The Legacy Fallacy

‘Every sport will have a legacy’

Sebastian Coe, Singapore 2005

This blog is about the need to transform the way children and young people experience sport and physical activity (PA)

As we prepare to see out 2011 and enter the Olympic year, I thought I would explore where we are in relation to the Legacy agenda.

It pains me to say it but I’m hugely skeptical. It will be the highest profile (and most expensive) sporting event to take place in my home town. The legacy agenda was the only justification I could see for bringing the Olympic circus to town. Not because I bought into the idea that the best athletes in the world would inspire young people to take up and stay in sport/PA but because of the focus and opportunities it could bring.

Lord Coe explained in ’05 how he was inspired as an 8 year old watching the Games to become a multiple Olympic medal-winning athlete. Fair enough – for a limited few that might be the case but we know that access, funding, transport and support all need to be present in abundance for a young person to progress through to elite sport not to mention the physical and psychological characteristics required by the athlete him/herself. This cocktail of contributory factors would exclude so many youngsters that the £9 BILLION spend would equate to tens of millions of pounds per future Olympian. The inspiration fallacy plays out every summer when the local tennis courts see a flurry of activity for a week or two after Wimbledon. It doesn’t last long.

So how could the Olympics have impacted on participation rates? Shifting the national gaze over a range of sports has led to initiatives such as National School Sport Week and the School Games have been expanded to allow schools to emulate Olympic style competition. Sport England have a range of initiatives from Places People Play to Sport Makers. These initiatives are essentially MORE OF THE SAME and it’s this more of the same approach that feeds my skepticism.

Sports development specialist, Jim Cowan has been highlighting the lack of a coordinated, coherent Olympic strategy for quite a while now, yet that is precisely what is needed if London 2012 is going to impact on how children and young people engage with sport and PA. And that’s why the ‘more of the same’ approach is doomed – the thing that is being emulated has not worked. Even the most optimistic figures suggest that MORE young people are NOT involved in Sport and PA than are.

My concern is that we will waste the best opportunity to explore answers to difficult questions; to reconceptualise pathways into and through sport and PA, and to transform the experience; to re-consider the ‘old’ models and arrive at new, better ones that place the needs of the growing child at the centre. Our knowledge is so limited. We know how to perpetuate the model that serves those who are supported and socialized into sport but we know so little about how to reach those who don’t think they can or how to engage children who are overweight or have specific learning needs or even how to reach the majority of adolescent girls. Have we really made progress here and what does/can sport/PA look like for these youngsters?

Liz Jones’ recent article in the Mail was widely vilified. It made uncomfortable reading but perhaps she speaks for the many. Those of us involved with PE and Sport would do well to question whether the very experiences and cultures that turned us on to sport as youngsters are the very ones that drive hordes away.

I don’t claim to have the answers. I am, however, convinced that part of the solution is establishing movement competency in children. Good movers can grow into young people who have choice; young people who can decide how they wish to engage with sport and PA, which activities at which level and for what reason. For most kids it’s not about doing loads of one sport, or even doing lots of different sports…it’s about the enjoyment that comes from learning to move in lots of different contexts and environments.

In my next few blogs I will expand on the flaws in the way children generally experience sport and suggest some alternative ways to create a Legacy.