defined (or described) by our sporting structures, delivery mechanisms, and programs. Although there are many examples of our notion of ‘sport’, there are few specific definitions available. Equally important, if a physical activity is ‘not sport’, what is it, and what relationship does it have to sport?

  • Intergenerational Review of Australian Sport 2017 (PDF  - 1.6 MB), Boston Consulting Group, for the Australian Sports Commission (2017). This review focused on the overall sports sector, with a particular emphasis on participation in sport and community level sport. While the synergies between participation and high performance sporting outcomes are recognised as being important to any discussion about the value of sport, the primary purpose of this review was a global view of the sport sector. By observing trends related to participation, performance, and consumption of ‘sport’ (i.e. in terms of products and services sports provide). This review provides insight on the impact of sport, the challenges faced by the sector (now and into the future), and what might be done to best position the sector to achieve government aspirations.
  • The Future of Sport in Australia (PDF  - 14.4 MB), Crawford D, Independent Sport Panel, Australian Government (2009). This review of the Australian sports system does not define ‘sport’ per se, but the report does offer a working definition of what Australia’s ‘sporting success’ should look like in the future. The panel considered the goals and aspirations of Australian sport at both elite and participatory levels, accounting for projected economic and demographic changes and the changing nature of how society views sport and physical activity.
  • Australian Sport: the pathway to success (PDF  - 747 KB), Commonwealth of Australia (2010). As with previous government documents, there is no specific definition of what constitutes ‘sport’ as opposed to other forms of physical activity. The document offers an aspirational view of the sport system and how success can be achieved.  Key components of the pathway include: (1) increasing the number of Australians participating in sport (although ‘sport’ is not defined); (2) strengthening sporting pathways; and (3) striving for performance success.
  • Play.Sport.Australia, (PDF  - 2.6 MB), Australian Sports Commission (2015). This document is the Australian Sport Commission’s (ASC) current participation game plan and sets out a big picture vision for boosting participation in sport in the years ahead. Play.Sport.Australia offers a compelling picture of how sport has changed and points out opportunities the Australian sports sector can embrace to maximise its potential. It also provides an outline of where the ASC expects sports participation to be in the future. However, the term ‘sport’ remains undefined, and is contextualised as a consumer-driven product.
  • National Sport and Active Recreation Policy Framework (PDF  - 1.0 MB), (NSARPF) accepted by all Australian Governments (2011). The NSARPF offers this definition of sport: “A human activity involving physical exertion and skill as the primary focus of the activity, with elements of competition where rules and patterns of behaviour governing the activity exist formally through organisations and is generally recognised as a sport.” The NSARPF also defines ‘physical recreation’ as: “Active recreation activities are those engaged in for the purpose of relaxation, health and wellbeing or enjoyment with the primary activity requiring physical exertion, and the primary focus on human activity.”

The NSARPF definitions for 'sport' and for 'recreation' are similar, but still open to interpretation as being interchangeable or discrete. ‘Sport’ seems to have three qualifying elements – competition, rules, and organisations (i.e. governing bodies) that set it apart from similar looking physical activities that are ‘not sport’. The degree of organisational structure that surrounds and influences an activity usually helps to distinguish whether an activity is classified as ‘sport’ or ‘active recreation’ or ‘physical activity’ or ‘exercise’ or any number of other terms. Sport activities are usually structured so that one or more of these conditions are satisfied:

  1. Individual or team performance is compared to another individual/team; or one’s own performance is compared to a past performance or a recognised standard (i.e. benchmark).
  2. Performances are achieved under known circumstances; rules are used as standards (i.e. how the activity is conducted, time and space limitations, use of equipment, etc.).
  3. A recognised organisational structure oversees the process.  Typically, organisations determine the rules, determine what an outcome means, record and compare results, and oversee the overall organisation and delivery of the activity.

These three conditions add a sense of formality or structure to ‘sport’ that may not be present in other forms of ‘similar looking’ activities, such as active recreation or exercise. 

For example, a group of people who meet in a common place (e.g. park, sports field, or backyard) and enter into a game of football would be engaged in 'social sport'. 'Social' because the element of organisational supervision is minimal, but 'sport' because the elements of competition (albeit the friendly nature of such competition) and rules are present. If the same group of individuals were registered in a football club and trained/played in an organised and structured competition under the supervision of a referee; they would be engaged in 'organised sport'.  In each case the individuals may perform the same skills, produce the same physical exertion, and may realise the same personal benefits (e.g. health, fitness, personal satisfaction, etc.).

The concept of social sport is further illustrated later in this portfolio, and more information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio, Social Sport

Sport Australia (formerly Australian Sports Commission) has released two important documents that outline the direction the federal government is taking in advancing sport on two levels: (1) participation (i.e. population based outcomes), and; (2) high performance (i.e. international sporting success).

  • Play.Sport.Australia. (PDF  - 2.6 MB), Australian Sports Commission (2015). Although this document does not define ‘sport’ per se, it does identify the outcomes that sport participation is trying to achieve.
  • Australia’s Winning Edge 2012-2022 (PDF  - 836 KB), Australian Sports Commission (2012). This document outlines the ASC's high performance sport plan: (1) consistent and sustainable success for Australian athletes and teams on the world stage; (2) greater levels of accountability for performance results; (3) improved governance structures, reporting and monitoring of performance, and; (4) engaging, uniting, inspiring and motivating all Australians.  In this context, ‘sports’ are defined as the national organisations recognised by the ASC under their criteria as the representative body for a sport. 

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) gathers information about sport in a number of different contexts and for the purpose of data collection the ABS must define ‘sport’. The ABS must also separate sport from other pursuits, such as recreation, physical activity, physical fitness, exercise and a number of kindred activities that may involve physical action or exertion, but are not ‘sport’.  The ABS is primarily interested in collecting data reflecting the economic and social impact of sport and the characteristics of Australians who engage in sport, recreation, and other activities. The ABS also distinguishes ‘organised’ sport and recreation from other forms of engagement.

Information Paper: Defining Sport and Physical Activity, a Conceptual Model (PDF  - 595 KB), Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4149.0.55.001 (2008). This paper presents a conceptual model defining key concepts commonly used in survey research on sport and other physical activities. The aim of developing a conceptual model is to aid interpretation and future development of surveys in this field. The conceptual model also helps to illustrate the similarities, differences, and overlap of sport, physical recreation, and exercise. Therefore, it is a difficult task to precisely define 'sport' for measurement purposes, but the ABS provides several definitions of overlapping concepts that are relevant to its data collection needs:

  1. Sport is an activity involving physical exertion, skill and/or hand-eye coordination as the primary focus of the activity, with elements of competition where rules and patterns of behaviour governing the activity exist formally through organisations.(p. 8)
  2. Physical Recreation is an activity or experience that involves varying levels of physical exertion, prowess and/or skill, which may not be the main focus of the activity, and is voluntarily engaged in by an individual in leisure time for the purpose of mental and/or physical satisfaction.
  3. Organised Sport or Organised Recreation are activities delivered by a club or association or other body; such as a sporting club, social club, church group, workplace, or gymnasium. An organised activity may vary from a one-off fun run or bush walk, to an organised ongoing sporting competition.
  4. Physical Activity is any bodily movements performed by skeletal muscles that result in an increase in energy expenditure.

The ABS further discusses the complexity in formulating its definition of sport. Consideration was given to its physical, competitive and institutional characteristics, as well as how sport is shaped by social and cultural influences. The idea of 'what is sport' will also vary over time and will reflect popular culture. Sport activities are constantly evolving, with new sports emerging and others receding, and with considerable variation across countries and cultures. Sport may also have a very local flavour, with different social or cultural groups expressing preferences.

The ABS publishes reports that capture various aspects of sport and physical recreation, including:

Internationally, ‘sport’ has been defined by the International Olympic Committee, the United Nations, and also by the European Union.  The definitions offered for ‘sport’ may also be accompanied by definitions for one or more similar activity(s) that are closely related, but are not sport.

  • The European Sport Charter, European Union, adopted by the Committee of Ministers (24 September 1992; revised 16 May 2011). ‘Sport’ means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental wellbeing, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels. 
    • Sports that we recognise, Sport England, (accessed 4 September 2018). As an example of how the European Sport Charter definition can be used the UK Sport Councils (Sport England, sports Scotland, Sport Wales, Sport Northern Ireland and UK Sport) use it as the basis of determining the eligibility of organisations for sport recognition/funding. The sport councils themselves do not have a specific definition of 'sport' but determine if a sport under consideration meets the definition of sport as per the Charter. Additionally they look at if the sport is well established and organised within the jurisdiction. 
  • Finding the Roots of Sport (PDF  - 2.5 MB), Bouverat M and Chevalley A, Olympic Museum and Education and Development Foundation, Educational Kit (2005). 'Sport' is understood to mean all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction. A 'Game' is a physical or mental activity whose only purpose is the pleasure obtained from practising it.
  • Sport, Recreation and Play (PDF  - 1.6 MB), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report (2004). This report defines ‘sport’ as all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental wellbeing and social interaction. These include casual, organised or competitive sport; and indigenous sports or games. Sport involves rules or customs and sometimes competition. 'Play', especially among children, is any physical activity that is fun and participatory, often unstructured and free from adult direction. 'Recreation' is more organised than play, and generally entails physically active leisure activities. Play, recreation, and sport are all freely chosen activities undertaken for pleasure.
  • The White Paper on Sport and Recreation for the Republic of South Africa (PDF  - 10.1 MB), Sport & Recreation South Africa, (2013). Provides a section on clarifying 'sport', 'active recreation' and 'passive recreation' [p.9-10]. The focus of Sport & Recreation South Africa (SRSA) is the physical well-being of the nation, so the focus is on supporting sport and active recreation. 

The majority of policy and procedural documents that underpin the sports sector’s activities do not clearly define ‘sport’, but describe sport in terms of an experience – what does sport look like now, or what does an organisation want sport to look like in the future.  Therefore, ‘What Is Sport’ can be interpreted in many ways, including what it looks like within many different settings (i.e. context), what it achieves (i.e. outcomes) and what it purports to represent (i.e. intent).

The scope and definition of sport is influenced by different contexts, as well as individual disposition. Sport is not just a demonstration of physical prowess but also an avenue for social interaction, employment, personal enjoyment or improving one's health and fitness. Sport can be undertaken within the formal arrangements of sporting organisations and competitions, or as an informal social or recreational activity where rules may be less important and outcomes may vary.

Our concept of sport can be viewed as a continuum of interacting relationships between organisations and individuals.

A Modern View of Sport

Fig 1. [Source: Sport Australia (formerly Australian Sports Commission)]

Our understanding of ‘sport’ (both formal and social) is also related to recreation, physical activity, physical fitness, and exercise; but these related terms may have different interpretations.

Sport in its many forms has at its roots the fundamental principles of body movement and physical activity that contribute to our life experience. Human movement relies upon complex physiological processes and mechanical / neuro-muscular actions that are refined as part of our growth and development processes. Body movements (to a large extent) are learnt behaviours, so the acquisition of fundamental movement skills is the process of becoming ‘physically literate’.

Sport, physical education (as one of many delivery mechanisms for these learnt skills), play, and recreational physical activity all provide pathways for the acquisition and refinement of human movement.

Participating in sport activities becomes possible as an outgrowth of learning basic movement skills (also known as fundamental movement skills), and this is part of one’s lifetime growth and physical development process. Because physical literacy is a learning process, many elements of physical literacy have been incorporated into the school curriculum as part of ‘physical education’. Not only is physical literacy widely seen as the overall aim of physical education, but it is also being appreciated as a concept relevant throughout the lifecourse by those in medicine, psychology and social sciences. The influence of physical literacy on a person’s development is a concept that continues to be investigated and better understood.

Physical literacy has been defined as, “a disposition to capitalise on the human embodied capability, wherein the individual has the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits and activities throughout the lifecourse.” [source: Physical Literacy, Margaret Whitehead]

Physical education is often seen as one of many means by which physical literacy outcomes are delivered. Physical literacy actually starts well before school-age as infants learn to control their movement and interact with their environment, as well as interact with other individuals through movement.

  • Active for Life is a national movement in Canada that promotes the concept of physical literacy. There is a large body of evidence that indicates being physically literate forms a foundation for participating in any sport. The Active for Life movement aims to achieve a number of objectives: (1) it helps parents understand their contribution during infancy and early childhood; (2) it advocates that developmental progressions should apply, and (3) it views physical literacy as a lifelong process. Research supports the notion that physically literate children will have more fun being active, and this makes them more likely to stay active throughout their life.

Development of physical literacy can also be linked to preventative health outcomes, because physically literate children tend to be more active and therefore develop health enhancing qualities from being physically active. 

The concept of physical literacy has gained momentum in many countries. Research that looks at movement skill development and competency (i.e. physical literacy, fundamental movement skills, etc.) has found significant links to ongoing participation in sport. 

  • Adolescents’ perception of the relationship between movement skills, physical activity and sport (abstract), Barnett L, Cliff K, Morgan P and van Beurden E, European Physical Education Review, Volume 19, Issue 2 (2013). Movement skill competence is important to organised youth sport and physical activity participation. The primary aim of this study was to explore adolescents’ perception of the relationship between movement skills, physical activity and sport, and whether their perceptions differed according to the extent of their participation and skill. Students felt that learning skills at a younger age would be easier and fear of failure as an adolescent was identified as a barrier to participating in sport and physical activity when older. This study concluded that motivation towards participation in sport and physical activity is affected by adolescents’ perception of their own movement skill ability. Therefore, developing children’s actual and perceived movement skills may help to increase adolescent physical activity and sports participation.
  • Changes in physical fitness and sports participation among children with different levels of motor competence: a two-year longitudinal study (abstract), Fransen J; Deprez D; Pion J; Tallir IB; D'Hondt E; Vaeyens R; Lenoir M; Philippaerts RM, Pediatric Exercise Science, (August 2013). The goal of this study was to investigate differences in physical fitness and sports participation over two years in children with relatively high, average and low motor competence. Children between 6-10 years of age were measured at baseline and baseline+2 years. This study found that children with high motor competence scored better on physical fitness tests and participated in sports more often. Since physical fitness level may change over time, low motor competent children might be at risk of being less physically fit throughout their life. Furthermore, since low motor competent children participate less in sports, they have fewer opportunities of developing motor abilities and physical fitness and this may further prevent them from catching up with their peers who have average or high motor competence.
  • Physical activity and sedentary behaviors and health-related quality of life in adolescents (abstract), Gopinath B, Hardy L, Baur L, Burlutsky G, and Mitchell P, Pediatrics, Volume 130, Number 1 (2012). This research assessed cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between physical activity and sedentary behaviors (television viewing, computer and video-game usage, and reading) among 2353 children, median age 12.7 years. After a five-year period regular physical activity was associated with higher perceived health-related quality of life among adolescents. Conversely, lower physical activity scores were observed among those who spent the most time in screen-viewing activities.
  • Prevalence and correlates of low fundamental movement skill competency in children (abstract), Hardy L, Reinten-Reynolds T, Espinel P, Zask A, Okely A, Pediatrics, Volume 130, Number 2 (2012). This study looked at a cross-sectional representative school-based sample of Australian elementary and high school students (n = 6917). Overall, the prevalence of students with low motor skill competency was high. Girls with low socioeconomic status (SES) were twice as likely to be less competent in locomotor skills compared with high SES peers. Among boys, there was a strong association between low competency in fundamental movement skills (FMS) and the likelihood of being from non-English-speaking cultural backgrounds. There was a clear and consistent association between low competency in FMS and inadequate cardio-respiratory fitness. For boys, there was a clear association between low competency in object-control skills and not meeting physical activity recommendations. In addition, the odds of being inactive were double among girls who had low competency in locomotor skills.
  • Children's fundamental movement skills: are our children ready to play? (abstract), Cowley V, Hamlin M, Grimley M, Hargreaves J and Price C, British Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 44 (2010). The acquisition of fundamental movement skills by children is essential for their participation and success in sport. As part of a larger physical activity study in New Zealand, five- to eight-year-old children were assessed on their ability to perform 12 locomotor and object control skills: run, gallop, hop, leap, horizontal jump, skip and slide, two-handed strike, stationary ball bounce, catch, kick, and overarm throw. At baseline only 4% of the children were able to perform all the skills correctly. After instruction 28% of the children were able to successfully complete the skills. The study concluded that the focus for teaching and coaching programs involving young children should include the continued improvement of overall skills.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio, Physical Literacy and Sport.

School attendance is the only consistent opportunity for all children, regardless of their socio-economic circumstance or locality, to receive quality instruction and experiences in physical movement skills and participate in both individual and group (team) physical activities.  It is well documented that children who develop movement competencies have a much greater chance of participating in physical activity and sport during childhood, adolescence, and throughout life. In addition, school time provides an opportunity for all children to achieve the nationally recommended amount of daily physical activity, and these objectives are reflected in the current physical education curriculum.

Australian school systems are controlled by State/Territory jurisdictions and mandatory requirements for physical activity are in place.  Children in kindergarten to year-6 should receive a minimum of 25 – 30 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity as part of a planned physical education and sport program.  From year-7 to year-10, schools must provide students with a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity as part of planned physical education and sport programs.

Delivery of physical education programs may vary from one jurisdiction to another and within jurisdictions from one school to another. Student learning outcomes from the English Language, Mathematics, and Science curriculums are assessed regularly through the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). However, no similar assessment scheme is in place for Physical Education. 

The recommended national curriculum teaches students how to enhance their own and others’ health, wellbeing and physical activity participation in varied and changing contexts by integrating contemporary, relevant, challenging, enjoyable, and physically active instruction. The acquisition of movement skills, concepts, and strategies that enable students to confidently, competently and creatively participate in a range of physical activities is achieved through games, sports, and physical activities delivered as part of the overall curriculum. [source: Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)].  

The Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER) is a professional association advocating for quality health & physical education curriculum, supporting professional learning of teachers and promoting active and healthy lifestyles for all Australians. In response to the draft national curriculum, ACHPER has identified that the term ‘sport’, as an educational phenomenon, is under-represented in the curriculum, as there are very few references to ‘sport’. Further comment is made by ACHPER that a learning area called ‘physical education and sport’ exists in many parts of the world. Given the reference to sport as a key aspect of Australian culture it seems incongruous that the national curriculum would not provide a stronger and clearer recognition of the contribution made by ‘sport’. [source: ACHPER Response to ACARA - Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education (PDF  - 224 KB), 2013]

‘Sport’, as it’s defined, has a distinct focus on physical performance and this is closely linked to skill development and regular participation. Research in Australia and internationally confirms this. The apparent trend in Australia (and other nations) is for school-age children to be less skilled (physically), prone to overweight and obesity, and less physically active than previous generations.

  • Thirteen-year trends in child and adolescent fundamental movement skills: 1997–2010, Hardy L, Barnett L, Espinel P, Okely A, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Volume 45, Number 10 (2013). This study examined changes in movement competency among New South Wales schoolchildren on five common fundamental movement skills: sprint run, vertical jump, catch, overarm throw, and kick. At each survey children's competency was low, rarely above 50 per cent. Between 1997 and 2004 both boys and girls improved in their competency in the skills, with the exception of the overarm throw in high school girls. Major improvements were noted following the survey in 1997, which could be explained by resources issued to government schools that supported the teaching of fundamental movement skills by physical education specialists. Between 2004 and 2010 boys were approximately twice as likely to have improved their ability to catch but competency declined for the vertical jump. Girls increased their ability to catch and their ability to kick while competency decreased for the vertical jump. This study concluded that students' movement competency (overall) remains low. Some improvements were observed when teaching strategies were put in place to emphasise skill development. The data suggests that the current delivery of fundamental movement skills programs requires stronger positioning within the school curriculum. Strategies to improve children's physical activity should consider ensuring children are taught skills and acquire competency so they can enjoy being physically active.
  • NSW Auditor-General’s Report: Physical Activity in Government Primary Schools (PDF  - 1.5 MB), NSW Department of Education and Communities (2012). This report evaluates the status of physical activity programs in NSW schools. Research, expert advice, and the results of primary school visits indicate that the quality of physical activity provided varies between schools. This investigation found that about 30 per cent of government primary schools do not provide the required two hours of planned physical activity each week; even those schools that provide two hours of planned physical activity are not likely to verify that activity is of moderate-to-vigorous intensity as planned. The quality of physical activity instruction varies between schools and teachers, with the outcome being that many primary students are not able to master the fundamental movement skills required to participate in a full range of physical activities. The report contains eight recommendations on how schools can make better use of the two hours per week of class time allocated to physical activity; how physical activity can be better integrated into other parts of the curriculum; and how human and infrastructure resources can be used more effectively. (1) Enhance existing arrangements to effectively monitor and report student outcomes. (2) Use the results of monitoring to identify school needs and facilitate assistance. (3) Provide greater recognition for staff involved in student physical activity, especially sport. (4) Ensure schools make best use of the existing time available for physical activity by maximising time spent on moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. (5) Consider additional options to further motivate teachers and students including helping schools engage with local sporting organisations to encourage greater sharing of expertise. (6) Increase the skill levels of the primary school teacher workforce in teaching physical activity and sport education. (7) Do more to identify best practice in schools and promote its wider adoption. (8) Further assist schools and groups of schools to develop agreements with local councils to access sports facilities at little or no cost.

The challenges faced by the physical education curriculum in Australian schools include: (1) competition with other curriculum areas for time, (2) control of specific content and delivery, (3) lack of performance outcomes or performance benchmarks at the school level, and (3) inconsistencies in the level of support and resources provided to teachers.  The structure and resources that organised sports have at their disposal may (in many cases) be recruited to complement the work done in schools and provide a platform for the delivery of broader physical literacy and physical education objectives.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio, Sport in Education

An athlete pathway spans the entire continuum of athletic development – from acquiring fundamental movement skills to initial participation in sports programs and then (in some cases) to competing at an elite level. Whether or not the pathway leads an athlete into elite competition, the skills and experiences acquired along the way help to support lifetime participation in physical activity and sport. This is the rationale that underpins the Foundation. Talent, Elite, Mastery (FTEM) framework, which provides a holistic view of athlete development.

A considerable amount of research has focused on identifying the ideal trajectory of an athlete from novice to elite competitor. Understanding this process allows a sport organisation to put in place effective support and delivery systems that optimise an athlete’s chances of progressing to the next level and ultimately to the highest level that his/her ability and circumstances will allow. A large number of factors influence the process and impact upon the athlete’s outcome; including (but not limited to) the quality of the daily training environment, access to competition, coaching, and sports science / sports medicine support.

The recognition that such a framework exists and is an important part of the sport structure, sets ‘sport’ apart from ‘physical activity’.

Comprehensive information about the FTEM framework is provided in the Clearinghouse for Sport under , Athlete Pathways and Development.

'Social Sport' is a term used to identify one's engagement in sport in a less formal (i.e. anytime, anywhere) context. Social sport has intended outcomes that can vary from one individual to another.  

Social sports may have many of the elements of modified or recreational sports, and a similar look and feel to their parent (i.e. standard or traditional) sports. Social sports may incorporate the elements of competition and rules, but they form a different relationship when compared to traditional sports.  This is because there is no governing organisation to influence the participants' intent, or assign external value to any competition outcome.

The concept of social sport captures our motivation for participation in many ways; physical (fitness or strength development, etc.), psychological (mental focus, determination, resilience, etc.), and social interaction (inclusion, friendship, etc.). In addition to ‘why’ we engage in social sport, the outcomes we seek may be very personal. Even when social sport includes competition, this aspect is seldom the main focus. Some people simply like to get together with friends and/or family to engage in a form of sport that is less structured and more flexible.

Beach cricket and the many forms of backyard cricket (i.e. house rules) are good examples of a social sport that has been part of Australia’s culture for generations. Local rules are agree upon, scores are kept, and the game can be very competitive – but, is it ‘sport’ without the involvement of a governing organisation? Most Australians would answer ‘yes’ to this question because social sport has such an inclusive meaning. National sporting organisations view the social sport market as an appealing way of recruiting new members. In some cases the social version of a sport becomes another product offered to the community, and in other cases social sport participants are encouraged to enter mainstream sport structures.

Two examples illustrate how a standard sport can become more social (AFL 9’s) and a social sport (Basketball 3x3) can become more mainstream.

  • The game for everyone – AFL 9s—a more ‘social’ version of Australian Rules Football was launched in 2011 as the new version of touch Australian Football. Providers partnered with the Australian Football League (AFL) to develop the infrastructure of the concept and run pilot competitions. The game is free-flowing and involves nine players on each team playing on a smaller field. It's a mixed gender form of 'touch football' with no tackling or bumping, making it suitable for people of any age or skill level.
  • Basketball 3x3—the sport of Basketball is played in over 200 countries and by millions of people around the world. A popular informal form of the game, a half-court variation featuring three player on each side, has been a street and playground favourite for many years. Basketball 3x3 has now been brought into the mainstream of sport as national and international governing bodies add rules and formalise this version of the game – it may even become an Olympic sport in the future. This is an example of a social sport that has become mainstream by standardising rules (i.e. ten minute period, 12 second shot-clock, etc.). Sporting organisations see an opportunity to capture a larger segment of the population by offering a form of the game that has a strong social element as part of its history.

Another way of conceptualising ‘social sport’ is to think of it as ‘play’ (i.e. having primarily social and intrinsic motivations and outcomes), but in the context of sport (i.e. having rules and competition) and with varying degrees of organisational structure.

Although play is a universal human experience, it is difficult to define precisely – is play primarily a physical activity or is it a learning experience? Any definition of play is paradoxical because play can be serious, real, and purposeful; or play may have none of these qualities. There is evidence that play deprivation has a damaging impact on a child’s development, so it appears to be an essential component of cognitive as well as physical development. In general, play behaviour is intrinsically motivated, controlled by the players, concerned with process rather than product, usually in a non-literal context, free of externally imposed rules, and characterised by the active engagement of the players.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport portfolio, Social Sport.

Sports have evolved because an individual or group of people gives structure to a particular physical activity and assigns rules and meaning to an activity and its outcome.(i.e. an outcome that is relevant to the participants). However, over time sports have changed, usually to become more inclusive. Sports are modified to satisfy one or more of these objectives:

  • allow the sport’s activities to align with childhood growth and development considerations (example – In-2-Cricket, Little Athletics);
  • accommodate physical or intellectual variations due to the participants' capability (examples – Paralympic sports);
  • include both genders in an activity, or to segregate by gender (examples – AFL AusKick, Team Cheer) and;
  • use of the core ‘sport’ to achieve non-competitive outcomes (examples – Cardio Tennis, Get on the Green).

Sporting organisations recognise that the needs and abilities of children are different from adults and that standard rules and equipment may not be suitable for child participants. Children are also at a different developmental level in terms of their skill, strength and cognitive ability to make decisions during play or interpret rules. Common sense, as well as the physical and mental developmental characteristics of children, makes it ‘good practice’ to modify the standard form of a sport to better suit the needs and abilities of participants. Modifying a sport to suit children does not necessarily change the character of the sport (i.e. the skills and qualities that make it unique). In fact, modifying a sport can be an advantage in terms of developing the fundamental components of a sport; such as skill, fitness, tactics and teamwork; within the context of a child’s capacity to perform.

Modifying a sport to make it inclusive for persons with a disability is a fundamental rationale of the Paralympic movement. Specific equipment can be developed to accommodate physical limitations and allow full participation in a sport. In many sports, rules are also modified to accommodate a participant’s disability.

Many sports organise or modify their programs, particularly at junior level (i.e. usually 12 years and under) to be gender inclusive, such as mixed gender netball or volleyball competition. At this age minimal size and strength differences mean that young boys and girls can participate in the same activities without disadvantage. Gender inclusive sports also encourage beneficial social interaction.

The Clearinghouse for Sport contains a number of additional portfolios of information, two areas of interest are: Modified Sports, and Persons with Disability and Sport.

Creating a modified sport is the recognition by a sport’s governing organisation that offering a single product (i.e. traditional sport) may not suit the needs of a wide range of potential clients. This concept of variation has been successfully used by professional sports, cricket is a good example, as a one-day form of the game was introduced and an even shorter twenty-20 match format was created to attract new participants and appeal to more spectators. Other types of modified sport; examples such as Rugby 7’s (Rugby Union) and Rugby 9’s (Rugby League); have introduced variations without drastically changing the essential look of the game and most of its skills. The introduction of different forms of a sport means that participants can choose to specialise in the form of the sport that best suits their preference and skills.

The incentive to modify a sport to broaden its participation base or become more inclusive is also a characteristic that distinguishes a ‘sport’ from a ‘physical activity’. For example, a sport such as Athletics has a modified feeder sport, Little Athletics; while the physical (recreational or social) activity of jogging has no set structure or developmental pathway.

How a sport defines itself will impact upon branding, marketing, membership, sponsorship; virtually every way a sport presents their products and services to the public.

Adventure sport(s) use elements of traditional ‘sports’ (i.e. the performance skills involved with running, cycling, paddling, skiing, etc.), but in a modified format and in an outdoor environment.  The core elements of sport (i.e. competition, rules, and organisations) apply, but not in a traditional sense.

The outdoor activities usually place great emphasis on adaptability to the conditions, rather than compliance with standardised conditions. Adventure sports emphasise resourcefulness, cooperation, group-cohesion, physical fitness, and proficiency. There may also be an element of managed risk, and this usually adds to the appeal.

Programs such as Outward-Bound use sport-like activities; including cross country skiing, rock climbing, and white-water canoe/kayak; within a structure that has boundaries, and often competition, to achieve personal and social outcomes. These activities often appeal to the non-conforming individual more than formal sports.

Risk-taking elements are likely to appeal more to youth, but adventure sports are not exclusively targeted at youth.

Adventure racing is a form of multi-sport competition that may include several different individual sports – such as running, cycling and paddling, in a natural setting with variable conditions.  Adventure sport events are designed for both individual and team competition. Organisations overseeing or sanctioning events set rules and monitor competition, but membership in the organisation by competitors is usually not required.  Adventure sport events are usually characterised as a collective of several individual sport components, delivered in a setting that is not typical of those individual sports.

Most sports contain some element of risk – there may be potential for injury or competitive risk in determining the outcome of a contest. Extreme sports, in some cases called action sports, take the risk factors to a level outside the traditional scope of a sport’s governing body. These activities usually involve speed, height, extreme physical exertion, and may require highly specialised equipment. In many cases a sport is modified (to the extreme), so that new rules modify the sport action into something new; or in some cases no rules apply.  Unlike modified sports (discussed previously) which become more inclusive; extreme sports, because of the risks involved, become more exclusive in their participation base. However, extreme sports have taken on greater popularity in terms of spectator appeal, media coverage, and corporate sponsorship.

Extreme sports evolved from mainstream sports and gained popularity in the 1990s through the marketing of competitions such as ‘X Games’. There is no exact definition of what determines ‘extreme’, but there are certain common characteristics among the collection of extreme sports, they include:

  • Although not restricted to youth, extreme sports tend to appeal to the under-25 years segment of the population;
  • Extreme sports are rarely sanctioned by government entities (i.e. departments of sport and recreation and schools);
  • Extreme sports tend to be more solitary, rather that team oriented;
  • Athletes who take up extreme sports generally acquire their skills from past participation (although not always at an elite level) in a kindred (mainstream) sport.

In most traditional sports the function of a governing organisation is to establish rules that standardise the conditions within which competition takes place. One of the appealing aspects of extreme sports is the inconsistency of conditions. For example, the downhill skiing event in the Winter Olympics takes place on a course that is marked and where the downhill gradient is within rule parameters, the event is only conducted if weather and snow conditions are within accepted standards.  An extreme downhill skiing event would have no such limitations or restrictions on the slope, snow conditions or weather; adding to the element of risk for competitors.

Extreme sports may apply the three criteria of a ‘sport’ – competition, rules, and organisational structure; but in different ways. Fewer or different rules are likely to apply; competition may be with one’s self (rather than an opponent) or against the environment; and organisations (where they exist) generally sit outside mainstream international sporting federations or associations.

The public perception of ‘what is sport’ has changed over time because of the emergence and growth of extreme sports.  Some sport activities that may have once been considered ‘extreme’ have been modified and structured into mainstream sport.  Conversely, mainstream sports have been modified to become ‘extreme’.

Two examples of different evolutionary paths involving extreme sports are:

  • Sky diving was once considered an extreme activity, but over many years it has integrated itself into an accepted sporting code.  Skydiving events for individuals and teams are now sanctioned by national and international federations.  Competition events have rules, they are judged on athletic and artistic merit, scored according to judging criteria, and results are recorded. Australian Parachute Federation
  • Downhill ski racing was once considered the pinnacle of technical skill, speed, and excitement in alpine skiing within the Winter Olympic program.  However, extreme downhill skiing, also known as ‘big mountain skiing’ has taken the risk to a new level.  There are no ‘rules’ per se, no course, and no limit to the conditions which challenge extreme skiers to demonstrate what is humanly possible. How Extreme Skiing Works

‘Recreation’ is often defined by the amount of physical activity (i.e. active recreation) or leisure activity involved.  Physical recreation has many of the characteristics of social sport or modified sport. One’s recreational pursuit can be social; it can involve a lifetime progression of participation; it can be a modified version of a traditional sport; and it may rely on the application of movement skills that can be learnt.  The distinctive feature of recreation is ‘when’ people engage in the activity, usually on their own terms. Recreational sport may also be considered a kindred form of social sport.

Governments, particularly local jurisdictions, provide space (e.g. parks, ovals, indoor and outdoor facilities) for recreational activity. In fact, most government departments are labelled ‘sport and recreation’ as a reference to their primary user groups. Sporting organisations oversee a variety of forms of their sport, and they may be a primary user group of sport and recreation facilities and spaces. Individuals may also access the same facilities and spaces without the support of an organisational body to engage in recreational activities that look similar to ‘sport’.  However, people generally engage in recreation in a less-formal setting that fits within their own timeframe, and does not involve an arbitrary sporting organisation.

A useful definition of ‘recreation’ is provided in the book, The Park and Recreation Professional’s Handbook, Hurd A and Anderson D, Human Kinetics (2011). “Recreation is an activity that people engage in during their free time, that people enjoy, and that people recognise as having socially redeeming values. The activity performed is less important than the reason for performing the activity, which is the outcome”. Clearly, this definition of ‘recreation’ often sits within our understanding of social sport. Recreation may include, but does not rely upon, varying degrees of competition, rules, and organisational involvement.  The key element identifying when an activity is considered ‘recreation’ is contained in the above definition. Individuals engage in recreation at a time that suits their needs, and those needs become the motivating factor for participation.


What will Australian and world sport look like in 5 years, in 10, in 30+ years? As society changes, ‘sport’ – what it looks like and its place in our culture – will also change.  Currently ‘sport’, as defined by Australian Governments (Federal, State and Territory) tends to take on the look of traditional (standard) sports; or modified sports designed to attract wide or narrow audiences; or social sports having various motivations at their roots.  Many terms (i.e. sport, recreation, physical activity, exercise) are used interchangeably when they have similar structures and outcomes; and used discretely to make a distinction of difference.

The Future of Australian Sport: Megatrends shaping the sports sector over coming decades (PDF - 2.1 MB), Hajkowicz S, Cook H, Wilhelmseder L and Boughen N, CSIRO and Australian Sports Commission (2013). The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) partnered with the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in this report.  It identifies six megatrends likely to shape the Australian sports sector over the next 30 years. A megatrend represents an important pattern of social, economic, or environmental change. The six megatrends that are likely to shape sport are:

  1. A Perfect Fit - Individualised sport and fitness activities are on the rise as people try to fit sport into their increasingly busy and time-fragmented lifestyles.
  2. From extreme to mainstream - This megatrend captures the rise of lifestyle, adventure and alternative sports which are particularly popular with younger generations.
  3. More than Sport - The broader benefits of sport are being increasingly recognised by governments, business and communities. Sport can help achieve many personal and social objectives; such as: mental and physical health, crime prevention, social development, and international cooperation.
  4. Everybody’s Game - Australia and other countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) face an ageing population. This will change the types of sports we play and how we play them.
  5. New Wealth, New Talent - Population and income growth throughout Asia will create tougher competition and new opportunities for Australia both on the sports field and in the sports business environment.
  6. Tracksuits to Business Suits - Market forces are likely to exert greater pressure on sport in the future. In professional sports the disparity in salaries may draw athletes away from one sport and into another. Loosely organised community sports associations are likely to be replaced by organisations with corporate structures and more formal governance systems in response to market pressures.

Sport Australia has also looked at the current state of more traditional club sport structures to get a better idea of what people want (and don’t want) from sports participation.

Market segmentation for sport participation, Australian Sports Commission (2013). The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in consultation with sport sector partners identified a need for research to better understand what is driving the Australian community’s participation in sport and other types of physical activities. This report contains the findings of that research and may help sports clubs understand the consumer market and more effectively target their approaches to particular segments. The study identifies ten consumer segments among the Australian adult population (aged 14–65 years):

  • Current club member segments — Loyalists, Socially Engaged, Sport Driven and Apathetic Clubbers;
  • Non-club member segments — Sidelined Sportsters, Club Wary, Ponderers, Self-Focused, Sport Indifferent and Sport Atheists.

The research provides key insights regarding how participation in sport is affected by a number of factors:

  • sport delivery that focuses on competition rather than fun and enjoyment;
  • a lack of flexibility around the scheduling of sport in traditional sporting clubs;
  • organising individuals and teams according to talent rather than retaining friendship groups;
  • limited opportunities for people with limited sports competency to join sporting clubs;
  • self-consciousness amongst adolescents and embarrassment by their lack of sporting ability.

Similar research bySport Australia looked at children aged 5 to 13 years.  This study identified six consumer segments among children, divided by club membership or non-membership.

  • Current club member segments — Social Loyalists, Sport Driven and Apathetic Clubbers;
  • Non-club member segments — Thrifty Enthusiasts, Ponderers, Sport Resistant.

The research provides key insights outlining how the sport sector can influence motivations and behaviours that children have towards sport and physical activity; these include:

  • providing sport delivery that focuses on fun and enjoyment rather than competition;
  • providing products and services that are inclusive, promote equal treatment, and focus on fun and participation regardless of skill level and ability;
  • providing a variety of pricing packages and different types of membership that allow for flexibility of attendance and time commitment;
  • identifying the potential for growth opportunities with regard to sport club membership by understanding the needs of different segments, and the products they may be attracted to.

The Clearinghouse for Sport contains additional information on the Market Segmentation research on adults and children and the implications for Australian sporting clubs.

New Zealand

Future of Sport in New Zealand (PDF  - 2.7 MB), a report by Synergia for Sport New Zealand (2015). This report was commissioned by Sport New Zealand to help sports leaders at all levels and across all codes think about the future of sport. The report does not supply answers; rather, it points to trends and explores the implications, as well as posing questions. Sport is being shaped by rapidly changing social, technological and commercial forces. In this review, ‘sport’ is defined in its broadest sense, and includes elements of active recreation and social sport as well as organised sports. This report identifies six themes that are influencing New Zealand sport: (1) the offering of sport – how commercialisation is influencing consumer demand; (2) individualisation – how technology is influencing personal choices and activity preferences; (3) connection – how sport is an agent for community connection and inclusion; (4) lifestyle and health – the value of sport and physical activity; (5) the built environment – infrastructure and facility needs to cater for future diverse sporting needs, and; (6) the structure of sport – how trends will impact upon sport leadership, capacity of organisations, workforce, and partnerships.

The general themes presented in this report are explored and relevant questions raised. For sport in New Zealand to continue as a vital part of its culture and economy, sporting organisations must respond to these perceived needs and future trends:

  • Sport must nurture and grow its relevance in people’s lives and within society.
  • Sporting organisations must recognise that sport is a matter of choice and it competes for people’s time; it must insure a viable offering.
  • The sporting community must ensure a positive relationship exists between elite sport and community sport.
  • Sport must forge alliances across many sectors (health, tourism, education, etc.) and align with both government and private inputs.
  • Sport must link with technological innovation to create an attractive experience for participants.
  • Sport must provide attractive work and career pathways and build a skilled workforce.
  • Sporting organisations must understand and respond to the challenges presented by different cultures and communities.
  • Sporting organisations must tap into new, as well as traditional, forms of membership and association.
  • Sporting organisations must be able to adapt to new economic, social, cultural, and technological environments.

Information from New Zealand about the sport and recreation habits and preferences of adults show similar trends as in Australia; the growth of 'pay to play' participation choices and greater emphasis on recreational and social sport activities.

  • Sport and Active Recreation in the Lives of New Zealand Adults 2013/14 (PDF  - 5.5 MB), Haughey K, Sport New Zealand (2015). This is the third nationwide survey conducted by Sport New Zealand to understand the behaviour of adults, age 16 years and over, as both participants and volunteers in the sport sector. The survey shows that sport and recreation continue to play an important part in the lives of Kiwis, with 74% of adults taking part each week. Participants indicated that they’re interested in trying a diverse range of new sports rather than doing more of the same. Traditional sports club membership is down slightly, while gym membership is up. The trend is toward ‘pay-to-play’, rather than traditional club membership arrangements. Women, older adults, and persons of Asian background continue to participate less frequently and time constraints remain the greatest barrier to participation. Participation most often takes place in an outdoor environment, such as walking paths and cycleways in urban parks and natural settings (e.g, waterways, bush and the countryside). The most popular activities of choice are walking, swimming, cycling and jogging/running of a recreational nature. What New Zealanders want from their sporting experience is changing, and this offers a huge challenge for the sport sector.


SportAccord is a representative group of international sports federations with a focus on sports’ social responsibility, integrity, anti-doping initiatives, and media engagement. Their mission is to unite and support member organisations in the coordination of common aims and interests.  SportAccord currently has 92 full members and 16 associate members made up of both Olympic and non-Olympic international sports federations. SportAccord surveyed delegates from their member organisations about the short-term future of international sports.

  • The Future of Sports (PDF  - 3.5 MB) SportAccord Convention 2014, Zimmermann T and Falkenau J, Repucom (2014). Approximately 1500 delegates attending the SportAccord Convention completed a survey to determine their views on the development of sport over the next 5 years. Follow-up interviews were conducted on 14 per cent of the delegates (i.e. 216 persons) to obtain more detailed responses. The survey highlighted these responses: (1) the vast majority of delegates (up to 97 per cent) said sport has a positive effect on society, providing values for the young generation; (2) there is a trend toward more fan engagement; (3) technical developments in sport itself and in the media, particularly social media, would drive fan engagement; and (4) fighting doping and corruption in sport would be the greatest challenges. Sports identified as decreasing in their relevance included: boxing, wrestling, equestrian, motorsport, hockey and handball. Sports identified as increasing in relevance included: beach volleyball, mountain biking, snowboarding, women’s football (soccer), and disability sports. Survey participants felt that for sports to be successful they would have a stronger use of social and mobile media, appeal to a younger target group, and have a clear and dynamic event structure to increase their marketing profile. On the changing role of women in sport the survey indicated that 84 per cent of respondents felt that women will increasingly take up leadership positions in sport management; and the significance of women’s sport (internationally) will increase.

Technology and social media will also shape future trends in sport participation and preferences. Current and future generations of participants will be more sophisticated users of technology and more engaged in social media; as a result, sporting organisations will need to keep pace with these developments.

  • Future Trends: Innovating to grow participation in sport (PDF  - 2.3 MB), Warriner J, Sport and Recreation Alliance and Future Foundation (2014). Debate between technophiles and traditionalists is particularly heated when it comes to sport. The technologies and trends discussed in this report may help to bridge the gap between amateur and professional, participant and non-participant; as well as making quality coaching, information feedback, and support available to everyone. New forms of entertainment and technologies are capturing the attention of young people, so the sport and recreation sector must adapt and harness this potential to remain relevant. This report discusses five future technological trends and their impact upon sport and physical activity: (1) the quantified self – using technology to capture real-time information about sport participation, fitness, and performance; (2) gaming – leveraging connected technologies to motivate, inspire, and connect users; (3) healthy hedonism – any modern indulgence must have a health-centred proposition and the sport sector can expect these developments to affect choices; (4) performance perfection – innovation in the way in which people interact, particularly online, will be driving sports and influencing participation choices, and; (5) the cult of the home – numerous in-home technologies already exist (Wii Fit, Xbox Kinect, BitGym, etc.) and these will continue to expand as our population becomes more urban based.
  • Class of 2035. Step inside a classroom of the future and imagine what the role of physical education, sport and physical activity might be? The Youth Sport Trust (United Kingdom) presents four potential future scenarios: (1) digitally-distracted; (2) fit-for-purpose; (3) go-it-alone, and; (4) sidelined.

Our notion of 'what is sport' and the definition(s) used to describe what it looks like are being reshaped by organisations (i.e. governing bodies, education institutions, etc.) and governments (i.e. for commercial purposes, employment, tax, etc.). The term ‘eSport’ is now internationally recognised and examples of eSport are evident in our society, although eSport has a decidedly different look to more physical manifestations of activities we call sports.

  • Virtual(ly) athletes: Where eSports fit within the definition of “Sport”, Jenny S, Manning D, Keiper M and Olrich T, Quest, published online (11 March 2016). The worldwide popularity of competitive video gaming has opened the question, “is it sport”. Competitive video gaming fits within (at least in part) most of the philosophical and sociological definitions of ‘sport’. It incorporates play, organisation, competition, skill, physicality (i.e. to some degree), has a broad following and recognition by institutions (e.g. government, education, etc.). With the decline of the percentage of the population (particularly youth) engaging in physical activity, eSport has the potential to bridge the gap between sedentary activities and physical sport through motion-based video gaming. In the United States, several universities have added video gaming to their suite of intercollegiate sports. The US government now recognises (for employment and income tax purposes) professional eSports-persons in the same way as professional sports-persons in other disciplines (e.g. baseball, football, basketball, golf, etc.).

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.


  • 5-year changes in afterschool physical activity and sedentary behaviour, Arundell L, Ridgers N, Veitch J, Salmon J, Hinkley T and Timperio A, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 44, Issue 6 (2013). Data from two longitudinal studies conducted in Melbourne, Australia, were used. Data was collected for 2053 children at baseline, through the Children Living in Active Neighbourhoods Study [CLAN] and the Health, Eating and Play Study [HEAPS] and again in at 3-year follow-up and at 5-year follow-up. Light (LPA), moderate (MPA) and vigorous (VPA) physical activity were determined using age-adjusted cut-points. The contribution of the after-school period to overall MPA and VPA increased in the older cohort from 23% to 33% over 5 years. In the younger cohort, the contribution of the after-school periods to daily MPA and VPA decreased by 3% over 5 years. The importance of the after-school period for children’s physical activity increases with age, particularly as children enter adolescence.
  • Does childhood motor skill proficiency predict adolescent fitness? (PDF  - 225 KB), Barnett L, Beurden E, Morgan P, Brooks l and Beard J, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Volume 40, Number 12 (2008). This research conducted in New South Wales showed that children with good object control skills are more likely to become fit adolescents. Fundamental motor skill development in childhood may be an important component of interventions aiming to promote long-term fitness through physical activity and sports participation.
  • Gender, perceived competence and the enjoyment of physical education in children: a longitudinal examination, Cairney J, Kwan M, Velduizen S, Hay J, Bray S and Faught B,The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 9 (2006). The current study examined associations between gender, perceived athletic competence, and enjoyment of physical education (PE) class over time in a cohort of children enrolled in grade four (ages 9 or 10). Enjoyment of PE declined among girls but remained constant among boys. Higher levels of perceived competence were associated with higher PE enjoyment. A 3-way interaction between gender, competence, and time revealed that PE enjoyment was lowest and declined most markedly among girls with low perceived athletic competence. Among boys with low competence, enjoyment remained at a consistently low level.
  • Long-term importance of fundamental motor skills: a 20-year follow-up study (PDF  - 107 KB), Lloyd M, Saunders T, Bremer E and Tremblay M, Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, Volume 31 (2014). This study investigated the potential long-term association of motor skill proficiency at 6 years of age and self-reported physical activity at age 26. Motor skill proficiency at age 6 was significantly related to self-reported proficiency at age 16 and again at age 26. Motor skill proficiency at age 6 was also positively associated with leisure time physical activity at age 26.
  • Physical education in primary schools: Classroom teachers' perceptions of benefits and outcomes, Morgan P and Hansen V, Health Education Journal, Volume 67 Issue 3 (2008). The aim of the current study was to examine the perceptions of classroom teachers regarding the benefits and outcomes of their physical education (PE) programs in New South Wales schools. Results indicated teachers believed PE: (1) provides children with opportunities to improve fitness and be active to counter societal trends towards obesity and increased sedentary behaviours; (2) impacts positively on learning and behaviour in the classroom; (3) helps children to improve social skills and allows some children an opportunity to experience success in a unique learning environment. However, the teachers in this study believed their programs were only somewhat successful in achieving these outcomes and had marginal educational value.
  • School Centres for Teaching Excellence (SCTE): understanding new directions for schools and universities in Health and Physical Education, Lynch T, Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education, Volume 4, Issue 3 (2013). This paper analyses a community collaborative approach for implementing Health and Physical Education (HPE) lessons within Gippsland (Victoria) primary schools. The Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) ‘School Centres for Teaching Excellence’ (SCTE) initiative provided a platform for all stakeholders; namely university pre-service teachers, primary school children and primary teachers to partner with tertiary education and vocational training providers to increase education/training opportunities for teaches and pre-service teachers.
  • The Sports Participation: From research to sports policy, Puig N, Physical Culture and Sport, Studies and Research, Volume 70, Issue 1 (2016). The way we examine sport depends upon the context – social, economic, political, cultural – many relationships exist. This paper discusses research issues in the field of sports participation; first the author offers a definition of ‘sport’ based upon the 1992 European Sports Charter. “Sport means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental wellbeing, forming social relationships, or obtaining results in competition at all levels.” However, there are no limitations within this definition; for example, is recreational walking or jogging considered a sport? Consistent interpretation of the definition of sport has a profound effect on survey research and the analysis of trends in participation.
  • Supporting healthy communities through sports and recreation programs, Ware V and Meredith V, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Institute of Family Studies, Resource Sheet Number 26 produced for the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse (December 2013). There is some evidence, in the form of critical descriptions of programs and systematic reviews, on the benefits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities from participation in sport and recreational programs. Benefits include some improvements in school retention; attitudes towards learning; social and cognitive skills; physical and mental health and wellbeing; increased social inclusion and cohesion; increased validation of and connection to culture; and crime reduction. Although the effects of sports and recreation programs can be powerful and transformative, these effects tend to be indirect; for example: programs to reduce juvenile antisocial behaviour largely work through diversion, providing alternative safe opportunities to risk taking, maintenance of social status, as well as opportunities to build healthy relationships with Elders and links with culture. Within Indigenous communities sport and recreation are integral in understanding ‘culture’ within Indigenous communities, as well as highlighting the culture within which sport and recreation operate.
  • A systematic review of the effectiveness of physical education and school sport interventions targeting physical activity, movement skills and enjoyment of physical activity, Dudley, Dean; Okely, Anthony; Pearson, Philip; Cotton, Wayne, European Physical Education Review, Volume 17, Issue 3 (2011). This article presents a systematic review of published literature on the effectiveness of physical education in promoting participation in physical activity, enjoyment of physical activity and movement skill proficiency in children and adolescents. The results of the review detail the nature, scope and focus of intervention strategies reported, and reported outcomes of interventions. The most effective strategies to increase children’s levels of physical activity and improve movement skills in physical education were direct instruction teaching methods and providing teachers with sufficient and ongoing professional development in using best practice instruction methods. The review revealed a lack of high quality evaluations and statistical power to draw conclusions concerning the effectiveness of interventions conducted in physical education and school sport to improve enjoyment outcomes.
  • Why older Australians participate in exercise and sport, Kolt G, Driver R, and Giles L, Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, Volume 11 (2004). This research was conducted to identify the participation motives of older Australians involved in regular exercise and sport. The predominant reasons reported related to health, fitness, enjoyment of the activity, and relaxation, all of which were rated as very important by more than half of the sample. The study has also identified several differences in participation motives based on gender, age, occupation, and education level among older adults. These findings can be used in developing relevant exercise and physical activity programs for the growing population of older adults.
  • A window of opportunity? Motor skills and perceptions of competence of children in kindergarten, LeGear M; Greyling L; Sloan E; Bell R, Williams B, Naylor P and Temple V,The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 9 (2012). This research examined the relationship between motor skill proficiency and perceptions of competence of children in their first year of school. Although motor skill levels were quite low, the children generally held positive perceptions of their physical competence. These positive perceptions provide a window of opportunity for fostering skilfulness at a young age. This suggests that children need to acquire (or feel) physically competent in their school or preschool life.


  • Action sports for youth development: critical insights for the SDP community, Thorpe H, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, (published online 4 June 2014). This article identifies new trends in youth sport participation, particularly the growing popularity of non-competitive, informal, non-institutionalised ‘action sports’ (e.g., skateboarding, moto-cross, kite-surfing, snowboarding). A number of international examples and qualitative research, including interviews and media analysis, are cited. The discussion considers the potential of action sports for making a contribution to the sport for development and peace (SDP) movement.
  • Are physical education-related state policies and schools' physical education requirement related to children's physical activity and obesity, Kim J, Journal of School Health, Volume 82, Number 6 (2012). This study from the United States examined the relationship between the physical education requirements of schools and children’s physical activity and obesity.  The study concluded that gaps exist between state physical education related policies and their implementation in schools. Physical education requirements seem to improve children's physical activity, with some gender variation. However, the association between school physical education requirements and children's weight was less clear.
  • Being Active Matters (PDF  - 747 KB), Worthington C, McShane D, and Fyfe E, Giacon S, Jacobs N, Frendin S and Burke C, Womensport & Recreation Tasmania, Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services (2011). This resource was developed to provide parents of young children with information and practical games and activities that encourage active play and the development of Fundamental Movement Skills which are part of physically literacy.
  • Building enhanced collaboration between recreation and sport (PDF  - 2.0 MB), Canadian Sport for Life (2013). The relationship between municipal recreation and sport delivery systems can vary from one jurisdiction to another and among sports within the same community. This report outlines and discusses the relationships between sport and recreation organisations and identifies the challenges each face and the key areas where a collaborative approach can take place.
  • Fundamental Movement Skills among children in New Zealand (PDF  - 2.1 MB), Sport New Zealand (2012). This report provides some insights about movement abilities of Kiwi children and is based on data collected in 2002 as part of the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) for year-4 and year-8 children.  Some tasks were tested again in 2006 with a different group of Year 4 and Year 8 children.  A snapshot is provided, as well as an examination of whether skill levels have changed over time.
  • The Importance of Lifelong Physical Literacy (PDF  - 416 KB), Loitz C, Well Spring, Volume 24, Number 4 (June 2013). Developing and maintaining physical literacy is a lifelong journey. There have been different interpretations of physical literacy, but experts identify that each person’s level of physical literacy partly depends on their fundamental movement skills, confidence level, degree of motivation and ABCs of movement (agility, balance, coordination and speed). When a person feels competent and skilled in fundamental movement skills and ABCs, it supports them in their work-related physical activity, their leisure-time physical activity, and in all kinds of daily living activities.
  • KiwiSport 2009-2014: Report (PDF  - 4.6 MB), Sport New Zealand (2014). The KiwiSport program aims to increase the numbers of school-age children participating in organised sport during school and after school hours by strengthening links with sports clubs, increasing the availability and accessibility of sport opportunities, and supporting children in developing skills that will enable them to participate effectively in sport at both primary and secondary level.
  • Physical Education and Sport in European schools (PDF  - 5.0 MB), European Commission, Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (March 2013). Physical education is a compulsory subject at school but is commonly perceived as being less important than other subjects, according to a new European Commission report. This report covers primary and lower secondary education and provides an insight into the following topics: national strategies and initiatives, the status of physical education in national curricula, recommended annual taught time, pupil assessment methods, teacher education, extracurricular activities, and planned reforms.
  • Physical Literacy (Passport for Life), Physical & Health Education Canada and Sport Canada. This website explains the principles of physical literacy and its benefits. 
  • Presidential Physical Fitness Program. The school-based fitness programs in the United States will enter a new era in 2014 when a new assessment called the ‘Presidential Youth Fitness Program’ replaces the 24-year-old Physical Fitness Test. A partnership between the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition; the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; the Amateur Athletic Union; the Cooper Institute; and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has facilitated the change.  The new program will emphasise health over performance and provide professional development resources for school teachers delivering physical education programs.
  • Shape of the Nation 2016: Status of physical education in the USA (PDF  - 1.4 MB), Shape America (2016). Physical education programs teach children lifelong skills to keep them healthy. Studies show that active and fit children consistently outperform less active, unfit students academically in both the short and the long term. They also demonstrate better classroom behaviour, greater ability to focus, and lower rates of absenteeism. This report assesses the status and contribution of physical education in the State-based curriculums across the United States.
  • Successful alignment with Canadian Sport for Life and Physical Literacy in a recreation environment (PDF  - 6.7 MB), Canadian Sport for Life (2014). This report provides an example of how municipal recreation departments can use the Canadian Sport for Life framework to enhance the quality of programming by incorporating physical literacy into recreation programming.
  • Tasmanian Adventure Activity Standard, Caving: advice for organisations, guides and leaders (PDF  - 356 KB), Tasmanian Government (2009). Adventure Activity Standards outline the duty of care and risk management strategies that may help reduce the likelihood of loss or injury while participating in certain adventure sport and recreation activities.


  • Future Proofing Sport, Harkness T and Johnson L, BBC Radio 4 (28 January 2017). Presenters Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson investigate the future of sport in the digital age. How will physical activity and organised sport be viewed in the years to come? (43 minutes)  


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