Facilitated by Proper Active and SLC, the first phase in the pilot took place in early 2022 and involved an ideation session with local authority (LA) leads to explore their question in detail, define what they most wanted to know and understand how the findings might be used. This session included an early-stage system mapping exercise to start to build a picture of young people’s worlds and what influences their behaviour.
A desk review was then undertaken to explore the issue of teenage dropout and the broader questions raised by West Wales LA Physical Activity Leads in the ideation session. An insight pack was produced which provided a basis for the following Stage 2 phase.
Phase 1 - Key Findings– Desk based research
- Young people (YP) live rich and complex lives and are experiencing more influences and pressures than any generation before.
- Today’s teenagers are the first to be born into a fully digital world and the expectation to be a connected digital native is high. The internet gives endless access to knowledge, but to potentially harmful influences too. Social media can be a haven and has been a lifeline for many young people during the pandemic; however, it can also create unrealistic expectations of what young people should look like and what they should be achieving.
- As with previous generations, there is pressure to have the right brands and be part of the right groups; however, social media creates a culture of always on and needing to be seen, which can cause feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation for many teenagers. The need to fit in and gain peer approval is powerful. Parental influence does still play a role too, particularly mums, but may not always be the main decision driver.
- Against this backdrop, physical activity is not always a top priority, and how sport and physical activity is perceived by peers is important in shaping teenagers’ desire to take part.
- This review suggests that the problem of teenage dropout is not limited to a specific age but is a gradual process which happens over a number of years. It is shaped by each young person’s circumstances, their influencers, and their personal experiences of being active. That said, transition points (from primary to secondary school, and school to further education & training, work, or unemployment) do seem to be key turning points.
- It is also particularly notable that declines in participation are much greater in extra-curricular settings, with the number of young people doing community sport at least once a week holding steady at ~60% from age 8-15.
- This correlates with a significant drop in enjoyment of sport, both in PE and extra-curricular sessions; however, enjoyment in community settings declines much more slowly. Wider research suggests that school experiences of sport can have a lasting effect on people’s long-term relationship with being active, so this is worthy of some consideration.
- Nonetheless, age 12-15 is identified as a particularly crucial stage in young people’s development, when they begin moving from child to adult and start to exert greater independence. This means it remains important to understand what this age group is looking for in order to a provide positive experiences in all settings.
- Various studies suggest there is a disparity between current available provision for physical activity and what YP say they want. Current opportunities are often seen as too traditional, overly structured, and not enjoyable.
- Whilst it appears most young people in our target age range do recognise the health benefits of being active, particularly in light of the pandemic, this alone is not enough to drive behaviour. Rather, YP say that they want low-cost, local, social, informal, and enjoyable sessions and they want to feel listened to about what they will be doing.
- Whilst cost is cited by most young people as important, this is most significant for those from the lowest income families, who may feel other expenditures take priority over paying for sport. The principles of proportionate universalism are worthy of consideration here, as highlighted in the Marmot Reports (2010, 2021).
- There is significant latent demand amongst young people to do more physical activity; however, a frequently cited barrier for not doing more amongst this age group is not having time. As young people reach early adolescence other pressures, such as schoolwork, start to play a role. When this happens, for those that can afford to take part, the question becomes one of perceived value – do they feel the activity is worth the time and the price versus other ways to spend it.
- In addition to practical barriers, there is a complex array of social and emotional barriers at play which govern whether teenagers take part. These are particularly pronounced for girls, for disabled young people and for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. More provision and making it free or cheap will not be enough to tackle these, as discerning teenagers seek to feel welcome, included and stimulated. It is also vital, especially for girls, that teenagers can take part with their friends.
- Even in this climate, competition has an important role to play. It can be an effective engagement tool for many teenagers, indeed for some it is essential; but it has to be used appropriately for the audience to ensure it does not become a zero-sum game, where emphasis on winning makes those who do not win feel inadequate.
- In light of all this, listening to YPs’ voice and applying co-creation to the design of activities and interventions is essential; however, this still does not appear to be the norm, with young people frequently reporting they do not feel listened to.
- Many of the barriers experienced by young people are beyond the control of those who seek to engage them in sport and activities, and a degree of drop-out is inevitable, particularly for those from underserved communities who face additional life challenges. This means that the experiences young people have when they are taking part is even more crucial. Positive experiences will mean that, if they do step away, when they reach a different situation in life, they can feel comfortable, capable and confident to come back.
- In terms of what this means for transitioning from school to community activity, the term transition implies that the two are always connected. This can be the case, for example in Sport Wales’ Active Young People Programmes (AYPP) where opportunities are set-up in partnership with schools to intentionally allow young people to experience community sport through a connection with the trusted environment of their school. However, there is plenty to suggest that some young people take part outside of school on the basis of other influences, for example, family activities, support from parents or peers; or by referral from other community groups and services.
- This implies that building stronger links between schools and community sport could be one avenue to encourage young people into community sport, but there are also many others. For example, working with parents and families, co-creation of attractive opportunities with young people who currently do not take part, or working in partnership with other community groups to deliver physical activity as part of a wider programme of support and opportunities.
- Understanding and addressing why young people fall out of love with school sport, and making use of the wellbeing agenda (e.g. physical activity to support young people’s mental health) could also present valuable opportunities.