Mine was missing out on state team selection as a 15-year-old without any one-to-one feedback. It was the first time I had been overlooked for a representative squad and it caught me by surprise. In hindsight I might have taken more ownership of the situation and sought some advice on where I could improve – but hey, I was a teenager.

I’ve been thinking about this experience a bit recently in the context of participation in sport and have come to realise how much it impacted my perception of, and approach to, playing sport.

Not so much the set-back, but how impersonal the process was.

I was as sports mad as they come. At the time I was playing or training at least six days of the week, sometimes juggling multiple sports on the same day. My poor parents. My non-selection didn’t stop me playing but it was enough to convince me to not try out for the state team the following year. Suddenly, the sport I had lived and breathed for as long as I could remember felt optional in a way it never had previously.

Is it any wonder then that a kid with only a passing interest in sport pretty quickly walks away after a negative experience?

We often hear stories of triumph over adversity and how motivation to prove someone wrong was a catalyst for success. But for many, the fear of making a mistake, or being told you’re not good enough or having to explain personal circumstances that impact performance or attendance levels – trouble at home, body changes, mental health, etc. – to a relative stranger is a deal-breaker.

It’s worth recognising that youth that play sport are – in most cases – doing so by choice. If they can’t justify sparing time that could be spend on competing demands such as study, part-time work, learning to drive and a changing social life, they won’t.

So the essential question becomes, what do youth want from sport?

Data from the Latrobe Health Assembly’s Increasing Access to Sport project tells us that social and psychological pressures are just as significant as cost and access when it comes to youth sports participation.

Among those consulted were sports facilitators and administrators, community groups, parents, and – most importantly – young people, with the aim of identifying key barriers to sport for people aged 12-18 years in the Latrobe Valley.

One theme that emerged is that young people find or want sport to be fun and they see it as an opportunity to spend time with and make friends.

Physical health benefits and ‘winning’ also matter, but not as much.

It’s worth keeping this in mind as we prepare to reboot community sport and the process of engaging and re-engaging young people over the coming weeks and months.

Given this was a challenge even before the recent COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps now is a good time for sport to review its approach and consider whether the environment our community clubs and associations are providing is what young people are looking for.

We know ‘there’s no I in team’ and that ‘teamwork makes the dream work’, but when it comes to young people, acknowledging the individual may a more important step towards ongoing participation. At all levels.

For those interested in this topic, a free positive coaching workshop is being held online on Monday, 1 June. For registrations and further details, visit www.trybooking.com/bjoil

Written by: 

Damen Francis
Community Sport Planning Officer
e| damen@gippsport.com.au