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UK Coaching and Women in Sport
Females Developing Mindsets

Women and Informal Sports Participation

The first in a three-part series of guides produced in association with Women in Sport aimed at providing insight into the informal female participant and her needs, with guidance on the type of environment and coaching style she needs in order to be attracted to, and retained in, informal sport

Informal sports settings are appealing to a broad range of women for a broad range of reasons, and in many cases provide solutions to the very problems which women cite as being barriers to participation.

There are a number of reasons why women do not participate in more sport and physical activity. These include:

  • family commitments or general feeling of lack of time
  • logistics of organising a game (booking a court etc)
  • bad weather
  • perceived lack of facilities
  • cost of being a member of a gym or club
  • cost of equipment/membership/venue hire
  • not having anyone to participate with (particularly in racquet or team sports)
  • committing to a club is off-putting
  • worried about lack of skill/knowledge of the rules
  • lack of motivation
  • injury/age.

I used to do athletics, and swimming too – 100m – but age caught up!

No Strings Badminton participant, Leicestershire

I haven't got the time really, or sometimes, you know, after work it can be a bit of a chore.

Just Play football participant, Staffordshire

Women's motivations for taking part in sport and physical activity, meanwhile, include:

  • To be fit, healthy and active: Fitness is often more important than looks – particularly for older participants.
  • Feel-good factor: Having a sense of achievement by taking part and seeing improvements.
  • To have some 'me' time: A break from family life or the routine of work.
  • To improve / personal goals: Setting personal objectives, taking up a new hobby or leading a more active life.
  • Social reasons: To meet new people in the area or as an activity to take part in with friends.

Informal sports settings are appealing because, in many ways, they do not present the barriers to participation outlined above.

  • The group environment is motivating.
  • The environment, coach and other members are not intimidating.
  • The environment, coach and other members allow women the opportunity to achieve their goals, with visible improvements to fitness and performances.
  • They are fun and sociable, with no pressure to perform.
  • They are not a club or a team.
  • They do not involve organised competition.
  • They do not require a commitment in terms of time or money.
  • They are often at a convenient location, using local facilities.

While informal sports settings are appealing to beginners who may lack confidence in their ability, the environment has a wider appeal than this and also attracts women returning to a sport, as well as women who participate more formally in a club environment. It is also attractive to women across all age groups. It is therefore vital that an individual approach is taken to training women in these settings, as they may well have different levels of skill and experience.

Who participates in informal sport?

  • Informal settings are appealing to entry-level women because they overcome the barriers of lacking ability and skill. Informal environments are seen to be non-intimidating and friendly.

  • Women who used to participate in a sport but haven’t for a number of years find the informal setting appealing because they can regain confidence in their ability, and practise their skills at their own pace.

  • Experienced participants find informal settings appealing because of the environment. It is seen as another opportunity to participate in the sport they love, in a different kind of environment, with like-minded people.

  • Informal settings appeal to a variety of ages, but some sports may appeal to younger or older audiences. In our research, football tended to appeal to younger women, while running tended to appeal to older women. Badminton appealed to both those in their late teens and early twenties, as well as older age groups.

Related Resources

  • Helping More Women Get Active

  • We are More Together


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UK Coaching and Women in Sport