Sport Participation in Australia

Sport Participation in Australia    
Prepared by  Prepared by: Dr Ralph Richards and Christine May, Senior Research Consultants, Clearinghouse for Sport, Australian Sports Commission
evaluated by  Evaluation by: Graeme Murphy, School of Health and Sport Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast (February 2018)
Reviewed by  Reviewed by network: Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN)
Last updated  Last updated: 13 February 2018
Please refer to the Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer page for
more information concerning this content.

Community Sport Coaching
Australian Sports Commission


There is now compelling evidence that increased levels of physical activity can bring wide-ranging health benefits that impact upon the population. These benefits can extend beyond physical health to include other benefits, such as mental health, personal wellbeing, and social cohesion. Sport can make an important contribution to the amount of regular physical activity an individual engages in.

Key Messages 


The latest AusPlay data for the period July 2016 to June 2017 shows that 58% of adults and 69% of children participated in sport-related activities.


Football remains the most popular club-based sport in Australia for adults and children combined; although netball is more popular for girls (0-14).


Regular community-based sport participation in Australia generates an estimated AUD$18.7B value p.a. in social capital.

Clearinghouse members

Please login to unlock this topic

Please contact us if you are experiencing any difficulty accessing the Clearinghouse information resources that you require.
If you are not a member of the Clearinghouse for Sport please join now

Every sport has unique characteristics that appeal to different interests, abilities, and expectations. There is also a complex mixture of social and economic factors influencing patterns of behaviour and sport participation choices. The decision to participate in one sport or activity over another, or to participate at all, is usually the result of many factors.

More information about the context of 'sport' in our society can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport topics, What is Sport? and Social Sport.

The sport sector is often viewed as a key area for increasing the rate of physical activity among Australians, particularly young Australians. Physical activity (in all its forms) is linked to many positive health outcomes and a reduction in many types of non-communicable disease. It also contributes to economic, education, and social development goals. 

The 2017 BCG Intergenerational Review of Australian Sport (PDF  - 1.6 MB) highlighted that:

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. Intergenerational Review of Australian Sport 2017, p.9

More information about physical activity guidelines and health outcomes can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport topics, Preventive Health, Sport and Physical Activity and Physical Activity Guidelines.

If increasing the participation rate in organised sport is a priority, identifying and then addressing anomalies within some segments of the population—such as females, persons with a disability, persons from lower socio-economic and minority groupswill be worthwhile. Participation rates tend to decline with age across all segments of the population, so it's important to identify the underlying factors that either contribute to, or restrict, sports participation as a function of age, gender, socio-economic status, and cultural influences.  

In the context of this evidence review, ‘participation’ will include all manner of recreational physical activities as well as organised sport that produce health, social, and personal wellbeing outcomes (not necessarily high performance outcomes). An individual’s sport participation experience can be traced through various stages – foundation, talent development, elite, and mastery. The term 'participation' is closely linked to the foundation and talent stages and is independent of the participant’s age. More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport Athlete Pathways and Development topic.

While elite athletes are also participants in their sport, there are specific support structures that have been developed to meet their requirements. Information on 'performance' sport for elite and talented participants can be found in other sections of the Clearinghouse for Sport.   

Who participates in organised sport and other forms of recreational physical activity, and why? What factors facilitate participation and what factors limit or prohibit participation? Information that addresses these and many other questions will underpin strategic decisions affecting the growth of a sport or activity. Sporting organisations must also assess their organisational capabilities (i.e. resources, facilities, workforce, etc.) that either support or limit their membership strategies. A primary objective for each organised sport is the development of a pathway for long-term engagement with participants. Gathering statistics provides a snapshot of the scope and reach of the sport sector, within every segment of Australian society. 


The AusPlay Survey (AusPlay) is a key pillar of the Australian Government's policy Play.Sport.Australia, which is the Australian Sports Commission’s (ASC) game plan to get more Australians participating in organised sport more often. AusPlay is an independent research project at the population level which measures all types of activities in a consistent and comparable way. The ASC will use AusPlay information to fill in the gaps in national sport and physical recreation data on children, following the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ decision in 2014 to cease data collection.

What is new about the AusPlay Survey? For the first time adults’ and childrens’ sport and physical recreation participation data is being collected simultaneously, to better understand the relationship between the activity habits of children and parents. AusPlay hopes to deliver more detailed reporting, deliver it faster (i.e. insights from the data can be released just three months after collection), and deliver it more often (i.e. data will be updated every six months). This will enable AusPlay to identify and monitor key trends across the sport and active recreation landscape. Compared to previous data extraction of sport and recreation information from larger Australia Bureau of Statistics social surveys, AusPlay will cover a wider view of sport and recreation topics and allow for deeper and more timely analysis.

More information about the AusPlay survey can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport under ‘Research’. Reports are available for National results of the survey, and broken-down for State/Territory jurisdictions, as well as by Sport


  • While sport remains an important form of physical activity throughout life, non-sport related physical activity becomes more important (i.e. in terms of frequency of participation) as we age. Overall, 87% of adults participated in some form of sport or physical activity during the previous 12 months. Generally, there is a decline in the sport participation rate in successive adult age-groups.
  • 59% of adults participated in sport or non-sport related physical activity three or more times per week.
  • Australian adults tend to play sports for longer durations than non-sport related physical activities; however they participate in non-sport related physical activities more frequently.
  • The top 5 reasons why adults choose to participate in sport are: (1) health or fitness; (2) enjoyment; (3) social reasons; (4) psychological, mental health, or personal wellbeing benefits, and;(5) to lose weight or help manage body weight.
  • Women are more likely to participate in sport or physical activity for physical and mental health reasons and to lose or maintain weight. Men are more motivated by fun/enjoyment and social reasons.
  • The top 5 barriers to participation are: (1) not enough time or too many other commitments; (2) poor health or injury; (3) increasing age; (4) too lazy, and; (5) don’t like sport of physical activity.

AusPlay research also indicates that active parents are more likely to have active children. There is a high correlation between a parent’s engagement in sport and that of their children, indicating that active parents can be a positive influence. The data shows that 72% of children who have at least one active parent are physically active in organised sport or physical activity outside of school, compared to 53% of children with at least one inactive parent. Being an active parent is a good start, and parents who participate in sport as well as contribute as a volunteer in organised sport boost the likelihood of their children’s participation even higher—child participation was 89% when their parents played sport and acted in a volunteer support role.


  • 69% of children (i.e. under the age of 15) participated in some form of organised sport or physical activity outside of school hours.
  • Only 19% of children are active at least three or more times per week in activities outside of school hours.
  • Participation rates for boys and girls were similar; however, girls in the 9-11 years age group were slightly more likely to participate in sport or physical activity compared to their male peers.
  • The top 4 barriers to participation are: (1) wrong age fit to available sport or activities (this declines as an important issue among older children); (2) not enough time or too many time commitments; (3) don’t like sport or physical activity, (4) can’t afford the cost of sport, or transportation issues.
  • Boys are more likely to participate in club sports than girls, among all age-groups.

Australians spend $10.7 billion a year on sport and physical activity participation. However, only about a third (29%) of this goes to sports clubs. Sports clubs are not the main choice for participation in sport or physical activity for Australian adults aged 18 years and over. The single most popular physical activity for adults is walking (43%). While sport clubs are the main avenue for both girls and boys, ages 5 through 14, the most popular physical activity outside of school hours for children is swimming.

The most popular club-based participation sport in the country for adults and children is football. AusPlay also provides insights into the current popularity of many organised (i.e. club based) sports as well as physical activities. The results from AusPlay complement other data and research the ASC has conducted in recent years, including the Future of Australian Sport and Market Segmentation studies.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport under ‘Research’, Sport Market Insights

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 

Data from the 2013-14 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Multi-Purpose Household Survey (MPHS), Participation in Sport and Physical Recreation module was analysed. This report provides details about persons aged 15-years and over who participated in a sport or physical recreational activity at least once during the 12 months prior to interview. Among the Australian population, aged 15 years and over, an estimated 60% (11.1 million people) reported that they had participated in sport and physical recreation at least once during the 12 months prior to the survey. This is down from 65% in the 2011-12 survey. Adult participation generally decreased with age, peaking during the 15–17 age-group at 74% and declining to 47% in the 65 years and older group. Walking for exercise continued to be the most popular physical recreational activity for adults (15 years and over); women were more likely to walk for exercise than men. The overall participation rate in organised sport, as a player or in a non-playing role (such as a coach or official) was 28% of all adults. There were variations by age-group and gender, with the 15-24 year age-group having the highest participation and the 65 years and over the lowest, at 44% and 17% respectively. The report also provides a more detailed breakdown of statistics for ‘organised’ and ‘non-organised’ sport and physical recreation activities.

Walking as a recreational activity or as a means of active transport (e.g. adults walking to work or children walking to school) is an excellent means of achieving the recommended daily physical activity.

More information on walking and cycling as a means of active transport can be found in the Clearinghouse topic, Active Transport.

Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4901.0 (2013). In the 12 months prior to the survey, its estimated that 60% of all children aged 5 to 14-years participated in at least one organised sport activity outside of school hours. The highest participation rate, 66%, was among the 9-11 age-group and the lowest participation rate, 56%, was among children aged 5-8 years. On average, children who participated spent five hours per fortnight playing and/or training in organised sport outside of school hours. Other key findings for Australian children:

  • Overall, participation in organised sport was higher among boys (67%) than among girls (54%).
  • Participation rate varied among the States and Territories, with the Australian Capital Territory the highest (73%) and the Northern Territory the lowest (54%).
  • Children’s participation was higher when both parents were born in Australia, compared to both parents born in other countries.
  • Children born in Australia had a participation rate of 65%, compared to children born in a non-English speaking country, 40%.
  • Among girls the most popular sports were netball, swimming, gymnastics, football (soccer) and basketball. Among boys the most popular sports were football (soccer), swimming, Australian football, basketball and cricket.

Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey (ERASS)

ERASS collected information across all State and Territory jurisdictions from 2001 through 2010 to capture the frequency, duration, and nature, and type of activities that persons aged 15 years and older participated in. Data was broken down by age-group and sex within each jurisdiction. Participation was defined as active engagement and does not include support functions (e.g. coaching, officiating and volunteering) or being a spectator. Recreational activities did not include those activities related to household chores and more sedentary forms of recreation (e.g. screen time and non-physical games). ERASS Annual Reports can be found on the Australian Sports Commission website. 

Information about childrens' participation was captured by the ABS through 2013. From that time onward the Australian Sports Commission has played a greater role in data collection on this segment of the population. Up-to-date information from the ASC's AusPlay survey will provide more detailed information about the sport and physical activity participation habits and preferences of Australian children. 

Queensland Sport, Exercise and Recreation Survey Adults (QSERSA)

The Queensland Government has also begun collecting data on sport, exercise, and recreational activity participation to underpin future policies and program planning. Definitions of participation frequency are consistent with past ABS surveys.

  • Queensland Sport, Exercise and Recreation Survey Adults (QSERSA): Research Report (PDF  - 2.4 MB), Hinds A, Gordon J and Crouch L, Queensland Government, Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing (25 May 2016). The aim of the QSERSA survey is to collect robust data from a Queensland regional level to support the Government’s policy, program development, and planning needs for sport and recreation participation. This is the first wave of this annual survey and as such, provides baseline data for comparison with future waves of the survey. Increasing participation rates start with an understanding of who should be targeted as a priority. The degree to which Queenslanders participate in sports, exercise and recreation tends to vary based on age and associated health factors; socioeconomic factors; time availability; and to a lesser extent, gender. Baseline statistics in this report include:
    • Three-quarters (75%) of Queenslanders could be described as participants, that is, they have participated in physical activities for sports, exercise or recreation during the 12 months prior to the survey; and one-quarter (25%) were non-participants in physical activity over the past 12 months.
    • Almost two-thirds (63%) of all Queensland adults surveyed could be described as ‘high frequency' participants; that is, they participate in physical activity once a week, or more often. This includes twenty-one per cent who report they undertake physical activity at least once a day.
    • 12% of all Queensland adults surveyed could be described as ‘medium frequency’ participants; that is, they participate in physical activity once a fortnight or less often, but at least once every 6 months.
    • Just 1% of all Queensland adults surveyed could be described as ‘low frequency’ participants; that is, they participate in physical activity at least once a year, or know that they have participated over the past 12 months but can’t recall how often.  

Other research 

Other research confirms that participation rates are higher among children than adults and that participation rates among males are generally higher than among females. Data from Roy Morgan Research represents a combination of organised and non-organised sport and physical activity preferences; while participation data on seven major sports in Victoria was sourced from organised (i.e. club based) participation.  

  • Age profiles of sport participants, Eime R, Harvey J, Charity M, Casey M, Westerbeek H and Payne W, BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, Volume 8, published online (12 March 2016). Membership growth of peak sporting organisations in Australia has improved in recent years. This study investigates age profiles of participation in seven selected sports (Australian Football, Basketball, Cricket, Hockey, Lawn Bowls, Netball and Tennis) in the state of Victoria, comparing trends between genders and across residential locations. World-wide evidence suggests that as age increases, participation in organised sport decreases. There are also many studies reporting gender differences in participation, usually indicating that overall (i.e. across multiple age groups) male participation is greater than female participation. However, variations in gender participation are noted in some age groups. The total number of registered participants in the seven sports during 2011 was 520,102. Data was broken down by age, gender and location (metropolitan or non-metropolitan). Results of the participation data by age indicated that 64% of all participants were age 20 years or younger, with the highest concentration in the 10-14 year age group (27.6%) and fewer than 10% of participants were over the age of 50 years. In terms of participation by gender and age; males age 4-7 years made up 13.8% of the sample, while their female age cohort contributed only 7.3%. The gender gap narrowed during young adulthood (age 18-29 years) with 20.4% of the sample being male and 17.5% female. Beyond the age of 50 gender differences were negligible. Higher proportions of metropolitan than non-metropolitan registered sport participants were engaged in the seven sports between the ages of 4–12 and ages 19–29; whereas higher proportions of non-metropolitan registered participants were engaged during adolescence (14 – 18 years) and throughout most of adulthood (30+ years). The strength of this study was its large sample size, incorporating seven sports representing the whole population of registered participants in the state of Victoria during 2011. However, the authors note that data does not include school-based programs or include participants engaged in a non-playing roles, such as coaches, officials, and volunteers.
  • Changes in sport and physical activity participation for adolescent females: a longitudinal study, Eime R, Harvey J, Sawyer N, Craike M, Symons C and Payne W, BMC Public Health, Volume 16 (2016). Many studies report a decline in physical activity during adolescence, particularly for females. This study investigated longitudinal changes in physical activity (PA) and the specific modes and settings of PA, together with cross-sectional comparisons for two age cohorts of female adolescents in Victoria. The context of leisure-time PA has three aspects which have been termed mode, setting and type. Four modes of participation were distinguished as: team sport (e.g. netball), individual sport (e.g. tennis), organized but non-competitive PA (e.g. aerobics), and non-organised PA (e.g. walking). The three main settings for PA in adolescents are: school, club or leisure center, and neighborhood settings (e.g. home, street or park). The type of PA is defined by the many specific sports and forms of leisure-time PA such as tennis, swimming and walking, etc. This study found that overall levels of PA did not significantly decrease over adolescence, which is positive for physical health outcomes. However, there was a transition from structured sport to non-organised PA. Although PA level remained within the daily PA guidelines, participation in organised sport declined. The authors suggest that the decline in participation in organised sports may influence social and psychological health, and this needs to be further examined.
  • Global participation in sport and leisure-time physical activities: A systematic review and meta-analysis, R.Hulteen, J.Smith, P.Morgan,, Journal of Science & Medicine in Sport, Volume 20(Supplement 1), p.e38, (January 2017). This systematic review is the first to determine the most popular physical activities performed by children, adolescents, and adults across six global regions (Africa, Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, Europe, Southeast Asia, Western Pacific). There were no clear participation trends in child and adolescent populations, instead, activity popularity varied according to geographic region. Yet, global participation rates for adults reflect a consistent pattern of participation in lifelong physical activities such as running and walking. Among all age groups and regions, soccer (i.e., football) was also highly popular. This suggests that on a global level building competence and confidence in walking, running and ball based activities may be a ‘best bet’ in terms of increasing physical activity levels.
  • Population levels of sport participation: implications for sport policy, Eime R, Harvey J, Charity M and Payne W, BMC Public Health, Volume 16 (2016). This study integrates sports club membership data from five popular Australian team sports (e.g. Australian rules football, basketball, cricket, hockey and netball) in the state of Victoria for the period 2010–2012; and investigates sport participation by age, gender, and region (metropolitan or non-metropolitan). Overall, participation in these popular sports increased by over 50,000 in Victoria from 2010 to 2012. The highest proportion of participants were in the 10–14 year age range. Male and female age profiles of participation were generally similar in shape, but the female peak at age 10–14 was sharper, indicating fewer participants at both the younger and older ends of the age continuum. Participation rates decline sharply in late adolescence, particularly for females, and while this may not be a concern from a broad health perspective so long as girls transition into other forms of physical activity, it is certainly a matter of concern for the sport sector. The authors suggest that sport policy places a higher priority on grass-roots participation and that sporting organisations prioritise retention issues occurring during adolescence, particularly for females, so as to maximise the potential for sport participation to be maintained in adolescence and adulthood.
  • The Top 20 sports played by Aussies young and old(er)Roy Morgan Research, Article number 6123, published online (19 March 2015). Swimming remains one of the most common sporting/recreational activities in Australia, with almost half of all children (48.8%) and 10.1% of aults regularly taking the plunge. Children are around five times more likely to regularly participate in swimming or cycling, the overall statistics for these two activities remains strong. Among adults, walking is clearly the number one recreational activity, with 45.3% regularly walking for exercise. Also among adults, going to the gym/weight training (13.0%) is gaining popularity, while jogging (9.9%) is more popular than cycling and yoga (4.0% each). Ten of the 20 most popular sports and physical activities for children, age 6 to 13 years, are team sports: soccer is the clear favourite, followed by basketball, cricket, netball, Australian football, rugby league, softball, volleyball, baseball and hockey. 


Programs intended to increase physical activity have predominantly been linked to health outcomes and the corresponding potential savings in health care costs.  There are many economic outcomes that may be derived from improved public health.  The overall aspirations of the Australian Government are set forth in the report, Australia: the healthiest country by 2020, (PDF  - 835 KB), National Preventative Health Taskforce (2009). 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 contribution of sport participation to overall health enhancing physical activity levels in Australia: a population-based study, Eime R, Harvey J, Charity M, Casey M, Uffelen J and Payne W, BMC Public Health, Volume 15, (published online 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.
  • Getting Australia Moving: establishing a physically literate and active nation (game plan), (PDF  - 2.2 MB), Keegan R, Keegan S, Daley S, Ordway C and Edwards A, 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.
  • Integrating public health and sport management: Sport participation trends 2001-2010, Eime R, Sawyer N, Harvey J, Casey N, Westerbeek H, Payne W, Sport Management Review, published online (19 June 2014). 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 & Exercise, Volume 47, Issue 7 (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.

Millions of dollars invested in health prevention programs are intended to yield billions of dollars in health care savings in the long-term.  The social and economic impact of obesity, particularly childhood obesity, is a major concern that has long-term implications. A wide range of intervention programs, including those targeting increased physical activity, are part of a suite of risk management strategies intended to reduce the rate of childhood obesity.

More information about the importance and impact of sport and physical activity on health outcomes can be found in the Clearinghouse topics, Childhood Obesity and Preventive Health, Sport & Physical Activity.  

Personal and Social Wellbeing

The positive impact of participation in sport on physical health is accepted. In light of this, governments at all levels have launched programs that encourage people to adopt physical activity (including sport participation) as a regular part of their lifestyle.  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.

  • Yet another reason sport is good for you! Roy Morgan Research, Article 6118, (published online 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%.
  • 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, Charity M and Payne W, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 10 (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.
  • Sport and Social Capital, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4917.0 (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 positive impact of participation in organised sport on the development of personal and social values has also been highlighted in numerous studies. Well run sports programs create a positive environment for peer interaction, as well as interaction between child/youth participants and adults (i.e. coaches, officials, and other sports administrators and volunteers).

  • 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, Number 2 (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.
  • Enhancing life prospects of socially vulnerable youth through sport participation: a mixed methods study, Super S, Hermens N, Verkooijen K, Koelen M, BMC Public Health, Volume 14 (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.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport topic, Sport for Community Development.

Cognitive Development

The physical, behavioural, and cognitive outcomes from school sport participation, as well as the outcomes of physical education instruction and other physical activity opportunities during the school day, contribute to the overall development of children and adolescents. Because every child is exposed to the school environment, physical education and/or school-based physical activity programs (including school sport) offer an ideal opportunity to reach all cultural and economic segments of the population. 

  • Brain Boost: How sport and physical activity enhance children’s learning, what the research is telling us, (PDF  - 2.9 MB), 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.

More information about the potential impact of school sport and physical education programs can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport topics, Sport in Education and Physical Literacy and Sport

 Australia map

Australian Market Research


The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in consultation with sport sector partners has commissioned research intended to assist sporting organisations to better understand what factors are driving participation in sport and other types of physical activities. Australians are becoming increasingly time-poor and sport, recreation, and leisure activity choices must compete for an individual’s and family’s time and financial resources.

Sport and activity preferences have also changed over time. There has been an increase in non-organised or time-flexible pursuits and a stagnation of participation numbers in organised sport.

The ASC and GfK Blue Moon research survey looked at a needs-based consumer centric market segmentation model for Australian sports participants and non-sports participants. Market segmentation involves dividing a market into groups of consumers with similar needs, attitudes and behaviours. This research developed several market segmentation models: 

Within the adult population the research identified ten consumer segments; four describing ‘participants’ and six describing 'non-participants'. The research also provides key insights regarding how participation in sport is affected by:

  • 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;
  • limiting opportunities for people with low sports competency to join sporting clubs; and
  • self-consciousness, particularly amongst adolescents, and embarrassment by a lack of sporting ability.

Within the population of children age 5 to 13 years, the research identified Australian children’s attitudes toward sports club membership, with three consumer segments describing ‘club members’ and three describing ‘non-club members’.

The research provides key insights outlining how the sport sector can influence motivations and behaviours that children have towards sport and physical activity. The survey found that membership in sports clubs can be encouraged by:

  • 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 in sport club membership by understanding the needs of different segments and the products they may be attracted to.

In 2015, VicHealth commissioned research to identify key segments of Victorians based on their levels and type of physical activity. The research, published in June 2017, found that there are five distinct ‘life stages’ which have common themes as well as unique attributes that influence physical activity behaviour. While 'physical activity' is broader than sport the various documents also include sport participation as a type of activity where relevant as either an existing or potential physical activity contributor.  

  • Insights to engage Victorians in physical activity at different life stages (PDF  - 119 KB). VicHealth, (June 2017). This research involved online surveys of 3145 Victorians aged 12 and over across Victoria, as well as focus groups with Victorian adults aged 18 and over. It resulted in five distinct ‘life stages’ for which there are common themes and unique attributes that influence physical activity behaviour. Within each life stage, sub-groups were identified based on their physical activity levels and their likelihood to respond to programs and communications encouraging them to be more active. Some enablers and barriers to physical activity are common to all life stages. But to increase the success of strategies to increase activity, consider the sub-groups and what influences their attitudes and motivations, and the level of personal or external support available. Strategies must also consider the awareness and availability of physical activity options to the sub-group and what and how to communicate with them. 

 World Map

International Market Research


There is a large body of international research that identifies behavioural factors associated with either participation or non-participation in sport and physical activities. Sport England provides a summary of participation research covering two broad areas: (1) the relationship between childhood and adolescent participation and life-long participation, and (2) factors that either facilitate or constrain participation, especially among young people.

Although the results of individual studies are varied, there appears to be three general themes evident in the research literature. First, the strength of the relationship between sport participation and physical activity early in life and during adulthood appears across many cultures. Second, the basis for this relationship appears to be the development of positive attitudes and providing opportunities during childhood that establish sport and physical activity as a ‘fun’ thing to do. Third, competence in one’s ability to perform fundamental movement skills as a child also tends to strengthen the probability of participation later in life.

Factors that influence sports participation can have social, psychological, physical, or economic origins.

Active People Survey. Sport England has been tracking the participation patterns and behaviours of the population since 2005/06. The findings have become a valuable resource for the sports sector and results are updated and released twice each year. This is the largest survey of sport and active recreation ever carried out in Europe. The Active People Survey provides information on:

  • who plays sport – including breakdowns by region, gender, social class, ethnicity, household structure, age and disability;
  • how they take part – for example; by being a club member, involvement as a coach or official, as a competitor or volunteer (many roles);
  • a sport-by-sport breakdown of participation; and
  • a breakdown of participation by geographical areas, including local authorities, county sport partnerships and regions.

General trends shown in the serial data from the Survey include:

  • Higher family income has a significant positive influence on sports participation rate.
  • Proximity to coastline and inland waterways (within 10km) increased participation for open-space and aquatic activities.
  • Participation in some sports (golf for example) is more sensitive to changes in household economic circumstances.
  • Higher population density produced greater participation in organised sports. Lower population density produced greater participation in individual (particularly outdoor) sports. It was hypothesised that more complex mechanisms influence sporting and lifestyle choices in rural areas.
  • People who continue into higher education have higher participation rates in sport (probably linked to higher family income).
  • People who participate in sport also attended three or more cultural events within the previous year.
  • There is a positive impact that ethnic density appears to have upon participation rate in sport. Communities having a sufficiently large ethnic population tended to have better participation rates than those same ethnic groups living in ‘less dense’ populations.
  • Access to competitive activities (events, tournaments, leagues) tended to increase participation.

The Sport England research highlights factors that sporting organisations can focus on when developing their participation plans. The research also identifies a number of common perceptions about sport participation that still need to be tested by long-term accumulated data.

  • The challenge of growing youth participation in sport, (PDF  - 2.3 MB), Sport England, (2014). This report summarises the findings of sport and participation research.
  • Participant development in sport: An academic review, (PDF  - 1.3 MB), Bailey R, Collins D, Ford P, MacNamara A, Toms M and Pearce G, Sports Coach UK and Sport Northern Ireland, (2010). This review looked at available evidence and challenged many common beliefs about sports participation. The review concluded that:
    • Physical talent alone is only a moderate predictor of long-term participation.
    • Prolonged engagement in sport and physical activity is underpinned by an array of factors that include social, physical, technical, and psychological determinants.
    • Fundamental movement skills are an important prerequisite of participation, since they underpin the actual and perceived competence, which acts as a foundation for lifelong participation, as well as the achievement of excellence.

This Sport England research serves as a model approach to understanding the complexity of factors that influence personal choice to initially engage in sport and then continue participation throughout life.


Although there are many factors that influence sports participation, the relatively 'high' cost is consistently identified in the literature, although financial cost is not always the primary consideration. Time commitment to organised sports participation is often seen as a 'cost' and therefore, becomes a major concern. This includes the time commitment by the participant and, in the case of a child, the time commitment of parents and family.

  • Proximal and distal factors associated with dropout versus maintained participation in organized sport, Boiche J and Sarrazin P, Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, Volume 8 (2009). The purpose of this study was to investigate the large number of determinants of sport dropout among French adolescents. This study identified geographical, financial and time constraint factors as predictors of dropout from organised sport. In addition, the value of the activity, level of satisfaction of the athlete, and perceived parental investment were also considered to be stronger predictors. An athlete's self-perception of their skill competence and the perception of their coach, were identified as secondary factors that predict dropout.

A survey of over 400 parents of 5-17 year-old children in New South Wales was used to determine what factors were barriers to their child’s participation in sport. The greatest barrier was the perception (or reality) that parents did not have the time to commit their support to their child’s participation. The financial cost of participation was also reported to be a significant barrier, particularly among lower income families.

There are literally hundreds of factors identified in the literature that can influence sports participation or non-participation, and the strength of each factor can vary from one individual to another.

  • Correlates of youth sport attrition: A review and future directions, Balisha S, Rainhama D, Blancharda C and McLaren C, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, published online (21 April 2014). Evidence suggests that sport is a powerful context for promoting the health and well-being of youth. Given the potential benefits of youth sport, this study sought to identify correlates (i.e. factors) of youth sport attrition and evaluate the strength of evidence for each correlate. One hundred forty-one distinct correlates were examined from published literature between 1982 and 2012. It was concluded that sport participation requires both opportunities and the motivation for youth to engage. Reasons for attrition were identified as being biological, intrapersonal, interpersonal, institutional, community, and policy related.

A Swimming Australia market research survey (unpublished) looked at swimming participation as a ‘value for money’ proposition by parents. The most prominent reasons parents gave for encouraging their children to participate in competitive swimming were: (1) swimming is a safe and healthy sport, (2) swimming offers a high level of personal satisfaction, and (3) swimming is a life-long activity. In contrast, reasons for dissatisfaction with the sport of swimming were: high training costs, competition entry fees, and poor quality coaching and facilities.

A number of studies have concluded that the perception most important to maintaining sports participation is competence. Participants who feel they are learning and advancing their skills, and parents who feel their child is advancing in physical and social skills, are highly likely to continue their participation in organised sports.

Other factors that consistently appear in the literature as supportive of sports participation include: parental and family support, peer interaction, positive environment, and venue accessibility. Factors that consistently appear as negative or contributing to non-participation or dropout include: excessive travel, the expense of training and competition, inconvenient training times, and an environment that is ‘too competitive’.


The cost of sport participating in organised sporting activities, particularly for families supporting school-age children, can be substantial. 

The ASC AusPlay survey collects information on the amounts being paid for adults and children to participate in sport and physical activities. For adults the average cost per year was AU$961. Across all age groups costs for men slightly higher (AU$1075) than women (AU$852). It isn’t clear from these statistics how many sports/activities may be included although analysis of the payments broken down by sports and recreation clubs and associations average around AU$482 per annum, suggesting that multiple sports, or other activities (such as gym memberships or private training and coaching)  are also included. 

For children (aged 0-14) the average amount paid to participate was AU$698 per year. Interestingly for children girls activities appear to cost more than boys, AU$783 for girls versus AU$623 for boys. Payments broken down by sports and recreation clubs and associations average around AU$550 per annum, again suggesting that other activities (potentially private dance or swimming lessons) are also included. [source: AusPlay National data tables – July 2016 to June 2017 data (XLS  - 520 KB), (accessed 8 February 2018)].

Organised sport registration fees can vary substantially by sport, age of participants, and also may and may not include additional expenses such as uniforms or game fees. Additionally, incidental costs, such as transportation, social cost, or time cost can also be significant. Voluntary service within the sports club system, particularly for parents, can also be viewed as a social cost, over-and-above the monetary outlay for club membership, travel, training, and competitions. Because people and families are becoming ‘time poor’, alternative forms of physical activity and recreation in a less structured environment (compared to clubs) are becoming more attractive.

All of these factors make it very difficult to accurately analyse the cost of organised sport participation, although articles on the topic are reasonably common on Australian and overseas news services.

  • How Kids’ Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry, Sean Gregory, Time, (24 August 2017). Across the nation, kids of all skill levels, in virtually every team sport, are getting swept up by a youth-sports economy that increasingly resembles the pros at increasingly early ages. At the high end, families can spend more than 10% of their income on registration fees, travel, camps and equipment.
  • Which junior winter sport is the most affordable for you? See our fees guide for the upcoming season, Brayden Heslehurst, Quest Newspapers/Courier Mail, (23 February 2017). Compares the average upfront registration costs of several popular sports in the Brisbane area including: Australian rules football; rugby league; netball; rugby union; hockey; and football (soccer). Costs range from AU$195 to AU$415. 
  • The real cost for kids to participate in sports, Participaction blog, (11 September 2015). Looked at three of Canada’s most popular sports—ice hockey, swimming, and basketball—to determine average cost per child. The overall average cost for a child to participate in most organized sports annually is under $1000. However, a number of parents can spend between $5,000 up to $10,000 for their children to compete in competitive leagues or team.
  • The troubling price of playing youth sports, Mark Hyman, Assistant Teaching Professor of Management & Tourism Studies, George Washington University, The Conversation, (3 June 2015). The escalating costs [of youth sport] are a growing concern on sidelines and in bleachers across this country. Ultimately, the price of play threatens something fundamental about sports for our kids: the expectation of a level playing field and an egalitarian spirit.
  • Parents cry foul over the high cost of children's sports: poll, Ashleigh Gleeson, Newcastle Herald, (9 May 2014). Looks at the pricing of popular team sports for children around the age of 12 in the Newcastle region. Found significant variations, ranging from AU$50 to AU$800. 
  • Is local sport too pricey?, ABC RN, (5 May 2014). Radio interview with Anthony Moore, General Manager, Participation and Sustainable Sports with the Australian Sports Commission; Tom Godfrey, Choice; and Sonya, Mother of three sons who play AFL.

Competence (physical literacy)

By learning the fundamentals of movement and developing a positive attitude to physical activity and sport, young children acquire the skills, experience, and attitudes that will allow them to take part in sports, as well as influencing their level of physical activity throughout their lives. Physical literacy increases the likelihood of sports participation and long-term physical activity. Research has shown that the childhood years are a critical period for motor development and the opportunity to become ‘physically literate’. 

  • Why kids quit sports, Rogers S, Active for Life, (published online 9 April 2014). In many countries; such as the United States, Canada and Australia; the number of children who sign up each year for team sports and then quit after a year or two can be substantial. Australian research offers these insights into why kids quit sports: (1) they’re not having fun, (2) they feel awkward because they lack physical literacy, (3) their parents become too enthusiastic, to the point of becoming obnoxious, and (4) they dread the post-game analysis by parents.
  • Thirteen-year trends in child and adolescent fundamental movement skills: 1997–2010, Hardy L, Barnett L, Espinel P and Okely A, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Volume 45, Issue 10 (2013). This study examined changes in the physical competency of New South Wales school children on five common Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS): sprint run, vertical jump, catch, overarm throw, and kick. Serial surveys spanning 13 years were used to collect data. 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 for the five FMS areas, with the exception of the overarm throw in high school girls. These improvements coincided with the distribution of resources to government schools that supported the teaching of FMS and the use of physical education specialists. The observed improvements in FMS competency to 2004 were attributed to changes in school policies and practices. In 2010 overall competency remained low and data suggests that the current delivery of FMS 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 and engage in a variety of sports.
  • Benefits of early development of eye-hand coordination: evidence from the LOOK longitudinal study, Telford RD, Cunningham R, Telford RM, Olive L, Byrne D and Abhayaratna W, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports (2013). This study looked at the longitudinal and cross-sectional relationships between eye-hand coordination (EHC), cardiorespiratory fitness, physical activity level, percent body fat and body image, and organised sport participation of boys and girls at 8 years and again at 10 years of age. Analyses showed that boys and girls with better EHC were significantly fitter and a longitudinal relationship showed that girls who improved their EHC over the two years became fitter. There was also evidence that children with better EHC possessed a more positive body image. Even at age 8 years, boys and girls participating in organised sport possessed better EHC than non-participants. These data provide evidence for the premise that early acquisition of this single motor skill promotes the development of a child's fitness, body image, and participation in sport.
  • Sport-specific factors predicting player retention in junior cricket, Talpey S, Croucher T, Mustafa A and Finch C (abstract), European Journal of sport Science, Volume 17, Issue 3 (2017). This investigation sought to determine the performance and participation factors that influenced continued participation in junior cricket. Players (under the age of 16 years) and a community-level junior cricket association in Australia were surveyed over a seven-year period. Performance factors that significantly predicted continued participation in junior cricket were the number of innings batted and the number of overs bowled. Other performance factors, such as the number of runs scored or wickets taken also influenced ongoing participation. These results demonstrate that sufficient opportunity for children to participate in the game and expression of skills competence are key factors for retention in cricket.

Research from the Australian longitudinal Look: Lifestyle Study also highlights the impact of differences between boys and girls in relation to attributes that are linked to greater lifetime physical activity (such as cardio-respiratory fitness; eye-hand co-ordination; and perceived competence in physical education/movement) and the need to take these factors into account when designing intervention strategies. 

More information is available in the Clearinghouse Physical Literacy & Sport topic. 

Social, Cultural, Economic and Geographical Considerations

The ASC AusPlay survey reports that about 60% of children age 5 through 14 years participated in at least one out-of-school-hours sporting activity between July 2016-June 2017 [source: AusPlay National data tables – July 2016 to June 2017 data (XLS  - 520 KB), (accessed 8 February 2018)]. This is consistent with previous results from the Australian Bureau of Statistics report, Children’s Participation in Culture and Leisure Activities Australia, Catalogue Number 4901.0 (2012). Sport only participation rates for boys were consistently higher than for girls, although a higher proportion of girls participated in non-sport related activities, which may be less intense and of shorter duration than sport. These gender differences are also consistent with most overseas surveys. 

Internationally there has been considerable research linking general socio-economic factorssuch as household income, attained education of parents, family size, and language spoken within the home environmentto participation in organised sports activities. The influence of parental attitudes and early school opportunities to engage in quality physical education programs has been shown to increase the likelihood that children will engage in sports.

  • Are immigrants more physically active than native-born Australians and does it changes over time? Evidence from a nationally representative longitudinal survey, Joshi S, Jatrana S and Paradies Y, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, Volume 14, Issue 2 (2017). This study looked at the differences and changes over time in the amount of physical activity performed by foreign-born immigrants from English speaking countries (ESC) and non-English speaking countries (NESC), relative to native-born Australians. Also, is there an association between the duration of Australian residence among ESC and NESC immigrants and their physical activity? This study found that ESC immigrants were more likely to achieve the recommended physical activity guidelines, while NESC immigrants had lower physical activity then native born Australians, after adjusting for covariates. There was no evidence that the amount of time (up to 20 years) spent in residence in Australia by NESC immigrants had any effect on physical activity. ESC immigrants were more likely to be physically active when their time in Australian residence was more than 20 years. The authors suggest that English language has a mediating role on the physical activity of immigrants.
  • Overcoming disparities in organized physical activity: findings from Australian community strategies, Smith B, Thomas M and Batras D, Health Promotion International, (published online 4 June 2015). This article examines the barriers to participation in sport and strategies used to overcome these barriers among disadvantaged groups. Sporting organisations received community funding from VicHealth’s Participation in Community Sport and Recreation Program (PICSAR) to adopt strategies allowing them to include more people from Indigenous, low socioeconomic and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, as well as persons with disabilities into their programs. Disadvantaged groups typically have lower levels of physical activity and poorer health outcomes compared to the overall population. Several barriers to participation were identified – high costs, lack of transport to activities, cultural differences, unwelcoming sporting environments at clubs, and lack of suitable facilities for people with disabilities. A number of successful strategies were put in place to overcome these barriers, including: employing staff from the priority groups; building communication and partnerships over time with community organisations; specific training for staff and volunteers; and modifying traditional activities to better suit participants. Various strategies were also put in place to reduce cost and provide transport. Although cost and transport strategies demonstrated some success, they were not sustainable. Overall, organisations found it took longer than initially expected to successfully engage target populations, but that this was a necessary and valuable process.
  • The relationship of sport participation to provision of sports facilities and socioeconomic status: a geographical analysis, Eime R, Harvey J, Charity M, Casey M, Westerbeek H and Payne W, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, (published online 22 January 2017). Participation rate was positively associated with provision of facilities, although this was complicated by SES and region effects. The findings of this study were based on a large cohort over a large geographical area. The findings are aligned with the majority of other researchers using more limited samples and areas. We have shown that there is a positive ecological association at the level of local government authorities (LGAs) between participation and facility provision. Moreover, we have shown that for some sports in one or other of metropolitan or non-metropolitan contexts, the association between participation and facility provision is confounded with the effects of socio-economic status (SES), while in other cases the association between participation and facility provision persists after adjustment for the effects of SES. With regard to the effects of SES in the two regions, in the metropolitan region higher levels of participation were associated with higher SES, however, the opposite was true for the non-metropolitan region. This is consistent with another recent Australian study that reported that, while non-metropolitan areas tended to have lower SES, participation in many team sports was higher in these areas, and there were very few sports or types of physical activity for which the rate of participation increased as SES increased. The present study found that within the metropolitan regions higher facility provision was related to higher SES for two sports, however, in non-metropolitan regions higher facility provision was related to lower SES for all sports.
  • Socio-ecological predictors of participation and dropout in organised sports during childhood, Vella S, Cliff D and Okely A, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 11, Number 62 (2014). This study looked at the socio-ecological determinants of participation and dropout in organised sports in a nationally-representative sample of Australian children. Seven variables at age 8 were shown to positively predict participation in organised sports at age 10; these included: (1) sex (boy); (2) fewer people in household; (3) higher household income; (4) main language spoken at home (English); (5) higher parental education; (6) child taken to a sporting event, and; (7) access to a specialist physical education teacher during primary school. Four variables predicted dropout from organised sports by age 10; these included: (1) lower household income; (2) main language spoken at home (non-English); (3) lower parental education, and; (4) child not taken to a sporting event. The interplay between sex (at least for boys), socioeconomic indicators, and parental support is important in predicting children’s participation in organised sports. Therefore, multilevel and multicomponent interventions designed to promote participation and prevent dropout should address these factors.
  • Social inequalities in young children’s sport participation and outdoor play, Wijtzes A, Jansen W, Bouthoorn S, Pot N, Hofman A, Jaddoe V and Raat H, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 11 (2014). This study looked at the associations of family socioeconomic position (SEP) and ethnic background with children’s sports participation and outdoor play. Data was taken from 4726 ethnically diverse 6-year-old children participating in the Generation R Study conducted in the Netherlands. Children’s sports participation was associated with maternal and/or paternal educational level, maternal employment status, and household income. Families with low SEP indicators predicted less sports participation. Children’s outdoor play was associated with household income only; children from low income households were more likely to play less than one hour per day. All ethnic minority children were significantly more likely to not participate in sports and outdoor play when compared with native Dutch children.
  • Childhood socioeconomic position and adult leisure-time physical activity: a systematic review, Elharkeem A, Cooper R, Bann D and Hardy R, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 12 (2015). Evidence suggests that childhood socioeconomic circumstances can impact on adult long-term physical activity (LTPA). This review tested the hypothesis that a lower childhood socioeconomic position (SEP) is associated with less frequent LTPA during adulthood. A systematic review of literature was conducted from English language based publications; 45 papers from 36 studies were included in the review, most were of European origin. This review found evidence of an association between less advantaged childhood SEP and less frequent LTPA during adulthood. Future research should focus on how associations vary by gender and country.
  • Family support and ease of access link socio-economic status and sports club membership in adolescent girls: a mediation study, Eime R,, International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 10 (2013). The aim of this research was to investigate the relationships between participation in a sports club and socio-economic status (SES), access to facilities, and family and peer support for female adolescents.  This research concluded that the highest levels of participation were among adolescent girls from monolingual Australian-born families, with two parents (at least one of whom was well-educated), with both parents employed, and high levels of parental assistance, engagement and support. Participation in club sport among both younger and older adolescent girls was significantly positively associated with the SES of both their neighbourhoods and their households, particularly in metropolitan areas. Participation in club sport was strongly influenced by the amount of family support provided and by access to facilities.  Improved participation by lower SES adolescent girls might be facilitated by improving access to sports facilities and promoting, encouraging and assisting parents to better support their daughters’ participation.
  • Why children join and stay in sports clubs: case studies in Australian, French and German swimming clubs, Light R, Harvey S and Memmert D, Sport, Education and Society, Volume 18, Issue 4 (2013). This article builds upon research on youth sport clubs conducted from a socio-cultural perspective by reporting on a study that inquired into the reasons why children aged 9–12 joined swimming clubs in France, Germany and Australia. Comprising three case studies it employed a mixed method approach with results considered within the framework of Côté and colleagues' Development Model of Sport Participation. It identifies the importance of parents, the social dimensions of experience in the clubs and of appropriate competition in attracting the children to the clubs and keeping them there. 

Community size and infrastructure (which may also influence organisational capacity) can impact upon sport participation. Prevailing social and cultural characteristics of a community can have a great influence on which sports are popular.  Some research suggests that 'mid-size' communities create a better environment for sport participation than either very small or large communities.  However, the research is ongoing because of the multiple social factors involved and their interaction.  

  • Community size and sport participation across 22 countries, (PDF  - 100 KB), Balish S, Rainham D and Blanchard C, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, (published online 8 December 2014). Data from 22 countries (including Australia) was analysed to determine the association between community size and the rate of individual and team sport participation and physical activity participation. The analysis provides evidence to support the hypothesis that communities that have between 10,000 and 100,000 residents provide a context in which individuals are more likely to participant in sport, especially team sport. In addition, this study found that the size of communities was unrelated to physical activity participation. Although the individual participation rates vary across countries, the relationship stays the same. More research into community size and sport participation in more diverse contexts is required to explain this relationship. The authors point out that this study has limitations; it employed only two relatively crude (i.e., dichotomous) measures of community size (10,000 to 100,000 and less than 10,000), leaving open the possibility that more specific classifications could better explain the associations.

Among Indigenous Australians and persons from Cultural and Linguistically Diverse (CaLD) backgrounds, the participation rate in organised sports for both adults and children is generally lower than in the total population. The lower rate may be attributed to socio-economic factors as well as disadvantage created by location and access to programs and facilities. Within CaLD groups the participation rate appears to vary with the concentration of that ethnic group within the community.

  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2008, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4714.0. Within the adult Indigenous population, 38% of men and 23% of women participated in sport and physical activity. These figures are significantly lower than the non-Indigenous population. The participation rate was highest in the 15-24 year old group (both men and women) and decline steadily with age.
  • Review of physical activity among Indigenous people, (PDF  - 1.0 MB), Gray C, Macniven R and Thomson N, Australian Indigenous Health Reviews, Number 13 (2013). For some Indigenous people, concepts of space, time and activities differ from those for most non-Indigenous people. Therefore, physical activity guidelines that specify regular frequency, duration and types of activity can be inappropriate for some Indigenous people. This report provides a summary of the most recent statistical data on the participation of Indigenous people in physical activity and sport.
  • Sport and Physical Recreation Statistical Overview of Australia 2011, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4156.0. Australians from ethnic backgrounds are much more likely to participate regularly in sport when about half of their friends were of the same ethnic background. The sport participation rate tended to drop when either all or none of their friends were from the same ethnic background.

Socioeconomic Disadvantage

In Australia and other developed countries, individuals experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage – whether a low education level, low income, low-status occupation, or living in a socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhood – are less likely than those more advantaged segments of the population to engage in physical activity behaviours conducive to optimal health.

  • Traversing myths and mountains: addressing socioeconomic inequities in the promotion of nutrition and physical activity behaviours, Ball K, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 12 (2015). Socioeconomic inequities are linked to both decreased participation in health promoting physical activity and greater sedentary behaviours. The impacts of socioeconomic disadvantage are evident across multiple populations and studies. This is a concern because socioeconomic inequities also impact upon the rate of obesity and many health outcomes. Yet there remains a dearth of evidence of the most effective means of addressing these inequities. People who experience disadvantage face multiple challenges to maintaining healthy behaviours, including participation in organised and social sport and health promoting physical activity. This paper addresses some on the challenges facing behavioural scientists.

Organisational Capacity

On-going participation in sport is usually contingent upon satisfaction with the overall service provided. This has implications for the standard of, and accessibility to, facilities, as well as the capacity of a sporting organisation to provide coaching, officiating, and management support. Satisfaction and continued participation is also linked to a positive, healthy, and inclusive culture within the sporting environment.

State and Local Governments must also respond to the demand for quality facilities that are accessible and affordable.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport topics, Sports Club Development and Sports Facility Planning and Use.


Sports Coach UK has commissioned several research projects to evaluate and provide evidence supporting the role of coaches in maintaining participation in sport. In a Sports Coach UK briefing paper, The Role of Coaching in Participation (March 2014), they suggest that good coaches promote fun activities, provide encouragement, and help children develop physical and social skills within the sporting environment. Parents surveyed about their children’s participation in sport acknowledged the coach’s role in promoting confidence, social and physical development, and safety. Good coaches were identified as being able to tailor sporting environments to meet the needs of individuals and groups. It was identified that participants who received coaching tended to have higher long-term participation rates than participants who did not receive coaching.

  • The Impact of Coaching on Participants 2017, UK Coaching, (November 2017). This report presents the results from a four year study examining the experience of both adult and young participants who were either coached or not coached. Additional questions were added in the final year to focus on the reasons why people stop taking part in sport or physical activity. Participants were grouped into several market segments: active committed; active at risk; active returners; and inactive dropped out. Overall the results indicate that both adults and young people who are being coached are more likely to continue being committed to sport and physical activity, less likely to stop participating, and more likely to return to activity if they do stop (i.e. due to injury). However, the responses also demonstrate that people being coached are just as likely as those not being formally coached to think about stopping. Positive coach/participant relationships, and matching delivery to individual needs are important aspects for maintaining participation for all age groups. 

The contrasting situation can also occur, the coach-participant relationship can sometimes produce conflict that serves as a trigger for leaving a sport or reducing participation. A report commissioned by Swimming Australia, ‘Retaining More Kids for Longer’ (unpublished) found that coaches putting too much pressure on junior athletes was one of several triggers for leaving the sport. A market research report for Swimming Australia, ‘Member Retention and Acquisition’ (unpublished) surveyed parents and swimmers to determine what factors influenced leaving the sport. In 2% of cases the reason cited was ‘issues with coaching’, and 6% responded that their reason for leaving the sport was too much emphasis on competition, which is a factor that a coach has some control over.

  • Increasing Participation in Sport: The role of the coach, (PDF  - 363 KB), North J, Sports Coach UK (2007). The coach is uniquely positioned to establish sporting environments that emphasise enjoyment, encouragement, social support, goal setting and motivation. Research suggests that coaches contribute to the psychological and social development of participants, instilling confidence and contributing to lifelong involvement in sport.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport topic, Community Sport Coaching.

Role Models

Parents are perhaps the strongest role models for their children’s participation in organised sport. When both parents are active, their children are much more likely to be active. These observations are confirmed by research, parents serve as role models and provide the needed encouragement and support for family members.

  • Changing associations of Australian parents’ physical activity with their children’s sport participation: 1985 to 2004, Dollman J, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Volume 34, Number 6 (2010). In 1985 a group 179 girls and 211 boys, aged 9-15 years were surveyed on their sports participation, with attention to the perceptions and participation of their parents. A similar group of children from the same school were surveyed in 2004. In 1985, there were no differences in sport participation between those with both, either or neither parent active. In 2004, sport participation was highest among boys and girls with both parents active. These results underscore the current role of parents as socialising agents for physical activity.

Payne et. al. looked at how sporting organisations use high profile sportspersons as role models. They found that despite the limited amount of evidence available to support the commonly held belief that sports role model programs have a demonstrable positive effect, a number of issues became apparent:

  • single exposure events and long-term programs may have different outcomes;
  • there is some evidence to support the use of role model programs;
  • role model programs may use parents, teachers, coaches, not just celebrity sportspeople;
  • role models are not always positive, they can convey negative messages as well;
  • there are gender differences – boys tend to identify with successful athletes and girls tend to identify with parents as a role model; and
  • the most successful role model programs have a long-term mentoring focus.

Sports role models and their impact on participation in physical activity: A literature review,(PDF  - 232 KB), Payne W, Reynolds M, Brown S, Fleming A, School of Human Movement and Sport Sciences, University of Ballarat, report to VicHealth (2002). The purpose of this review of literature was to explore whether there is any evidence available within the peer reviewed academic press or being held by the sport and recreation industry and the welfare sector to support these claims.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport topics, Role Models and Sport and Engaging Parents in Sport.  

There is a common notion that sporting success in national and international competitionas exemplified by professional sports, Olympic Games, and World Championshipsencourages greater participation at the community sport level (also referred to as grassroots sport). Sports generally try to leverage their high performance profile to sell tickets to competitions/events; increase their membership base; attract sponsors; and sell broadcasting rights and branded merchandise, thus improving their financial position. Sports also try to leverage their national/international success to attract greater community participation, particularly among children. This outcome is sometimes referred to as a ‘trickle-down’ effect.

Many reports, both anecdotal and statistical, establish a strong correlation between the public profile created by sporting excellence/achievement and attracting more novice competitors. However, even when reliable and consistent participation data are available, the question of causality in the context of long-term change in participation is not fully supported by robust longitudinal data. Does success by elite teams or individuals inspire a nation’s children to participate at the grassroots level? Perhaps the answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Causation cannot automatically be implied because so many factors influence one’s decision to participate, or not, in sport. However, it does appear that the success of certain sportspeople and/or teams and events can create a short-term spike in participation rates.

  • Why do governments invest in elite sport? A polemic, Grix J and Carmichael F, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, Volume 4, Number 1 (2012). This paper examines the reasons generally given by advanced capitalist countries for investing in elite sport. While the focus of this paper is on the United Kingdom’s sport policy, other capitalist nations are discussed, including Australia and Canada. The authors focus on the proposition put forward by these governments that, “elite sport success promotes participation among the population”. Given the nature of certain assumptions, the discussion around the link between elite sporting success and grassroots participation is often controversial and circular arguments ensue. Although significant research supports the link between sport participation and personal health and wellbeing; extending this logic to sport policy and population outcomes is problematic. The proposed rationale is termed the ‘double pyramid theory’ – that is, if a high percentage of the population participate in sport there are bound to be more Olympic champions; and conversely, the existence of champion role models encourages grassroots participation. The authors conclude that, based on evidence from existing research, this position cannot be substantiated.

High performance sport and grassroots sport may each complement the other. A large participation base can provide a platform for high performance sport to flourish, provided the high performance sport system is based on sound principles and public acceptance. Similarly, the exposure that elite competitions and sportspeople receive (i.e. television, print media, and social media) may heighten public interest in that sport.

However, to test the influence that high performance sport has on grassroots participation, it’s worth looking at long-term participation figures as well as one-off events.

  • Understanding participation in sport and physical activity among children and adults: a review of qualitative studies (PDF  - 91 KB), Allender S, Cowburn G and Foster C, Health Education Research, Volume 21, Number 6 (2006). This paper systematically examines published and unpublished qualitative research studies of UK children’s and adults’ reasons for participation and non-participation in sport and physical activity. The review covers peer reviewed and gray literature from 1990 to 2004. The majority of studies cite social interaction and enjoyment as common reasons for children’s participation in sport and other forms of physical activity.
  • Changes in sport and physical activity participation for adolescent females: a longitudinal study, Eime R, Harvey J, Sawyer N, Craike M, Symons C and Payne W, BMC Public Health, Volume 16 (2016). Many studies report a decline in physical activity during adolescence, particularly for females. This study investigated longitudinal changes in physical activity (PA) within specific modes and settings of PA, together with cross-sectional comparisons for two age cohorts of female adolescents in Victoria. The context of PA has three aspects which have been termed mode, setting and type. Four modes of participation were identified: organised team sport (e.g. netball), organised individual sport (e.g. tennis), organised but non-competitive (e.g. aerobics), and non-organised (e.g. walking). The three main settings for PA among adolescents are: school, club (organised sport), and neighborhood settings (e.g. home, street or park). The type of PA is defined by the many specific sports and forms of leisure-time physical activity. This study found that overall levels of PA did not significantly decrease during adolescence, which is positive for physical health outcomes. However, there was a transition from structured (organised) sport to non-organised forms of physical activity. Participation in organised sport declined during adolescence.
  • Changes from 1986 to 2006 in reasons for liking leisure-time physical activity among adolescents, Wold B,, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports (published online 29 July 2015). The reasons why adolescents participate in physical activity may have changed over time, in accordance with attitudes and social norms. The aim of this study was to examine changes in self-reported reasons for leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) over a 20-year period among adolescents from Finland, Norway and Wales. In all three countries, 13-year-olds in 2006 tended to report higher importance on achievement and social reasons for sport participation than their counterparts in 1986. There were no significant changes in the cohort group's attitudes about the health benefits of sport participation. The authors suggest that interventions and educational efforts to encourage more sport activity could be improved by an increased focus on sport as a social activity.
  • Play and work: An introduction to sport and organization, Vermeulena J, Kosterb M, Loosa E and van Slobbea M, Culture and Organization, Volume 22, Number 3 (2016). This article provides an introduction to a series of papers appearing in the journal Culture and Organization which look at the way sport is used as a tool for social organisation. Sport as a social practice has become relevant in many different fields, such as health, economy, politics, education, work and leisure. The importance of sport transcends the confines of the sports field because sport involves not only organisation, but also organising. Sport becomes a social platform for collective effort, as well as a platform for performance and excellence. Professional and commercial sport has taken on economic and political dimensions; while community sport remains relevant for the activity itself, the pleasure of taking part, and the joy and friendship it entails. The authors thus perceive sport at different levels as offering different outcomes, giving social scientists an opportunity to rethink relationships in the context of how sport is organised and presented.

In summary, there are many underpinning factors for grassroots participation, particularly among children, they include: fun, social interaction, and a sense of accomplishment in learning new skills. Increased exposure to a sport, primarily through various forms of media, may heighten a child’s interest; however, personal and social factors will shape their longer-term desire to maintain an ongoing commitment to participation. The impact that high profile sportspeople or elite teams have on grassroots participation may be over-estimated by anecdotal accounts; the evidence remains equivocal. Research suggests that parents, siblings, and community leaders (e.g. coaches and teachers) have just as much influence as sport celebrities.

  • Role models in sports – Can success in professional sports increase the demand for amateur sport participation? Muttera, F., Pawlowskib, T, Sport Management Review, Volume 17, Issue 3 (2014). This paper examines whether the success of professional athletes can spill over on the demand for amateur sport participation. It reviews the empirical evidence of sporting role models and their motivational effect on sport participation. The authors conclude that the effect of professional sports on sport participation is not conclusive.
  • Sporting success, role models and participation: a policy related review (PDF  - 223 KB), Lyle J, Sport Scotland Research Report, Number 101 (2009). This extensive review found that the impact of sporting role models on participation has not been robustly proved.
  • Sports role models and their impact on participation in physical activity: A literature review (PDF  - 232 KB), Payne W, Reynolds M, Brown S, Fleming A, School of Human Movement and Sport Sciences, University of Ballarat, report to VicHealth (2002). This review looked at how sporting organisations use high profile sportspersons as role models. This review found that despite the limited amount of evidence available to support the commonly held belief that sports role model programs have a demonstrable positive affect, a number of issues became apparent: (1) single exposure events and long-term programs may have different outcomes; (2) there is some evidence to support the use of role model programs, but more research is needed; (3) role model programs using parents, teachers, and coaches may be just as effective as celebrity sportspeople; (4) role models are not always positive, they can convey negative messages as well; (5) there are gender differences – boys tend to identify with successful athletes and girls tend to identify with parents as a role model, and; (6) the most successful role model programs have a long-term mentoring focus.

Staging a high performance sporting event, such as an Olympic/Paralympic Games, Commonwealth Games, or a World Championship is also thought to inspire a sport legacy of increased grassroots participation. The greatest impact of major sporting events appears to be on facilities, public infrastructure, and social/political capital that may be created. Using the 2000 Sydney Olympic/Paralympic Games and the 2012 London Games as examples, we find similar results. Comprehensive information about the participation legacy of the Games in Athens (2004), Beijing (2008), and Rio (2016) are not available.

  • The sport participation legacy of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and other international sporting events hosted in Australia, Veal A, Toohey K and Frawley S, Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events, Volume 4, Number 2 (2012). The paper examines claims by the Olympic movement concerning increased sports participation as a legacy and examines available evidence to consider whether the hosting of the Olympic Games boosted sports participation in Australia. The effect of Australia hosting the 2003 Rugby World Cup and the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games on sport participation are also explored. A widely held belief is that success in elite sport inspires individuals to become sport participants at the grassroots level – a process sometimes referred to as the ‘trickle-down’ effect. The official report of the Sydney 2000 Games Organising Committee includes a chapter on ‘legacy’ which does not directly refer to grassroots participation, but the report does indicate that a downward trend (5.6% decrease) in grassroots sport participation in the three years preceding the Olympics was halted by a short-term increase during the Olympic year and shortly after. The Australian Sports Commission launched the Active Australia campaign in 1996 as an opportunity to promote sport participation in the lead-up to the Games. It was difficult to assess the pre-and-post impact of the Games, as the National Physical Activity Survey conducted in 1997 and 1999 was not repeated in 2001. The ERASS annual survey of participation was conducted from 2001 through 2010 to support other Australian Bureau of Statistics data. Direct comparison of datasets is also difficult because of the different methodologies used. Several studies conducted in Australia, as well as studies conducted in each ‘home’ Olympic country from 1976 onward, have found no relationship between Olympic success of the host country and levels of grassroots participation; overall the evidence is weak. Despite the lack of rigorous evidence, many anecdotal claims support the link between Olympic Games and grassroots sport; cause and effect may be due to many factors.

Similar results were found in the analysis of the impact of the 2006 Commonwealth Games (Melbourne). Participation data shows a small (not statistically significant) change in the grassroots sport participation rate. Therefore, the evidence does not support the notion that hosting the Commonwealth Games increased the sports participation rate in Australia as a whole, although it does not preclude the possibility that it prevented a further decline in sport participation.

An analysis of the London Games supports earlier conclusions about the influence of staging a Games on long-term grassroots sport participation.

  • A systematic review of the evidence base for developing a physical activity and health legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games (PDF  - 1.0 MB), Weed M, Coren E and Fiore J, Centre for Sport, Physical Education and Activity Research, Canterbury Christ Church University, UK (2009). Prior to the 2012 London Olympic/Paralympic Games a comprehensive review was conducted to establish the validity of increased grassroots sport participation in the lead-up to the Games. The authors conclude that there is no scientifically valid evidence of the effectiveness of the trickle-down effect of international sporting events on participation. At best, it can be said that the research evidence on the existence of sport participation legacy from the Olympic Games is weak.

The UK Government has learnt several lessons from their 2012 Olympic experience; among them, success in elite sport many not translate into increased grassroots participation because the intended outcomes are different. The ‘achievement’ orientation applied to high performance sport may not influence ‘social wellbeing’ (including population health outcomes) that is at the heart of community sport development. One may complement the other, but they require different implementation strategies.

Adding complexity to the relationship between HP and grassroots sport, are other factors that influence each/both. Participation (grassroots sport) and excellence (high performance sport) are affected by broader program structures and policies.

Physical literacy (PL) is one factor that affects a child’s (even an adult’s) willingness to try a sport and commit to ongoing participation; a high degree of movement skill is also a key element of an elite athlete’s development. As important as physical literacy is to the strength of both grassroots and HP sport, the overall PL of the Australian population has been declining for two decades.

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

Physical education (PE) and school sport lie outside Australia’s organised sport system, although initiatives such as Sporting Schools may help to integrate club and community sport into schools. Although there are quantitative guidelines for PE (i.e. time spent in PE class per week), there are no effective qualitative benchmarks for PE attainment. What skills, fitness, and sport knowledge should a child/adolescent have at each grade level? There are no ‘NAPLAN like’ assessment criteria applied to Australian school students to assess the success of the PE curriculum. Likewise, the sport opportunities in Australian schools may vary by jurisdiction and from one school to another. PE and school sport are often a child’s first introduction to sport participation, and a first impression can become a lasting attitude (good or bad), which shapes future participation decisions.

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

Organisational capacity, sports facilities, and quality coaching are (collectively) strongly associated with grassroots sport participation. These factors are also key components in the ‘athlete development pathway’ that is part of elite sport development. A collection of topics in the Clearinghouse for Sport provides additional information, see – Junior Sport Framework, Sports Facility Planning and Use, Community Sport Coaching, and Athlete Pathways and Development.

  • Delivering Sports Participation Legacies at the Grassroots Level: The Voluntary Sports Clubs of Glasgow 2014 (abstract), Macrae E, Journal of Sport Management, Volume 31 (2017). This study investigated the experiences of volunteer sport clubs (VSCs) in Glasgow, before, during, and after key mega-events, with a focus on the impact of both the 2012 London Olympics and, in particular, the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.  Data were collected through a mixture of open-ended questionnaires and interviews conducted with key representatives from 39 semiformal VSCs, to understand their ability and commitment to deliver on the participation legacy goals of these mega-events. Following Glasgow 2014, Sport Scotland released figures showing that between 2011 and 2015 there was an 11% increase in overall memberships (junior and senior) in the 17 Commonwealth Games sports, with some sports experiencing significant membership increases. Club membership is used to justify the legacy of major sporting events. This research identified key areas where focus should be placed when planning for any form of sports participation legacy from future mega-events: (1) ensuring VSC capacity; (2) providing tools for VSCs to retain new members, and; (3) visibility of VSCs during and after the mega events. This study found that 64% of the clubs surveyed said they would not have the capacity to sustain a significant increase in members; given limitations in facilities, coaching, volunteers, safety considerations, etc. There appears to be few contingency plans in place to ensure that potential members have an alternative pathway to follow, and do not simply fall away from the sport. Although clubs could offer information and guidance, they were generally unable to offer full membership to every newcomer. The initial enthusiasm sparked by the Games could be lost, thus perpetuating the participation ‘spike phenomenon’ experienced during mega events. It remains to be seen if participation numbers among VSCs in Scotland can be sustained. Policy makers continue to champion the idea that the trickle-down effect of hosting a mega event will encourage a rise in post-event sport participation, but the evidence suggests that there is a greater need for localised strategies and initiatives to be set in place to encourage any sustained positive impact on participation.

Segments of the Australian population encounter disadvantage within the sport sector, which restricts access (particularly among children) to grassroots sport participation – and this may limit their ability to progress into high performance sport programs. The most visible anomalies exist for girls/women, Indigenous communities, and persons with disability.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport topics, Women’s SportIndigenous Australians and Sport, and Persons with Disability and Sport.

In addition, the LGBTI community has been marginalised by the Australian sport sector and, once again, opportunities for participation have been diminished. More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport topic, Sexuality and Gender Perspectives on Sport Ethics.

The evidence linking physical activity (which includes sport participation) and population health is compelling. However, the links (correlation and causation) between a nation's high performance sport achievements and population health are equivocal.

  • How the healthiest nations stack up at the Olympics, University of Southern California, Department of Nursing, blog (17 October 2016). Are healthier nations more successful in international sporting competitions, and what does it really mean to be healthy? Though there are a variety of possible answers, comparing the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI); which provides an aggregate measure of a nation’s health based on life expectancy, education and income per capita; with medal count from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games provides no clear answers. The top four medal winning nations and their HDIs are: United States – 121 medals, HDI 0.914; China – 70 medals, HDI 0.693; Great Britain – 67 medals, HDI 0.892, and; Russia – 56 medals, HDI 0.778. By comparison, Australia finished with 29 medals and has an HDI of 0.933. HDI is not an exclusive indicator of health, but it does serve as a multifaceted indicator of health and human quality of life, both of which influence the environment that allows countries to nurture successful athletes. A number of countries won multiple Olympic medals; particularly Kenya, South Africa, and Ethopia; having HDI’s below the global average of 0.711; however, these nations had relatively small Olympic teams (i.e. across all sports), so a nation’s quality of life may (in fact) influence overall sporting excellence. Most nations that won 15 total medals or more tend to have HDI's above the global average. Within the G8 Group of Industralized Nations, all finished near the top of the Olympic medal table. This does not mean that HDI predicts Olympic success, but it does support the notion that a nation's investment in population health standards may have many spin-off benefits.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has collaborated with the Australian Sports Commission to identify 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. Megatrends occur at the intersection of multiple trends and hold potential implications for policy and investment choices being made by community groups, industry and government. The six megatrends in sport are likely to be:

  1. A perfect fit – Individualised sport and fitness activities are on the rise. People are fitting sport into their increasingly busy and time-fragmented lifestyles to achieve personal health objectives.
  2. From extreme to mainstream – This megatrend captures the rise of lifestyle, adventure and alternative sports which are particularly popular with younger generations. These sports typically involve complex, advanced skills and have some element of inherent danger and/or thrill-seeking.
  3. More than sport – The broader benefits of sport are being increasingly recognised by governments, business and communities. Sport can help achieve mental and physical health, crime prevention, social development and international cooperation objectives.
  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. Loosely organised community sports associations are likely to be replaced by organisations with corporate structures and more formal governance systems in light of market pressures. The cost of participating in sport is also rising and this is a participation barrier for many people.

The Future of Australian Sport: megatrends shaping the sports sector over coming decades, Hajkowicz S, Cook H, Wilhelmseder L and Boughen N, Consultancy Report for the Australian Sports Commission by the CSIRO (April 2013).

 Australia map



Over the past 30 years there have been several Federal Government supported initiatives targeting increased participation in sport and physical activity. A key outcome from these programs has been a greater emphasis on modifying or adapting ‘traditional’ sport programs to suit the developmental requirements of children and other targeted population groups. 

Australian Sports Commission (ASC) 

Play.Sport.Australia, (PDF  - 2.6 MB), Australian Sports Commission, (2015). This document 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 in the last decade 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, with the key aims being:

  • more Australians, particularly young Australians, participating in sport more often;
  • year-on-year membership and participation growth for all sports, and;
  • strong sporting organisations that can deliver the products and opportunities Australians want.

The role of the ASC is to work with sports to help them transform participation in Australia. The priority areas include extending the access sports have to information on participation trends; assisting sports to increase demand; and building the relationship between providers and consumers of sport. Other supporting Play.Sport.Australia resources include: 

AUSSIE Sports 

The AUSSIE Sports program was launched by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in 1986 following an in-depth look at the Australian sport sector. For the first time, Australia had a nationally coordinated program of sports education and development targeting primary school age children. Through the AUSSIE Sports program the ASC took a leadership position in addressing these concerns identified by the ‘Children in Sport’ committee: (1) low participation rates in sports activities by children; (2) poor levels of skill development among children; (3) a limited range of sports available to children; (4) an adult orientation in many sports; (5) limited opportunities for girls to participate more fully, and; (6) a lack of quality sports coaches.

The AUSSIE Sports program was officially decommissioned at the end of 1995, leaving a legacy that has influenced schools, sporting organisations and clubs, as well as enhancing the sporting experiences of a generation of Australian children. More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport topic, AUSSIE Sports.

Active After School Communities (AASC) 

The Active After-school Communities (AASC) program was an Australian Government initiative to provide primary school-age children with access to free sport and structured physical activities during the after-school time slot of 3-5:30pm. The program was funded from 2005 through 2014. In the 10 years that the AASC program operated an average of 190,000 children took part each semester. More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport topic, Active After-School Communities.

Sporting Schools

Sporting Schools is the successor to the AASC program, it forms an important part of the ASC’s future participation strategy, with a focus on children and youth. It also aims to expand the capacity of National Sporting Organisations to attract more children into organised sports participation. Sporting Schools is an important part of the ASC’s Play.Sport.Australia. (PDF  - 19.5 MB) participation strategy.

 Victoria map

Victoria (VIC)

The Victorian Government has established partnerships with State Sporting Organisations and tertiary institutions to study a range of factors that impact on sport participation. Sport and Recreation Spatial is a joint project by Victoria University (Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living – ISEAL), Federation University, VicHealth, Victorian Government, VicSport and the Australian Sports Commission. The Project integrates data about sport and recreation participation, population demographics, and population health from multiple data sources and overlays this data with sport and recreation facility information for Victoria. Understanding the relationship between facilities and participation will help to support decisions on infrastructure planning and program provision, and their impact upon population health.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport topic, Sports Facility Planning and Use

A number of reports have been generated by Sport and Recreation Spatial from data inputs currently available. At this time the analysis of data is limited to Victoria.

  • More people, more active, more often (PDF  - 313 KB), Sport and Recreation Spatial Research Report (November 2014). This report provides an analysis of sport facilities in Victoria. There were considerable differences noted in the provision of facilities, per player and per population, across Victorian local government areas (LGAs). There was a direct relationship between the provision of courts per 1000 persons and usage (i.e. high rates of participation for high court density and lower participation rate when fewer courts are provided).
  • Participation in physical activity and sport: Associations with socio-economic status and geographical location (PDF  - 830 KB), Eime R, Harvey J, Charity M, Thompson H and Payne W, Sport and Recreation Spatial report (2014). This research looked at the relationship between participation rates, frequency of participation, and participation specific contexts in relation to socio-economic status and remoteness of location. There were 95 different types of physical activity identified; the majority of these activities showed a statistically significant relationship between participation and socio-economic status. There were also some significant relationships among some activities between participation and remoteness.
  • Sport participation in Victoria, 2015, Research summary, VicHealth (2016). Playing club-based sport accounts for about one-fifth of people’s health-enhancing levels of activity activity. Participation in organised sport is associated with better physical and mental health outcomes, including lower prevalence of overweight and obesity and type 2 diabetes; as well as improved social, emotional, and psychosocial wellbeing for children, adolescents and adults. This Sport Participation Research Project aims to provide a reliable measure of sport participation in Victoria, including trends over time, to inform decision making and investments by sport sector organisations relating to program implementation and facility planning. This research will collate and analyse sport participation data over the three years from 2015 to 2017, reporting on annual participation levels and trends.
  • Sport Participation Patterns (PDF  - 533 KB), Sport and Recreation Spatial report (2014). This report provides a breakdown of participation patterns, including drop-out, across the lifespan. The report focuses on the 4 to 14 year segment, which has the highest rate of participation. Membership data for Victoria’s sports clubs was tracked over a three year period. Key findings were: (1) across most age-groups 20-30% of members played continuously for the three years; (2) the peak age range for commencement of participation was 5-9 years, and beyond the age of 9 the number of new members diminished with increasing age, and; (3) recruitment and retention rates were different for males and females.
  • Sport participation in Victoria and the contribution of sport to physical activity levels (PDF  - 700 KB), Eime R, Harvey J, Charity M and Casey M, report prepared for Sport and Recreation Victoria by Sport and Recreation Spatial (2014). This report integrates the results of four separate research studies, three based on annual Victorian player registration data for five popular sports (Australian Rules Football, Basketball, Cricket, Hockey and Netball) for the period 2010-2012, and the fourth based on national data from the Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey 2010 (ERASS) commissioned by the Australian Sports Commission. This report provide a picture of: (1) sport participation rates; (2) age profiles of sport participants; (3) longitudinal sport participation patterns, and;(4) the contribution of sport to physical activity levels.

sailing-small Yachting Australia

Over a six month period during 2011, Yachting Australia surveyed nearly 30,000 people, including current and past members. They also conducted focus group meetings with people not currently in the sport. The report Yachting Australia, Product Positioning & Brand Strategy (PDF  - 5.8 MB) provides a number of insights gained from this research. This market research will be used to develop future strategies and programs to increase membership. Key points from the report included:

  • Confirmation that Sailing ranks relatively low in the public perception of Australian sports; 34th amongst all sports.
  • The perception that Sailing is an ‘exclusive’ sport that is not very accessible. Yacht Clubs were generally perceived as not particularly welcoming to younger members.
  • The finding that, on average, the starting age for sailing participation was much older than for other sports with established junior programs.
  • The finding that primary and secondary school-age children and young families expressed a higher level of ‘interest’ in sailing, as compared to actual participation rates. This provides an opportunity to convert interest into future participation.
  • Relaxation and enjoyment were consistently reported as reasons for participation in sailing among both current sailors and those expressing a future interest in sailing. New participants were primarily interested in a social, relaxed activity; while longer-standing participants tended to place more importance on competition.

The main barrier to participation in sailing was the perceived cost; including factors such as boat ownership, maintenance, storage costs, and annual club membership fees. The cost of participation was perceived as too expensive, especially for a family.

The intended outcomes from this study will include developing strategies that Yachting Australia and its affiliated clubs can implement to address perceived and actual barriers to participation.

  • Improve the image of Clubs and make them more welcoming and inclusive.
  • Implement programs that help to reduce costs, such as providing club boats and promoting crewing opportunities.
  • Help reduce the initial commitment of club membership with strategies such as introductory, flexible, and concessional memberships.
  • Increase the emphasis on relaxed social racing, rather than competition. Engage new participants in club social and networking activities.
  • Reduce the time commitment of members by offering shorter forms of sailing activity.
  • Improve information and communication between clubs and prospective new members. Interested persons often don’t know where to go or where to seek information when they consider joining a club. An effort must be made by clubs to communicate the entry and retention pathways. Positive messages must highlight the key attributes of the sport which make sailing adventurous, friendly and fun.

It will take several years to implement the key findings of this report.

tennisTennis Australia

Tennis Australia’s  (TA’s) National Strategy proclaims, “Tennis is part of our national sporting and cultural heritage. The sport contributes strongly to the social cohesiveness of our community and provides a safe and healthy sport and social environment for Australians of all ages and abilities.” After consultation and research TA released:

  • Tennis 2020, Facility Development and Management Framework for Australian Tennis,(PDF  - 1.1 MB). This framework document offers a blueprint for programming, coaching, and competitive initiatives to guide the development of Tennis. The action areas of the national strategy highlighted in this document are: (1) better planning, (2) more and better national infrastructure, (3) better management practices.

Ultimately, these actions will result in more people playing tennis, more often. It is hoped that this will produce more tennis champions, more devoted fans, and healthier communities.

The transformation of Tennis began several years ago when Tennis Australia engaged the Gemba Group to conduct market research to better understand the current status of the sport. A national survey of over 8,300 people, aged 5 to 75 years, from all capital cities and regional areas was conducted. The resulting report ‘Tennis Participation in Australia 2010’ revealed that Tennis ranked third in recreational participation, behind walking and swimming and that participation was evenly distributed among males and females and across geographic location. The highest participation was concentrated among children 5-15 years ages, and participation rates declined significantly post school-age and then flatten out for adults.  Other key findings included:

  • Identification of a huge latent demand to participate in tennis.
  • Social and fitness aspects of participation are seen as the major drivers to play tennis.
  • Time commitment to a season of play is seen as the major barrier to organised play.
  • Preferred playing formats are social tennis, followed by coaching programs, and weekly competitive programs.
  • 80% of current players entered the participation pathway before the age of 16 years.
  • 60% of current players will play year around, with seasonal variations due to climate and available indoor facilities.
  • 66% of current participants prefer a ‘pay for play’ model to access tennis facilities.
  • Membership in a tennis club increases with regularity of play.

Providing tennis facilities that offer different court surfaces for player development and delivery of a variety of programs presents particular challenges to Tennis Australia (i.e. water restrictions and environmental conditions, etc.). An infrastructure master plan for each State and Territory jurisdiction has been rolled out, along with various assistance schemes by Tennis Australia to help stakeholders develop or redevelop infrastructure.

The development and implementation of the ‘MLC Hot Shots’ program and the ‘Cardio Tennis’ program have addressed participation needs at opposite ends of the participation continuum. Engaging children in a fun and age-appropriate tennis experience and drawing adults back into tennis to achieve their social and fitness objectives are part of program development that meets consumer demand. Statistics from TA’s 2010-11 Annual Report highlight the growth of the Hot Shots program; over 248,000 participants at 940 venues and 472 organisations delivering the program. In 2011-12 the Hot Shots program was brought into primary schools to expand program delivery.

The organisational capability of Clubs was seen as a key area that could drive participation. A ‘Tennis Club Health Check’ program was developed and an updated coaching development programs have resulted in a 52% increase in the number of registered coaches.

Individually and collectively the strategies and programs of Tennis Australia have been able to make a positive impact upon participation numbers.

Bowls-smallBowls Australia

In 2010 Bowls Australia conducted a comprehensive census of its membership, facilities and capacity to grow their sport. The census has been replicated annually. Bowls is one of the most popular sports in Australia, but membership statistics have shown a gradual but consistent decline over the past 30 years. However, this decrease in formal club membership has been offset by recent growth in social, corporate and other non-member based programs (e.g. including school programs). It appears that Australia’s time poor population is seeking compact or packaged forms of recreation. Therefore, Bowls Australia has adopted appropriate strategies embracing flexible formats and social outcomes. The 2010 census showed that Bowls membership was concentrated in the older adult age groups. Bowls Australia recognised that an opportunity existed to introduce new programs targeting youth and younger adults.

Jack Attack’ was one program introduced to cater to a ‘younger’ adult market and attempt to bridge the gap between social and competitive players. The concept is similar to programs offered by other sports; it features a shortened format (e.g. such as twenty20 cricket and fast4 tennis), 'powerplays' that allow doubling scores and tiebreakers if required. The non-intensive format appeals to social players, party groups and corporate events.

'Jr Jack Attack' was introduced to appeal to the child/primary school market. It’s designed to enable school children to participate in an engaging format, which is both fun and inclusive. Importantly, it can be conducted on a range of surfaces including greens, carpets, concrete, wooden floors and just about anything else that is flat, eliminating the restrictions of requiring a bowling green to introduce new audiences to the sport. Jr Jack Attack has been offered as part of the Sporting Schools program launched by the Australian Sports Commission in 2015.

There is also a good argument that there needs to be another level in-between Jr. Jack Attack and Jack Attack as part of Bowls Australia’s long term vision, and this will be implemented over time. It is also likely that Jr. Jack Attack will evolve into a more structured children’s competition program as part of an athlete development pathway.

On the competitive side of bowls, an Australian Under-18 Squad now serves as a feeder program to the high performance structure. There are also five State/Territory based National Training Centres supporting a squad of players and having a professional coach.

The strategic initiatives introduced over the past five years have elevated the profile of the sport, attracted new members (particularly among young adults) and casual players. All of this was done with an eye on preserving the traditions that shape the values and ethos of the game.

Over the period 2010 to 2014, regular bowls participation (i.e. identified as 4+ playing opportunities) increased by slightly more than 4% and participation remained highest in the 60+ age-group. The number of members competing regularly in ‘Pennant’ competition continued to decline. However, social and schools participation increased by almost 22.5% over the same period; this growth was predominantly concentrated in three states – New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. The growth in social bowls participation was due to one-off activities, programs and promotions. These opportunities have contributed to the viability of bowls clubs and to the overall development of the game.

Clearly, population distribution (urban, regional and rural) impacts upon bowls facilities and membership, as well as the competing influence of other sports’ facilities. Incorporating a local needs-based approach that is built around market segmentation was a key part of Bowls Australia’s Strategic Plan 2013 to 2017. In January 2018 Bowls Australia launched a new strategic plan, Bowls Unleashed: 2018-2022 Strategic Plan which continues to focus on engaging Australians socially or competitively across their lifetime. 

The challenges faced by Australian Governments (Federal, State and Territory) in promoting a culture of greater physical activity among the population are not unique. Globally the issue of increasing physical inactivity, and its health and economic ramifications, is of great concern.  

World Map

The Global Observatory for Physical Activity (GoPA) was launched in 2014 to provide information related to physical (in)activity as a public health issue. The main resource provided are standardised country cards, based on common indicators and sources. The cards allow cross-country comparisons and provide data for countries to initiate or improve standards, policies, program development, and evaluation.   

Indicators include: general country information (such as population size, life expectancy, literacy, socioeconomic indicators); physical activity prevalence; estimated physical inactivity health burden and related mortality; national physical activity plan; physical activity surveillance; and research in physical activity.  There were 217 Country Cards available in 2016 with more planned. 

Australia was ranked 2nd for physical activity research worldwide, contributing 8.46% of the total research worldwide [source: Australian Country CardGlobal Observatory for Physical Activity, (2013)]. The United States was ranked 1st, contributing 25.31%. The Country card also highlighted that Australia did not currently have a national physical activity plan, although it does have a national survey; that less than 50% of people over the age of 15 years met physical activity guidelines (42% of females and 45% of males); and that Australia was slightly above the world average for 'deaths related to physical inactivity' with 10.1% in Australia, and 9% average worldwide. More information, and other Country Cards, are available from the GoPA website.  
  • The Lancet Physical Activity Observatory: Monitoring a 21st Century Pandemic, Hallal P and Ramirez A, Research in Exercise Epidemiology, Volume 17, Number 1 (2015). This project tracks physical activity surveillance, research and policy worldwide.
  • 127 Steps toward a more active world (PDF  - 4.2 MB), Pratt M, Ramiriz A, Martins R, Bauman A, Heath G, Kohl H, Lee I, Powell K and Hallal P, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, Volume 12 (2015). The Lancet Physical Activity Observatory released the first ever comprehensive country-by-country report on the status of physical activity in 2015. The report looked at physical activity surveillance, research, and policies among 127 countries. The countries surveyed account for 81% of the world’s population. It’s estimated that physical inactivity accounts for more than 5 million deaths each year globally and the economic burden of this mortality is spread across both developed and developing countries. As physical activity has moved into the mainstream of public health, the quantity and quality of global research has grown. In 2013, papers on physical activity from 105 countries were published. However, about half of all scientific publications on physical activity came from only 6 countries (listed in descending order of the number of publications): (1) United States; (2) Australia; (3) Canada; (4) United Kingdom; (5) Spain, and; (6) Germany. The leading 20 countries accounted for 82% of global physical activity research. Further, 103 countries have initiated public health efforts that address physical inactivity as evidenced by inclusion of physical activity guidelines and policies within their national public health plans.

The Copenhagen Consensus Conference 2016: children, youth, and physical activity in schools and during leisure time, Bangsbo J, Krustrup P, Duda J,, British Journal of Sports Medicine, (published online 27 June 2016). This evidence-based consensus statement was prepared by 24 researchers from 8 countries, representing a variety of academic disciplines. Physical activity is an overarching term that consists of many structured and unstructured forms within school and out-of-school-time contexts, including organised school sport, physical education, outdoor recreation, motor skill development programs, active play during recess, and active transportation such as biking and walking to/from school. This consensus statement represents accord on the effects of physical activity on children's and youth's fitness, health, cognitive functioning, engagement, motivation, psychological wellbeing and social inclusion. There are 21 items of consensus grouped into four thematic areas that identify educational and physical activity implementation strategies.

Canada FlagCanada

Canadian Sport Policy 2012, (PDF  - 18.2 MB), Government of Canada, endorsed by Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers responsible for sport, physical activity and recreation (27 June 2012). The current Canadian Sport Policy, effective from 2012 to 2022, sets a direction for all governments, institutions and organizations to make sure sport has a positive impact on the lives of Canadians, our communities and our country. Canadian Governments have been involved in sport since the early part of the twentieth century because they recognize sport as a powerful means of enhancing society’s health and well-being. Fundamental to this Policy is the assumption that quality sport is dependent on seven principles appropriately integrated into all sport-related policies and programs: (1) values-based (i.e. promoting ethical conduct); (2) inclusive; (3) technically sound; (4) collaborative; (5) intentional (i.e. based upon objectives); (6) effective, and; (7) sustainable.

Long-term athlete development Canada: Attempting system change and multi-agency cooperation, Norris S, Current Sports Medicine Reports, Volume 9, Number 6 (2010). This article provides a synopsis of the Canadian ‘Sport for Life’ project from its inception as a outgrowth of the first Canadian Sport Policy, released in 2002 by Sport Canada (i.e. the sport participation and performance agency within the Canadian Heritage Ministry of Government). Although the central themes have been athlete and sport development pathways, the implementation process has involved many government policies – health, education, facility funding – as well as interagency working relationships. The four strategic pillars of the Canadian Sports Policy are: (1) participation; (2) excellence; (3) capacity, and; (4) interaction.

Game on – Ontario Government’s Sport Plan. As a legacy of the Pan American and Parapan American Games staged in Toronto in 2015, the Provincial Government of Ontario has announced its ‘sport plan’. Game On outlines the three pillars of participation, development, and excellence in sport. A Minister's Advisory Panel, comprised of leaders in each of the three priority areas, will be established to guide implementation of the plan. This plan responds to a need that has been identified by stakeholders in the sector over the past few years to sharpen the focus of the ministry's objectives and achieve better results for the citizens of Ontario. This will require changes to how the ministry does business, and represents an opportunity to work more closely and productively with partners. Game On is designed to support a system that encourages as many people as possible to play organised sports, and retain participants in those sports by developing the passion and skills of athletes. It also aims to have more Ontario athletes than ever before excel, taking their place in the very front ranks of their chosen sports. Finally, the Ontario Government's Sport Plan encourages lifelong participation and engagement in sport and physical activity.

Japan FlagJapan 

Sport for all, Japan Sports Agency, (October 2015). The JSA will enhance measures to realize a life-long sport society where everyone can enjoy sport whenever,wherever and for however long they want. The JSA will advance measures to promote the nation’s participation in sport, aiming to reach a 65 percent rate of adult’s who are involved in sports more than once a week, and a 30 percent rate of adult’s who are involved in sports more than three times a week. Other policies are available in the Policy Index

Netherlands FlagNetherlands

Monitoring the Dutch National Prevention Program, Dr Cathy Rompelberg and Dr Matthijs van den Berg, EuroHealthNet magazine, (2017). A grassroots-led ‘health movement’ is growing in the Netherlands, stimulated by a collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society. This ‘National Prevention Program’ emphasises health promotion in healthcare, at home, school, and work. Progress of the Program has been monitored during the whole period. Results show that considerable progress has been made. Due to its success the Program will be continued until 2020.

New Zealand FlagNew Zealand

Community Sport Strategy 2015-2020Sport NZ (2015). The Sport NZ Group (Sport NZ) is the national agency for sport and recreation. Our job is to get more young people and adults into sport, which we will do through this Community Sport Strategy, and produce more winners on the world stage, which we do through a High Performance Strategy, delivered by our wholly-owned subsidiary High Performance Sport NZ. We use a wide definition of Community Sport. It includes play (age and stage appropriate development opportunities for young people), active and outdoor recreation, and competitive sport taking place through clubs and events (including talent development). Community sport does not include passive recreation such as gardening or elite (international) competition.

United Kingdom flagUnited Kingdom

Sporting Future: A new strategy for an active nation, (PDF  - 1.1 MB), UK Government, Cabinet Office (December 2015). For more than a decade, the UK Government’s policy on sport has been to get more people participating, as well as achieving success in Olympic and Paralympic competition. Both of these objectives are valuable, and will remain part of this new strategy. However, what really matters is how sport benefits the public and the country. At the heart of this new strategy is a simple framework which sets out how success will be judged by impact on the set of outcomes that define why governments invest in sport: (1) to promote physical wellbeing; (2) to promote mental wellbeing; (3) to encourage individual development; (4) to contribute to social and community development, and; (5) to encourage/stimulate economic development. All new government funding for sport and physical activity will go to organisations which can best demonstrate that they will deliver some or all of the five outcomes. It is likely that organisations which show that they can work collaboratively and tailor their work at the local level will be best placed to access this funding.

  • Sporting Future – First Annual Report, Government of the United Kingdom, Department of Culture, Media & Sport (February 2017). This first annual report sets out the steps the Government has taken so far towards making sure that everyone can benefit from the power of sport. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the five outcomes are summarised in a chart (see p33), previous comparable data is (generally) unavailable, so this first report establishes a baseline upon which future outcomes can be measured.  
  • Sporting Future – Second Annual ReportGovernment of the United Kingdom, Department of Culture, Media & Sport, (January 2018). The second annual report on the strategy sets out the progress that has been made in the past year, and focuses on ten key themes and areas of progress: Cross-government working; Change in participation approach; Sports governance; Anti-doping; Duty of care, safeguarding and mental health; Major events: past, present and future; Safe stadia, accessibility, fan engagement and infrastructure; The sporting workforce; Elite sport; Sporting economy

Who plays sport? Sport England. Access to information summaries and research covering national and local sport in England. 

Sport England: Towards an active nation strategy 2016-2021, Sport England, (2016). The legacy of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games has built the foundations for this new strategy. This document outlines how Sport England plans to implement the Government’s Sporting Future policy. This document sets out how Sport England will deliver in these key areas:

  • Tackling inactivity, this is where the greatest health and social impacts will be realised.
  • Increasing participation among children and young people from the age of five, to build positive attitudes about sport and physical activity as a foundation for life.
  • Helping those who are currently active to continue, addressing some of the cost issues and helping sports become more sustainable and self-sufficient.
  • Putting customers at the heart of program decisions, helping the sector become more responsive to segments of the population that are under-represented in sport.
  • Helping sport keep pace with technology.
  • Encouraging stronger local collaboration to deliver a better sport and activity experience for customers.
  • Working with a wider range of partners, including the private sector, to align resources.
  • Encouraging innovation and the sharing of best practice. 

USA FlagUnited States

Promoting physical activity through policy, (PDF  - 616 KB), Eyler A, President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, Research Digest, Series 12, Number 3 (2011). , It would be accurate to say that most Americans do not meet the level of physical activity recommended for good health. Conversely, exercise equipment, sporting goods, and fitness centres are growing industries. However, this growth in fitness related goods and services has not had an impact on the number of inactive (sedentary) people, or the growing rate of overweight and obesity in the population. Policy approaches are designed to help people develop healthier behaviours by providing opportunities and support for those behaviors. There are several benefits to approaching the public health problems cause by physical inactivity through policy. Policy interventions can benefit all people exposed to the environment, rather than focusing on individual behaviour. In addition to broadening the reach of strategies and interventions, a policy usually has significant affect over the long-term. Promising policy areas that have demonstrated change in physical activity include: (1) quality physical education in schools; (2) complete streets (i.e. how a community is designed to encourage more physical activity); (3) joint use of facilities (i.e. school – community partnerships), and; (4) community trail (i.e. encouraging active transport).

Sports and Health in America, Harvard School of Public Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (June 2015). Key statistics about sport participation among adults in the USA are highlighted in this report:

  • Only one in four adults currently play sports, while almost three in four adults (73%) aged 30+ played sports when they were younger.
  • There is a striking gender gap in sports participation among adults. Men are more than twice as likely as women to say they have played sports in the past year. Among younger adults (aged 18-29 years), 48% of men and 23% of women currently play sports. This gender gap widens with age, in adults aged 65+, men are more than three times more likely as women to play sports (32% to 9%).
  • Lower-income adults are less than half as likely to play sports as higher-income adults. Sports participation among adults varies by income, where only 15% of lower-income adults play sports (i.e. household incomes less than $25,000/year), while 37% of higher-income adults play sports (i.e. household incomes above $75,000/year).
  • The top two reasons adults say they play sports are for personal enjoyment and health. Adults report that playing or participating in sports has improved their well-being in a variety of ways – reduced stress and improved mental and physical health.
  • The vast majority of adults who play sports (85%) say their performance in sports is important to them and winning was important to 56% of the adults who play sports.
  • Most parents place a high priority on their children playing sports. Only 1% of parents discourage their child from playing sports, and 22% say they don’t express a preference.

resources iconResources

  • Sport and Recreation Spatial. This online resource provides a national geographic information system (GIS) for presenting spatial data relevant to all levels of the Australian sport and recreation sector. Statistical information will provide the sport and recreation sector with increased capacity for research, strategic planning, and development of participation programs and facilities. Project partners include national and state sporting organisations, recreation, health, government and university organisations.
  • VicHealth Research. This research summary provides a picture of participation in organised community sport in Victoria.

Report iconReports

  • Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity, 2011-12, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4364.0.55.004 (2013). Physical activity has been identified as an important contributor to maintaining good overall health and low levels of activity are identified as a risk factor for a range of health conditions. In the 2011-12 survey, toddlers and pre-schoolers (aged 2–4 years) spent an average of around 6 hours per day engaged in physical activity. They also spent almost one and a half hours in the sedentary activities, such as watching TV or playing electronic games.  On average, children and young people aged 5–17 years spent one and a half hours per day on physical activity and over two hours a day engaged in screen-based activity. Physical activity decreased and screen-based sedentary time increased with age. Adults spent an average of just over 30 minutes per day doing physical activity, only 43% of adults actually met the ‘sufficiently active’ threshold of the national activity guidelines.  Adults aged 18–24 years were the most active and activity tended to decline with age.
  • Everybody Active, Every Day: An evidence-based approach to physical activity, (PDF - 1.3 MB), 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.
  • The longitudinal study of Australian children: annual statistical report, Australian Institute of Family Studies (2012). This is Australia’s first nationally representative longitudinal study of child development. The purpose of the study is to provide quality data that contributes to gaining a comprehensive understanding of children’s development within Australia’s contemporary social, economic and cultural environment. This is the third volume in the LSAC Annual Statistical Report series, which for the first time incorporates data from the fourth wave of the study. Chapter 9 provides data to answer the question, “How engaged are children in organised sport and other physical activity during their late primary school years?”
  • Participation in Sport and Physical Recreation, Australia, 2011-12, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4177.0 (2012). This report presents data about the characteristics of people aged 15 years and over who participated in sport and physical recreation activities as players, competitors and in other physically active roles. Data is broken down by gender, age-group, frequency of participation, and type of activity.
  • Perspectives on SportAustralian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4156.0.55.001 (2012). The ‘Perspectives on Sport’ series contains information on topics of interest relating to sport and physical recreation using data sourced from a range of ABS surveys.  Data suggests that children who spend less time participating in physical activity also spend more time participating in screen-based activities; and children who participated in organised sport had (on average) 2 hours less screen-time per week. Cumulative list of articles in this series.
  • Sport and Recreation in the lives of 15 to 18 year-old girls, (PDF  - 2.2 MB), Graham S, Sport New Zealand (2014). This report draws upon the results of the 2011 New Zealand Young People’s Survey. It provides information on how the activity patterns of older girls may differ from younger girls, as well as highlighting differences to the activity patterns of boys. Compared with older boys, older girls were more likely to want to try or do a variety of activities that were unstructured; older girls were more likely to engage in sports while ‘mucking around’. For almost all sports or activities, the majority of girls said that they did them occasionally rather than regularly; the exception being netball. Older girls were more likely than younger girls, and older boys, to have not done any sport activities with a club. For older girls, the top four things (based on a ‘yes’ response) that they said would encourage them to play sport more often than they do now are: (1) if they could play friendly games where it doesn’t matter who wins, (2) if they were more competent in their sports skills, (3) if they could try different sports before they decided what to play, and (4) if winter and summer seasons didn’t overlap.
  • Sports and Health in America, (PDF  - 423 KB), Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (2015). In the United States of America there is a sharp decline in sports participation among adults as they age. This report looks at age, gender and income in relation to adult sport participation.
  • Sports and Physical Recreation: a statistical overview, Australia, 2012, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4156.0 (2012). This report presents an overview of the sport and physical recreation sector. It contains information about the number of people who play sport; the most popular sports played; the number of people attending sporting events; the amount people spend on sport and physical recreation; the economic activity of businesses, clubs and associations involved in providing sport and physical recreation goods and services; the people who work in sport and physical recreation occupations or industries; and the support provided by volunteers.  Almost two thirds (65%) of Australian adults, and 60% of children age 5-14 years, participated in physical activities for recreation, exercise, or sport at some time during the 12 months prior to the survey.  Of these, just over one-quarter (27%) participated in organised sport.

Research iconResearch

  • Can't play, won't play: longitudinal changes in perceived barriers to participation in sports clubs across the child-adolescent transition, Basterfield L, Gardner L, Reilly J, Pearce M, Parkinson K, Adamson A Reilly J and Vella S, BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, Volume 2, Issue 1 (2016). This longitudinal study of children and adolescents uses an ecological model of physical activity to assess changes in barriers to participation in sports clubs and to identify age-specific and weight-specific targets for intervention. Data on perceived barriers to sports participation were collected from a birth cohort, the Gateshead Millennium Study in northeast England (N>500) at ages 9 and 12 years. The open-ended question ‘Do you find it hard to take part in sports clubs for any reason?’ was asked and responses analysed using content analysis, and the social-ecological model of physical activity. The analysis showed that barriers at age 9 were predominantly of a physical or environmental nature. Young children relied upon parental involvement for transport, costs and permission to participate; also, there was a lack of suitable club infrastructure. At age 12 years the perceived barriers were predominantly classed as intrapersonal. Reponses for not participating in sport included – it’s boring and my friends don’t go to sport. At both ages weight status was not perceived as a barrier to sport participation. The authors suggest that future interventions aiming to increase sport participation among children may not need to emphasise mediating overweight, but instead concentrate on the perception of fun and inclusion. Transport, cost, and access to quality sports programs remain as barriers to participation.
  • Changes in physical fitness and sports participation among children with different levels of motor competence: A two-year longitudinal study, Fransen J, Deprez D, Pion J, Tallir I, D'Hondt E, Vaeyens R, Lenoir M and Philippaerts R, Pediatric Exercise Science, Volume 26, Issue 1 (2014). The goal of this study was to investigate differences in physical fitness and sports participation over two years in children between the ages of 6 and 10 years; with relatively high, average and low motor competence. Children with high motor competence scored better on physical fitness tests and participated in sports more often. Since physical fitness levels between groups changed similarly 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 having average or high motor competence.
  • Children’s participation in organized sport and physical activities and active free play: Exploring the impact of time, gender and neighbourhood household income using longitudinal data, Cairney J, Joshi D, Kwan M, Hay J and Faught B, Sociology of Sport Journal, Volume 32, Number 3 (2015). This study examines the associations among socioeconomic status (SES), aging, gender and sport and physical activity participation from late childhood (age 9 years) into adolescence (13 years). Subjects were 1158 boys (50.8% of the sample) and 1120 girls (49.2%) grade 4 students from Southern Ontario, Canada, schools. This study found that household income was a significant predictor of participation in organised sport/activity; the lower the household income the less participation. The SES impact on participation in organised sport was consistent throughout the age range (i.e. 9 to 13 years) for both boys and girls. In addition, SES had an impact upon active free play by girls, but not for the boys in this study; high SES girls participated in more active play while lower SES girls spent less time in active play. This relationship was not seen among the boys’ active play. The authors speculate that SES and gender factors may interact: adolescent girls from low SES families may be involved in more domestic activities – leaving less time for discretionary physical activity, and; environmental factors and safety concerns may impact more on girls than boys.
  • Efficacy of interventions that use apps to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviour: a systematic review, Schoeppe S, Alley S, Van Lippevelde W, Bray N, Williams S, Duncan M and Vandelanotte C, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 13, published online (7 December 2016). Health and fitness applications (apps) have gained popularity in interventions to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviours. This systematic review examined the efficacy of interventions that use apps to improve behaviour in children and adults. Twenty-seven studies met the inclusion criteria; 21 targeted physical activity. This review provided modest evidence that app-based interventions to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviours can be effective. Multi-component interventions appear to be more effective than stand-alone app interventions, however, this remains to be confirmed in controlled trials.
  • Epidemiology of cycling for recreation in Australia and its contribution to health-enhancing physical activity, Titzea S, Meromb D, Risselb C and Baumanb A, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, published online 26 September 2013. This study examined data from the Exercise, Recreational and Sport Survey (ERASS) for the years 2001-2009 to determine if recreational cyclists met recommended physical activity guidelines. It found that almost two thirds of those participating in organised or partly organised recreational cycling met the guidelines and concluded that cycling is a plausible way to accumulate sufficient health-enhancing physical activity. Since the majority of recreational cyclists do not cycle in organised rides, a targeted approach is needed to fully exploit the potential of recreational cycling for public health.
  • Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence, Warburton D, Nicol C and Bredin S, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Volume 174, Number 6 (2006). An evaluation of current literature confirms that there is irrefutable evidence of the effectiveness of regular physical activity in the primary and secondary prevention of several chronic diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, depression and osteoporosis) and premature death. There appears to be a linear relation between physical activity and health status, such that a further increase in physical activity and fitness will lead to additional improvements in health status. Health promotion programs using physical activity should target people of all ages, since the risk of chronic disease starts in childhood and increases with age.
  • 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, 2014; published online 12 June. 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.
  • Longitudinal patterns of physical activity in children aged 8 to 12 years: the LOOK study, Telford RM, Telford RD, Cunningham R, Cochrane T, Davey R and Waddington G,International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, published online (21 June 2013). Data on day-to-day physical activity patterns was collected on children in the Lifestyle of Our Kids (LOOK) study over a five year period. A weekly pattern of physical activity occurred in children as young as age 8 on a day-by-day basis; these patterns persisting through to age 12. Over the 5 years, boys were more active than girls and spent more time engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). There was a trend toward lower MVPA, light physical activity and a corresponding increase in sedentary time from age 11 to 12 years.
  • Physical fitness in children with high motor competence is different from that in children with low motor competence, Haga M, Physical Therapy Journal, Volume 89 (2009). Several studies have demonstrated poor physical fitness outcomes among children having low motor skills. This study examined how physical fitness developed over time in 2 groups of children; those with a low level of competence in motor skills (LMC), and those with a high level of competence in motor skills (HMC). The differences in physical fitness outcomes between the groups were relatively constant over time. Given that various physical fitness components are linked to different health outcomes, the long-term consequences for children having LMC may be reduced fitness and health status later in life.
  • Tracking Club Sport participation from childhood to early adulthood (abstract), Richards R, Williams S, Poulton R and Reeder A, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, Volume 78, Issue 5 (2007). This study examined the strength of tracking sport participation from childhood to early adulthood among the Dunedin (New Zealand) Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study cohort. Participation in sport, dance, or gymnastics as part of a club or group (outside of school) was assessed at ages 7, 9, 15, 18, and 21 years. The results of this study suggest that encouraging sport participation during childhood and adolescence may result in a modest increase in the likelihood of participation later in life. However, the substantial movement into and out of sport participation observed in this cohort (as well as the results of similar studies) suggests that caution must be used when relying solely on sport promotion among youth as a strategy to promote lifelong participation.
  • Understanding the relationships between the physical environment and physical activity in older adults: a systematic review of qualitative studies, (PDF  - 34 KB), Moran M, Van Cauwenberg J, Hercky-Linnewiel R, Cerin E, Deforche B, Plaut P,International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, published online 17 July 2014. While physical activity (PA) provides many physical, social, and mental health benefits for older adults, they are the least physically active age group. This study provides a systematic review of qualitative studies exploring the potential impact of the physical environment to influence PA behaviours in older adults. Environmental factors that potentially influence older adults’ PA behaviours were categorised into five themes: (1) pedestrian infrastructure, (2) safety, (3) access to amenities, (4) aesthetics, and (5) environmental conditions. Environmental factors especially relevant to older adults that tended to emerge more frequently in studies were access to facilities and green open spaces with rest areas.


  • Interventions implemented through sporting organisations for increasing participation in sport (Review), Priest N, Armstrong R, Doyle J and Waters E, The Cochrane Library, Issue 3 (2008). This review examined controlled studies evaluating interventions implemented by sporting organisations to increase participation. Many and varied initiatives from a wide range of sport settings were identified in the literature; however, there was an absence of high quality and rigorous data regarding the effectiveness of these interventions. This review concluded that a lack of evidence on the effectiveness of intervention programs made it difficult to provide clear assessment regarding what programs were cost effective.
  • Making sporting clubs healthy and welcoming environments: A strategy to increase participation, Eime R, Payne W and Harvey J, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, volume 11, Issue 2 (2008). Sporting clubs are an ideal setting to promote community-wide participation in physical activity. This study explored the factors affecting the development of supportive environments as a mechanism to increase participation in club sport. Although State Sporting Association Executive Officers believe that the creation of a supportive environment will facilitate sporting club membership, the data collected from affiliated clubs indicate incomplete development of this focus area because of limited club capacity and limited support to clubs from state or national sporting organisations. An overriding factor affecting the capacity of clubs to enact change was the presence or absence of planning at high levels with the sport. Clubs that do not offer a safe and unwelcoming environment are unlikely to increase their membership.
  • Marketing concepts, NSW Office of Communities, Sport and Recreation. Tips for sports clubs interested in expanding their membership.
  • One size does not fit all: implications of sports club diversity for their effectiveness as a policy tool and for government support, Nichols G and James M, Managing Leisure, Volume 13, Issue 2 (2008). This article looked at the structure of netball clubs in England and examined the tension between government policy to promote sports participation through sports clubs that use more formal management practices, and the possibility that this may ignore the contribution made by smaller clubs and their distinctive cultures.
  • Overcoming disparities in organized physical activity: findings from Australian community strategies, Smith B, Thomas M and Batras D, Health Promotion International, published online (4 June 2015). This article examines the barriers to participation in sport and strategies used to overcome these barriers among disadvantaged groups. Sporting organisations received community funding from VicHealth’s Participation in Community Sport and Recreation Program (PICSAR) to adopt strategies allowing them to include more people from Indigenous, low socioeconomic and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, as well as persons with disabilities into their programs. Disadvantaged groups typically have lower levels of physical activity and poorer health outcomes compared to the overall population. Several barriers to participation were identified – high costs, lack of transport to activities, cultural differences, unwelcoming sporting environments at clubs, and lack of suitable facilities for people with disabilities. A number of successful strategies were put in place to overcome these barriers; including: employing staff from the priority groups; building communication and partnerships over time with community organisations; specific training for staff and volunteers; and modifying traditional activities to better suit participants. Various strategies were also put in place to reduce cost and provide transport. Although cost and transport strategies demonstrated some success, they were not sustainable. Overall, organisations found it took longer than initially expected to successfully engage target populations, but that this was a necessary and valuable process.
  • Physical activity and other health-risk behaviors during the transition into early adulthood: A longitudinal cohort study, Kwan M, Cairney J, Faulkner G, and Pullenayegum E, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 42, Number 1 (2012). Physical activity decline was evident during young adults' transition into early adulthood, with declines being steepest among men who entered a college/university. Although there were increases in several health-risk behaviors during adolescence, individuals tend to grow out of binge drinking and smoking as they mature.

Video iconClearinghouse Videos

Please note a number of the resources below (as indicated) are restricted to ‘GOLD' AIS Advantage small AIS Advantage members only.
Please see the Clearinghouse membership categories for further information.

Video iconOther Videos

Related Topics


Is this information complete? 

The Clearinghouse for Sport is a sector-wide knowledge sharing initiative, and as such your contributions are encouraged and appreciated. If you would like to suggest a resource, submit a publication, or provide feedback on this topic, please contact us.
Alternatively, if you would like to be kept up to date with research and information published about this topic, please request a research profile setup.