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Sport England uses behavioural theory to boost participation

By Matthew Campelli    23 Nov 2015
Jennie Price warned against arbitrary measurements of people's’ activity / Sport England

Sport England is gearing up to launch programmes based on behavioural change theory in a bid to boost participation.

The governing body for grassroots sport will implement its strategy, based on the Cabinet Office’s EAST model, after data from its Active People Survey and supplementary research revealed that behavioural change was a constant journey, and that people rarely fell into categories of ‘active’ and ‘inactive’.

The EAST framework, devised last April, was designed to encourage a behaviour by making it Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely.

Sport England is in the process of developing programmes based on this theory. For example, the body is devising an initiative alongside the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) to create provisions for towels and hairdryers, making it easy for people to swim, and creating little nudges for continued involvement.

Chief executive of Sport England, Jennie Price (pictured), talked about the ongoing initiative at last week’s Substance National Conference: A Whole New Ball Game?, in a speech that warned against arbitrary measurements of people's’ activity.

She used Prochaska and Di Clemente’s Transtheoretical Model of Behaviour Change to illustrate the public’s attitude to sport and physical activity. The model highlights five stages - pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance - as the various states of activity the population finds itself in relation to sport.

The former describes the state in which people are oblivious to taking part in physical activity or sport, while at the contemplation stage the thought of participating is starting to creep in. Preparation could be signing up to a gym or buying a bicycle, while action is actually taking part. Maintenance refers to a sustained routine of participation.

Talking to Sports Management after the event, Naomi Shearon, Sport England’s strategic lead for behaviour change, insight, said it was important for the body to grasp the cause of people’s behaviours.

She highlighted research that suggested that events such as moving house disrupted participation, particularly for males, while emotional barriers were as noteworthy as lack of time or money.

Shearon, who joined in December 2014 to help shape the strategy, added that there was an added focus for Sport England to highlight the short-term of goals of physical activity, such as a boost to self-esteem, to people who participate less, as research showed that short-term benefits often trumped long-term goals, such as good health, for individuals.

“Thinking about people as active or inactive in binary terms is not helpful,” said Shearon. “We need to understand what is important to individuals, so that we can better understand what people need to get active, and why people lapse when it comes to exercise.”

Sport England’s latest Active People Survey, covering October 2014 to March 2015, revealed that 222,000 dip in people doing “some kind of sport, once a week, every week”.

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