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Embracing technology enough?

A Youth Sport Trust report, entitled Class of 2035, warns that the sports sector is in danger of losing a generation to inactivity unless it is better able to utilise smart phones and handheld devices

Published in Sports Management 2015 issue 3
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Young people's lives are increasingly intertwined with technology – should sports do more to use tech to engage kids? / Photo: www.shutterstock.com
Young people's lives are increasingly intertwined with technology – should sports do more to use tech to engage kids?/ Photo: www.shutterstock.com

In June, the Youth Sport Trust published The Class of 2035 report, which stated that PE and school sport are at a critical crossroads. Conducted for the Youth Sport Trust by the Future Foundation to mark the charity's 20th anniversary, the report provides a unique insight into young people's relationship with physical activity today and 20 years from now.

The findings suggests that the sports industry needs to better embrace technology. As young people are becoming increasingly dependent on smartphones and tablets, the report warns that ignoring the potential which these devices could have in physical education could be a mistake.

It is certainly true that the lives of young people are now so entwined with technology that for many it is almost counter-intuitive to assume that their sporting life won’t be too. As well as wearable technology and apps becoming more widely used in sport, gamification has been heralded as a potential game changer when it comes to combining physical activity and mobile technology.

Then there are the 'disruptors' such as Sportarian, an online sports social platform which allows people to find rated and reviewed sports coaches – and winner of the Sports Technology Award for the best technology to promote participation in sport. We asked sports sector leaders for their views.

Ali Oliver,

Chief executive,

Youth Sport Trust

Ali Oliver
Chief executive, Youth Sport Trust
Ali Oliver Chief executive, Youth Sport Trust

The world has evolved considerably in the last 20 years and will change further over the next 20. The digital revolution presents opportunities and challenges with young people potential hostages to their handheld devices.

This report clearly signals that action is needed now to modernise the approach to PE and school sport and in doing so, guarantee the best possible future for generations to come.

If we are to avoid a future whereby young people are disengaged from physical activity, living increasingly sedentary lifestyles, we must recognise their needs today, working with government and partners within the education, sport and health sectors to improve opportunities for young people through PE and school sport.

Government investment through the PE and Sport Premium in recent years has helped to improve the physical literacy of young people and has laid some strong foundations to ensure a more physically active nation in the future. The challenge is to maintain these gains as children become more engaged with digital technology.

The findings from the Class of 2035 report will be at the forefront of future planning for the Youth Sport Trust and the organisation is already considering how best to support schools to embrace technology further through its network.

Sue Campbell,

Youth sport advocate and former chair,

UK Sport

Sue Campbell
Youth sport advocate and former chair, UK Sport
Sue Campbell Youth sport advocate and former chair, UK Sport

The report presents four opposing visions of what the Class of 2035 could look like, based on the current long term trends and drivers predicted today. The best case scenario sees the UK head towards a bright future whereby the Class of 2035 is healthy and active – undertaking PE, sport and physical activity on a regular basis in their schools.

The worst case scenario worryingly shows a ‘sidelined generation’ consumed by technology, living increasingly sedentary lifestyles and unmotivated to take part in PE and school sport. At present, both scenarios are distinct possibilities but the long term structural changes to UK society forecasted in this work show that, although significant changes are on the horizon, this should not impede our ability to shape a better future for the youth of tomorrow.

Sadly it is equally possible that those same developments could lead us to the worst-case scenario if we do not act decisively. The future is in the balance and the best and most desired outcome will only be possible if action is taken now to enhance the wellbeing, achievement and leadership of the next generation of young people.

I believe physical education, sport and physical activity are central to achieving that outcome and giving our young people the best possible opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Nico Curia,

Founder ,

Sportarian

Nico Curia
Founder, Sportarian
Nico Curia Founder, Sportarian

Some people love technology. Others hate it. The truth is that you can't avoid it and whether we like it or not, technology is changing our lives – and how we communicate and socialise. This is particularly true for young people, who are growing up in the technology era, and can't imagine life, particularly a social life, without it.

Sports technology is relatively new and children are the ones who'll benefit the most from it as they'll grow together with it. Sports will naturally always attract kids as they use movement to release energy, have fun, socialise, win, lose and learn. 

The addition of technology to their sports life has the potential to make sports better (more fun) and more engaging. It can assist in forming friendships and setting challenges. This can be through incentives and virtual rewards through gamification; through the creation of challenges (such as a "strava" for kids); being part of an interactive story (such as imaginactive-fitness.com); through helping find the right coach (our own sportarian.com) and online coaching. 

Parents, teachers and other influencers should encourage children to experiment with technology and movement so they learn that the two can go hand in hand. My view is that, far from encouraging sedentary behaviours, technology can promote and inspire activity.

Ross Walker,

MD,

TeachSport

Ross Walker
MD, TeachSport
Ross Walker MD, TeachSport

My 12-year-old stepson recently asked me – after learning that we’re launching a new Get Active initiative – which mobile apps we'd be using to deliver it. When my response was “none”, his opinion was that without utilising the likes of Zombies Run! or RunKeeper, the initiative wouldn’t be a success. When I asked him why, if tech was so important, did he and his friends so enjoy doing the long jump – an activity for which they most definitely left their phones in their bags – his answer was telling: “We saw the coaches running and jumping, having a laugh and getting competitive. We wanted to have fun too and see who could jump the furthest.”

This prompted me to read up on how tech should be used to increase physical activity – and I asked my coaching staff for their opinions. It’s no surprise that there’s a huge gap between the “expert” ideas and the practitioners.

The consensus among our team was that it’s time to put the tech down and commit to physical activity in whatever form it takes. Technology can be fun, but the two just don’t mix. We need to separate the two worlds and balance the benefits of both. We need well trained, highly-motivated supportive, positive role models who influence people to welcome sport and physical activity into their lives. If we can get society to take its jobs as seriously as it takes Zombies Run! we'll succeed.

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