Why do young people drop out of sport? By Alex Welsh

Two reports published this week providing reasons why young people drop out of sport early tell us what we’ve known for some time.

The StreetGames study informed us that the cost of playing organised sport is what puts young people off and The FA survey said it was the quality of grass roots facilities that turns footballers off the sport. You don’t have to be an expert in marketing to appreciate that price and place are two of the key elements in persuading the consumer to part with their money. So what are the solutions?

From the age of 7 years old the young footballer is subsidised by the bank of mum and dad (or grandma and granddad). This pattern continues through the difficult truculent adolescent years until at the age of 16 the parents announce, “Right you’re on your own son”. The cutting of this financial umbilical cord comes as a shock to the 16 year old who, having to fork out £10 per week to play, drops out of the sport altogether. If The FA wishes to arrest this haemorrhage it needs to provide funding to the biggest purveyors of grass roots participation, the leagues, so that they can provide discounted football at Under 17, 18, 21 levels. In 2013 LPFF accessed funding through The FA’s Get into Football programme to support the Selkent League in developing an U21 league which was highly successful, but the subsidy needs to be a year on year occurrence if this lost generation is to be saved until it becomes more financially independent.

And what does the funding cover? Mainly referees expenses and hire of local facilities. But wait a minute, what if the facilities are not up to standard, will this demotivate the very people we have just subsidised? It’s unfair pointing the finger of blame at pitch providers for the poor quality facilities when for well over a century there has been no serious investment in their improvement. It has only been since the inception of the Football Foundation in 2000 that a strategic attempt to improve the country’s stock of grass roots football facilities has occurred. Over the last fifteen years over £500million has been invested but it is only a fraction of what is required. The Parklife project will help but again it will only scratch the surface.

I am amazed at how our major pitch sports football, rugby and cricket have ignored the importance of playing fields for so long given that they are where sports start and for the gifted few they are where careers start. All three sports at the elite end are awash with cash but so little of it filters down to grass roots where it can make a real difference. If budgets for grass roots facility improvements are limited doesn’t it make sense for them to pool resources? After all a winter rugby or football pitch can easily be a cricket outfield during the summer. We at London Playing Fields Foundation have been providing places to play sport for 125 years and have the requisite experience and expertise to assist the powers that be at Wembley, Twickenham and Lord’s but we are still awaiting their call.

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