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Thought leader: Andy Reed on the importance of team sports

Promoting individual activity at the expense of team sports would be a mistake, says Andy Reed

by Andy Reed | Published in Sports Management Jul Aug 2017 issue 132
Team sports create social capital, says Reed / © shutterstock/Pedro Monteiro
Team sports create social capital, says Reed/ © shutterstock/Pedro Monteiro

We know there’s a wide spectrum from inactivity to elite sport, with people choosing a level that suits them. We also know that too many have chosen levels of inactivity that are dangerous to their health, with inactivity now the fourth biggest killer in Britain.

This has prompted a shift in focus from encouraging sport to simply tackling inactivity. But while sport may not be a solution for everyone, I am a firm advocate of team sport because I believe it creates social capital, as well as physical and mental wellbeing.

Yet policy drift seems to indicate a belief that individual sports and activities are easier to deliver. To make things worse, there have been a series of controversies in team sports that have rocked the sector, such as: concussion in rugby, corruption in football and athletics, bullying in cycling and overall historic abuse scandals and doping.

Hopefully Tanni Grey Thompson’s Duty of Care report will start to restore confidence in sports teams, and encourage parents to get their children involved in sport once again.

No time for teams
My own experience at local level rugby and those of friends in football, hockey and cricket are that the lower leagues of these sports are struggling. Is the base of team sport slowly dying underneath our noses?

There seems to be a need for variants that fit in with our busy, modern lifestyles. Some sports have been innovative in their offer. But we must constantly change and adapt to keep up with societal changes.

I’m a typical 50-something-year-old sports consumer – a gym session mid-week, rugby training once a week, a home bike and a rugby game at the weekend. But many don’t have the luxury to fit these things into their lives. Shift work and zero hours contracts mean most people don’t lead a typical 9-5 existence in the UK.

Worth saving
In last month’s general election manifestos, sport hardly received a mention – with just one sentence from the Tories about backing a Commonwealth Games bid for the 2022 Games. We seem to have slipped a long way down the political agenda since 2012.

So, is team sport dead? I certainly hope it’s not yet. I would hate to see a situation in the UK where we have professional team sports drawing huge crowds but nobody playing those same sports in their local communities. There’s only so much that sports bodies can do to halt this decline in the face of new social trends, but I’m sure that with investment in the right facilities, along with greater flexibility and experimentation, we can hold onto team sport and in return enjoy increased social capital and community engagement.

Andy Reed is a former MP for Loughborough, the founder of Sports Think Tank and chair of SAPCA sportsthinktank.com

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