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The Activity for All Manifesto

2 October 2012

I am thinking a lot about sport and activity these days. It happens at this time every year, as the nights draw in earlier and the sun sinks lower in the sky. I know that winter gloom isn’t far off and I think if I don’t start that ‘walking every day’ regime soon it will sink to the back of the cupboard with summer’s sandals and short sleeves.

But more than that, my four year old son has just started primary school, so the reality of his daily opportunities (or lack of) to move and be active at school has hit home.

Yesterday’s launch of the Move It report by The Young Foundation and NIKE has highlighted the dichotomy at the heart of sport and physical activity in this country. We laud Olympians and Paralympians, we cheer on Murray for his Grand Slam win, we are enthralled by elite and out of reach sporting heroes.

And then we accept that state primary school children do an hour of PE a week. Aren’t we a funny bunch?

When £100 million is invested via UK Sport in 1,200 elite athletes, and £200 million via Sport England for THE REST OF US, it’s easy to see that the balance is not quite right.

So here, for what it’s worth, is my manifesto for activity for all:

1.  Just ask.

What will make you move? What motivates you? What’s stopping you? And make that the starting point of sport and physical activity planning and strategy. I hated competitive team sports, but loved walking. My son doesn’t quite grasp being part of a team yet, but can run and run aimlessly, loving the feeling of freedom. We are not all motivated by a grubby bib and a stern coach with a loud whistle.

2.  Make more opportunities for spontaneous activity.

Not necessarily flashmob Flashdance re-inactions – but outdoor gyms in the park, ‘while you wait’ star jumps at traffic lights, running on the spot while in the supermarket queue. Maybe less embarrassing than the above but you know what I mean. Don’t make ‘sport’ something you have to book, plan, dress up for and go to. Make it possible to be active everywhere.

3.  Be brave.

Yes it’s easier to plough the same furrow and target the same audiences. Having worked on campaigns that try to reach hard to reach audiences for years, I know it isn’t easy. But the fact remains that women, young people, those from disadvantaged comunities and people over 55 are far more likely to be disengaged with physical activity. That is where campaigners and policy makers can make most difference and improve more lives.

4. Find the right influencers.

Yes we can all admire and aspire to Mo Farah greatness, but the real role models out there would probably still be running the 800m long after Mo had showered and gone home. When we worked on communicating the particular magic of Positive Futures, the most inspirational sports role models I met were the men and women who turned up night after night, with no more equipment than a bag of footballs, and in any and all weather to get young people active. Sometimes 40 young people would turn up and a fun but chaotic 20 a side game would ensue. Sometimes nobody showed up, but the important thing was that the Positive Futures coaches were always there and they just ‘got it’.

It’s not that difficult, but the above points still seem to be causing a few headaches for policy makers. Let’s hope a renewed focus on Move It and Olympic legacy-making can shake things up and change the way we get people moving.