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The need for accessibility in sport

Whether it’s kicking a football around after school or trying out new games in PE, sport is a big part of many young people’s lives. And from teamwork to building friendships, they have many benefits for young people. In fact, playing a sport can even help keep children safe from criminal exploitation, as they stay occupied and out dangerous spaces. But many young people face barriers to entry to sport, including low wellbeing, costs, and a lack of inclusivity. We look at these barriers and how we could break them down.

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Cost of taking part

A teenager ties their shoes in a changing room, with a pink gym bag at their feet.

Cost of taking part

When many families can’t even afford the essentials, sports have become a luxury. Club membership fees, equipment, uniforms, and transport costs add up and can make them inaccessible to a lot of young people. 

It might also be difficult for parents to take their children to evening or weekend practices due to work commitments. 

Changing bodies

Puberty can add a new level of discomfort for some young people. A study by Women in Sport found that 78% of teenagers who menstruate avoid taking part in sports when they have their period. This is because they don’t get enough support or guidance for dealing with their periods while they exercise, from using the right products, to overcoming the stigma, to managing the pain. 

The teenage years can also feel difficult for young people when it comes to their self-esteem. Social media can create unrealistic body standards, and shared changing rooms can be a source of anxiety as young people become more aware of their bodies. The 2023 Understanding Society survey found that on average, children aged 10 to 15 were least happy with their appearance. 

For trans and non-binary young people, gendered changing rooms can feel intimidating as they can be expected to use the changing room for their assigned gender, rather than the one they identify with. Getting changed in a public space can feel exposing for anyone, but for trans or non-binary young people it may force them to come out before they’re ready. 

These fears could drive teenagers to avoid participating in the sport they enjoy.

A group of teenagers in red jerseys stand in a huddle with a coach on a football field.

The importance of movement for mental health

Movement can have a huge impact on mental health, particularly for children and young people. Getting those steps in can improve self-esteem, help with focus, improve our mood, reduce stress, and help with anxiety.

Breaking down barriers

Breaking down barriers

For some young people, simply accessing sports facilities is a barrier in itself due to a lack of step-free access. Accessibility is about making sure that adaptations are available for when they’re needed, and that all people, no matter their situation, have the option to get involved with a sport.

A group of teenagers play wheelchair basketball in a gymnasium.

Breaking down barriers

Here are a few things you can do to make sports as accessible as possible for your child: 

  • Make sure they get regular breaks while playing. 
  • Check in with how they’re feeling, and if they’re uncomfortable or in pain. 
  • Look out for teams that are inclusive or tailored to support disabilities. This can range from wheelchair basketball, to coaches who are trained in adapting sports to suit different needs. 
  • Keep an eye out for low/no cost sport options in your local area, as well as grants to support disabled people participating in sport. 
  • Be there for your child to talk about puberty and body image, to help them feel more confident in themselves. 

Conclusion

Although many young people might really enjoy playing a sport, it isn’t one size fits all. For some children music, or reading, or talking to someone they trust can help them process their feelings better. Plus, those with health conditions, particularly energy limiting conditions, may experience ‘post-exertional malaise’ (additional fatigue after exercising). That’s why it’s important to listen to what a child is saying they need and enjoy. 

Whether it’s too expensive or the anxiety of a changing body, there are many reasons why young people might struggle to get involved with a sport. By thinking about accessibility and how we can break those barriers, we can ensure all young people get the choice to get out and get active. 

Please consult your GP before starting a new exercise routine.