Influences on Participation

Participation Rates

Participation rates are how many people take part in sport or other physical activities.

According to Sport England research, the physical activities with the most adult participants in England in 2015/16 were:

1. Swimming

2. Athletics (Includes Running)

3. Cycling

4. Football

A reason for this may be that more people have the opportunity to participate in these sports.

Different Factors Affecting Participation


Some sports are more popular than others with different age groups.

Older people (50+) often like less strenous activities as they are more physically limited. Fitness competitions such as the marathon or weightlifting events have minimum age limits as younger people could potentially injure themselves due to not being physically strong enough as they are still growing.

Sporting Example: Age would act as a barrier to an elderly person with health issues and a lack of mobility who was interested in taking part in golf as it involves too much walking.


  • More men then women are involved in sport as both participants and spectators. Professional sports men receive more money and TV coverage than sportswomen.
  • Some gender stereotypes around sports still exist and this can put people off participating due to the fear of discrimination ("football is for men", "gymnastics is for girls")
  • There can also be a lack of opportunities in sports for some sexes due to their popularity.

Sporting Example: Gender would act as a barrier to a woman who wants to play rugby but there is no ladies teams in her area.


  • Some ethnic groups may have high regard for some sports rather than others and these views may influence participation in certain sports.
  • Some people from ethnic minority groups may feel they ‘don’t belong’ in certain sports due to perceived prejudice or lack or role models.

Sporting example: Ethnicity would act as a barrier to an Asian teenager who would like to take up cycling but there is a lack of opportunities or role models.


  • Each culture usually has its own set of popular sports. For example in India cricket is very popular and in central America American football is the top sport. Someone's culture may influence them to play that sport.
  • Some cultures and religions can act as barriers. Muslim women have to keep their bodies covered up which may affect them doing sports like gymnastics/swimming.
  • During Ramadan people are not allowed to eat food during daylight hours. This means that during the day they may have little energy when taking part in sports.

Sporting example: Religion would act as a barrier to a Muslim women that wanted to take up swimming as wearing a standard swimming costume would be against their religious beliefs.


  • Children from sporty families are more likely to be involved in sport than those who show little interest. Families can encourage people to participate.
  • As well as encouraging children to participate families also pay for the activities/equipment and transport them to the sporting activity.
  • However some family members can make participation difficult by having unrealistic expectations, putting pressure on young people.

Sporting example: Family would act as a positive factor to a boy whose dad takes him to and pays for him to play for a rugby team.


  • All children take part in a variety of sports in PE lessons at school.
  • These lessons, after school clubs or teachers may encourage students to take up a sport outside of school.
  • The facilities that the school has will also influence participation.

Sporting example: Education would act as a positive influence to a student who started playing at the local tennis club after playing on the school tennis courts in lessons.


  • To participate in sport people need to have time.
  • If they do not have the time then their participation will suffer, this may be due to work, school or family commitments.
  • This can also be a positive as children who have lots of free time may participate in sport and then take this up at a club.

Sporting example: Time would act as a barrier to a shift worker who is unable to go to the gym because of their work patterns.


  • Some sports require expensive equipment (sailing, skiing, formula 1).
  • To participate in some activities you need to be a member which usually means paying membership fees which can be expensive.
  • Travelling to and from the activity and any fixtures also costs money.

Sporting example: Cost would act as a barrier to a girl who wants to take up horse riding but can’t as her parents cannot afford the expensive equipment and lessons.


  • People with a disability can find it difficult to get to facilities, especially if they are quite far away.
  • There is also not as many opportunities for disabled people to participate.
  • Some disabled people cannot find suitable activities that accommodate their condition and this results in low levels of participation.

Sporting example: Disability would act as a barrier to a wheelchair user who wants to play basketball but the local club is too far away.


  • Facilities need to be easily accessible. The easier facilities are to get to the more likely they will be used.
  • The quality of the facilities also influences how many people take part, the bigger the facility the more people can participate. The facility needs to meet the needs of the individuals it is catered towards.

Sporting example: Opportunity/access would act as a positive factor to a disabled/elderly person using a swimming pool with a hoist to allow them to get in and out.


  • Unfortunately people may experience discrimination in sport.
  • This may be in regards to gender, ethnicity, sexuality or religion.
  • The fear of discrimination may be enough to put people off sports that have a history of discrimination, for example racism in football.

Sporting example: Discrimination would act as a barrier to a female boxer whose family object to her boxing saying that she should take part in dance instead.


  • Participation in certain sports may depend on where you live.
  • Some sports require certain environments/climates (surfing, skiing, rowing, mountain biking).
  • This causes some sports to become regionalised, this would cause you to have more opportunities in this sport but perhaps at the expense of others.

Sporting example: Environment/climate would act as a barrier to a child who wants to take up skiing, there are less opportunities in the UK.

Media Coverage

  • The media can play an important part in shaping attitudes to sports participation.
  • Media coverage allows people to see sport and encourage them to try it.
  • However whilst sports such as football receive lots of coverage, the sports that do not will not receive as much exposure or money to be able to encourage people to try their sport.
  • Women's sport does not get much coverage which means girls do not have access to role models as easily as boys.

Sporting example: Media coverage would act as a positive factor to a young aspiring footballer as allowing them to see it on the TV promotes interest and participation.

Role Models

  • The determination and hard work required to be an athlete makes them very good role models.
  • Role models encourage participation as children can be inspired by their actions and decide to take up a sport in an attempt to be like them.
  • Their positive behaviour can effect the behaviour of those who look up to them but poor behaviour such as swearing at officials or cheating can be copied.

Sporting example: Role models would act as a positive influence to a young person who watches the Olympics and is inspired by a Team GB athlete, leading them to take up a sport.

Three Strategies for Encouraging Participation

There are three main ways of improving participation rates.

These are: Promotion, Provision & Access


Advertising Campaigns

  • Sport England's This Girl Can campaign, challenges stereotypes about women in sport.
  • Public Health England's Change4Life campaign aims to tackle obesity by encouraging a healthier diet and more activity.

Media Coverage

  • Coverage of sporting events, such as the Paralympics and the Women's Football World Cup can help inspire participation and challenge stereotypes.



  • Providing facilities and well-trained staff can help encourage more people to take up physical activity.
  • Offer a wide range and variety of activities to cater for all abilities and ages. Also at different times of day to accomodate those working jobs.


  • PE Classes and clubs after school help provide students with opportunities to participate in physical activity.



  • Having access to facilities can be difficult, especially in rural areas and those families without a car.
  • The government can help by providing good public transport links.
  • Organisations like Sport England help clubs buy minibuses and other methods of transportation.

Disabled Access

  • Some people with disabilities may require specialist equipment, like ramps, to be able to use the facilities.


Access can either be limited or enhanced by the price of the clubs and facilities. If people can afford to use them, they will be more likely to participate in physical activity.

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