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The importance of friendship groups in sport

As a hockey coach and player the importance of friendship groups is clear to me. Personally I have been lucky enough to form many friendship groups through hockey. I was even lucky enough to meet my husband through hockey. However, this isn’t a blog about my personal life or even my wedding day! I just wanted to share some recent reflections and changes I have made to my own coaching to focus on the importance of friendship groups.

The youth insight pack from Sport England and a recent report from Street Games talks about friendship groups and the social element of sport being critical to engaging and retaining participants. The Street Games report looks at this from a female perspective and from their poll of 1000 young women they found nearly two thirds would shun any sport or physical activity if their friends weren’t involved. The youth insight report highlights how social time is important during a session and it is important to help young people connect. 

As a coach we have probably all been there when you are putting groups together and the children and young people frantically try and predict the groups you might pick. They run around to avoid being put with certain people or cling to each other as they don’t want to be split up. I have noticed this more from girls in particular which would fit with the street games findings. As a result I either let players choose their own groups or try where possible to keep friendship groups together and add others in. 

It very likely that some of the people you coach have only come to your session because their friend has and they want to socialise! There are lots of good tips in the Street Games report, however a few of my own would : 

  • Understand what is important to each young person get to know their motivations for coming to your session.
  • Take time to understand who is in which friendship group.
  • Encourage friendship groups to stick together, particularly when they first start coming to the session.
  • Encourage more friendship groups to form during your session by creating bigger groups or buddying up new players.
  • Allow time for breaks and chatter. The research shows this will be particularly important for girls. 
  • Allow time for social media breaks – some people might find this controversial but the reality is young people lives are dominated by technology and keeping connected to their friends is important to them. You never know it might also encourage more of their friends to come along! 
  • Involve other key social groups that might be important to the young people eg other friendship groups or their family. For example, encourage them to bring a friend or sibling next time.
  • Encourage social activities away from your session to help friendship groups continue to form. 

These are just some ideas, for more tips and ideas have a look at our animation and support guide, or visit the full Street Games report.

Nicola White, sports coach UK, Development Lead Officer