Trends in fitness

Dr Ksenija Kuzmina (Institute for Design Innovation) and Dr Holly Collison (Institute for Sport Business) have worked with Sport England and the Loughborough University community to identify areas where the sport industry could encourage women to be more physically active and engaged in sport.

Sport England has launched campaigns in the past that have targeted barriers to women’s regular participation in sport and physical activity. For example, the 2014 ‘This Girl Can” Campaign.  Although these campaigns have managed to increase a significant number of women who are regularly active, there is still a significant percentage of the population in England that is inactive. In August 2017, Loughborough University London staff met with Sport England’s CEO Jennie Price to look at ways the two organisations could work collaboratively by discussing the potential problems that prevent women from exercising. Through a sandpit activity, conducted on the 29 January 2018 at Loughborough University London, six different personas were created that described the issues the sport industry faces from a consumer as well as a  supplier perspective . These personas were then narrowed down into themes that identified five areas for improvement of the sport industry, whereby recommendations and next steps have since been scoped to increase engagement in sport.

Previous campaigns include “This Girl Can” – 2014 & 2016; and “I will if you will” – 2013. The “This Girl Can” campaign, in particular, has stimulated women to change their behaviour. Since it started three years ago, the campaign has prompted 2.8 million women to do some or more sport and 1.5 million of these women started exercising or came back to it after a break. However, Sport England wants to further increase women’s participation with physical activity, in particular for young women, women of colour, and those on low incomes.

The government aims to reclassify the nature of successful achievement in sport by focusing on five key outcomes: physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, individual development, social and community development as well as economic development. With the government’s focus, Sport England’s vision with this strategy is that “everyone, regardless of their age, background or level of ability, feels able to engage in sport and physical activity” (Sport England, 2018). There is also a focus on engaging under-represented groups (for example women, those with disabilities, lower-socio economic groups and some Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic – BAME – groups).

Results from previous surveys found that although many more people engage in regular physical activity (62.3%), there remains concern for the significant number of people who despite their desires to be physically active are unable to participate and sustain healthy activity levels (around 5.6 million people), despite the fact that they demonstrate the desire to be active. This behaviour change is the focus of campaigns such as This Girl Can that encourage women to engage with and maintain an active lifestyle . To achieve this and other key outcomes (for example, engaging children and young people and improving facilities), Sport England has introduced  a Mass Market Directorate, with the following key functions:

  1. Influence behaviour change – To develop, deliver and support interventions that increase the resilience of people who have an ‘in/out’ relationship with sport and physical activity
  2. Develop and deliver best practice – in marketing and business development. To ensure that Sport England applies the principles and best practice of marketing and business development/management to achieve its strategic outcomes.
  3. Use data – to help people get active: using open and shared date to create world class, innovative consumer solutions to enable them to engage with activity, and ensuring the sector is literate and agile in the use of data.

The Sandpit

The Sandpit activity led by Dr Kuzmina, Dr Collison and Ben Cole, and supported by Loughborough University London students enabled recommendations and next steps to be scoped by developing personas. This was done through a creative workshop session with six groups, where each group consisted of 5-7 participants.

For example, one persona was a housewife, aged 38, from Eritrea. She wants to start a physical activity, but is scared to do something unfamiliar and of a cultural misunderstanding. As well as this, she is scared she would not suit the fitness community. Another persona was a female web designer, aged 27. She found fitness sessions too long, a waste of time and would prefer to socialise and have fun.

As a result, from the six personas, the main research areas for future use could be the creation of a sense of belonging; upscaling community sport and change in the demand. For example, necessity of flexible and individually tailored activities for career women and housewives, as well as raising the awareness of the interdependence between health and active life style.

From the collaborative working between Loughborough University London and Sport England through the sandpit activity, the sport industry should act upon these reflections further in order to address the challenges of getting more women regularly and meaningfully engaged in sport and physical activity.


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