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Mums’ Team Participation Programme Hits the Right Note

Valuable lessons can be learnt from community intervention projects past and present. Blake Richardson runs the rule over the successful Yorkshire Sport Foundation ‘Mums’ Team’ initiative – which endeavours to create a more active nation and a broader coaching workforce – to emphasise the importance of collaboration between industry professionals

You could argue that without The Beatles there would have been no Oasis. Without Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley there would have been no Beatles – at least as we know them and love them.

Every successful band or artist can point to profound musical influences that inspired them and shaped their own unique sound.

The sport and physical activity sector is becoming more like the music industry each year – and society is reaping the benefits.

County Sports Partnerships (CSPs), governing bodies, local government organisations and public health bodies are working tirelessly to develop intervention programmes designed to build a happier, healthier, more inclusive nation.

And crucially, those that have gone before are having an increasing influence on the development of ground-breaking new schemes.

Collaboration essential

Under direction from Sport England – and the key messages contained in the Coaching Plan for England – participation programmes predominantly target those sections of the community that are under-represented in sport and physical activity: women and girls, disabled people, those living in deprived areas, disaffected youths, black and minority ethnic (BAME), older people.

Intervention frameworks are as diverse as the communities they serve, being dependent on fluctuating demographic trends and different target audiences.

Picking and choosing those elements of preceding projects that can be aligned with your own intervention scheme objectives can be the secret to success.

The more projects you research, the more ideas you can adapt to help you create your own bespoke blueprint for change in your community.

So, returning briefly to the music analogy, while Oasis may have been most heavily influenced by The Beatles, it is also true to say they owe their unique sound to the collective influences of the Stone Roses, Sex Pistols, Rolling Stones, T Rex, The Who, The Jam, David Bowie, to name just a few, covering a range of musical genres.

In other words, it is the fusion of ideas that leads to breakthrough innovations and progress.

And which is why joined up thinking and collaboration around common goals between those working in the physical activity sector is essential.


Mums’ Team case study

In the ‘What do Women Want’ workshop at this year’s UK Coaching Summit in Northern Ireland, Yorkshire Sport Foundation (YSF) Director of Development Helen Marney and UK Coaching Relationship Manager Paul Thompson advised delegates on how to engage more females in sport and coaching.

They used the YSF Mums’ Team programme to illustrate the benefits of carrying out painstaking research prior to formulating an intervention model, and encouraged organisations to learn valuable lessons from the challenges they faced during the course of the pilot project.

YSF have gone on to refine some of the methods used to attract, develop, deploy and retain new women coaches which has helped them improve their delivery techniques in other development activities – including supporting governing bodies with their own intervention schemes.


Can you annex some of the ideas below to your current delivery models to help them more effectively engage your communities?


Research and trends

Running through The Mums’ Team intervention model in detail, Helen explained that the strategy was built around insight into participation levels among women in their targeted communities as well as research into what women want from sport and physical activity – and how this differs considerably to their male counterparts.

Summit delegates were presented with a cup of sweets on arrival at the session. They were then asked to move around the room, swapping informal introductions and sweets as they went.

The sweets were all similar in that they contained chocolate (Smarties, Maltesers, eclairs) but at the same time they were all very different – the analogy being that, if you are going to guide participants slowly into becoming coaches, it is vital to appreciate the diversity that exists among women in terms of their personalities and motivations and recognise that there will be both differences and commonalities.

Helen explained: “The brief is that our mentors must subliminally understand the women that they are working with in order to start to integrate them into their sessions.”

Women in Sport carried out research looking at the key facets that motivate women – such as happiness, contentment and self-worth – and some of the barriers to participation – like time constraints, poor body image and guilt over taking time away from being a mum.

Helen also referenced well documented research into brain chemistry that shows men’s brains typically contain more grey matter, which deals with simple tasks that require quick processing.

“Women see things in a lot more detail. They are more complicated creatures,’ said Helen, who used the example of buying a pair of shoes to illustrate the point.

She conducted a mini vox pop in the workshop, the results of which can be summarised as follows:

Men: browse shelf, single out pair of shoes, try on, buy. 

Women: browse entire shop – twice – select miscellaneous pairs, try on several, leave the shop, repeat in other shops, return to first shop, buy three pairs, return two the following week!

The takeaway: If we are to recruit and retain women in physical activity, it is important to use this knowledge and be aware of these driving factors when devising and implementing intervention strategies, and also to respond to these trends in your sessions.


Sisterhood alliance

The Mums’ Team project aims to inspire women to become leaders in sport and physical activity in their community, but this is done through a series of baby steps. There is no pressure whatsoever placed on volunteers to take entry-level coaching qualifications.

Statistics from the Active Lives Survey show that currently only 30% of the coaching workforce are women. And while research suggests women do want to coach, it has to be in the right environment for them – which is predominantly in informal sports settings, such as youth clubs and community centres as instructors, activators and facilitators.

Consequently, what is needed is recruitment at its lowest level, with initial bite-sized chunks of information being fed to them in venues like Costa Coffee, not classrooms.

“We use the “someone like me” marketing imagery,” explained Helen. “That is photos, videos and audio of women who live in our community, so others will see somebody they recognise and can associate with. You only have to look at the This Girl Can campaign to know the power of that sort of branding.

It is recruitment by stealth almost, in that a lot of mums involved don’t even realise they are being guided towards becoming coaches.”

The idea of joining a ‘sisterhood’ – a non-threatening friendship group based on compatibility and camaraderie – provides women accustomed to living sedentary lifestyles with the conviction they need to break down the barriers associated with exercise.

The mentors’ model

The Mums’ Team delivery model is massively front-loaded to the mentors who work in the communities, rather than the mums themselves.

Mentors are responsible for the recruitment of mums and their training and development.

They are influential and passionate people within their communities: linchpins, stalwarts, role models.

And they are compensated for their efforts, to the tune of £500 for every six months they are involved.

The mentors are not coaches in the traditional sense but they are members within the community who have access to other people. They are probably mums and probably have a background in delivering sport but primarily they are the right person with that style and personality to go out in their community and find women through their local connections,” said Helen.

Some of the key data associated with the Mums’ Team programme:

  • Twenty community mentors were trained during the course of the four-month pilot project; there were 147 volunteers recruited and deployed and 817 participants were engaged.
  • Some of those who participated simply moved into supporting the delivery of exercise classes with their mentor, while others went on to become mentors themselves.
  • Development pathways for the mentors included gaining technical qualifications and enrolling on Run Leader and Activator Courses.
  • Of the volunteers who took part, 63% were inactive or new to sport when they joined the programme.

The pilot project finished in March 2016, with YSF initially investing their own money before outside funding was secured through retail giants Tesco to enable the continuation of the programme for another two years.

Give me five!

A number of valuable lessons were learnt during the course of the pilot. Here is a trimmed down selection of five essential tips Helen said organisations would do well to heed when planning their own projects:

  1. Media is essential… but not for recruitment! When all said and done, the biggest driver for Mums’ Team was WhatsApp, not video, social media, posters, adverts, media press releases or photoshoots. “Women being able to talk to each other over WhatsApp and mentors being able to talk to women and each other on WhatsApp was massive for us,” said Helen.
  2. Don’t waste time on social media platforms unless you have a dedicated marcomms team for that purpose. It can swallow all your time and must be monitored and updated 24/7 to be most effective. “The women were using social media themselves, so we left them to it. We just didn’t have the time.”
  3. Give serious consideration to employing specialist health and safety consultants. “Having health and safety consultants was one of the best decisions we made,” said Helen. “Ultimately, you cannot plan for every eventuality and organisations will have to settle on an element of risk.”


Are you aware what level of insurance is appropriate for someone who is going to be working in their community helping to get people active?

This is a potential legal minefield, as volunteers should not be leading any activity until they are qualified, while mentors operating under the auspices of the project brand could be liable if there is an accident.

  1. If your intention is to develop participants into coaches, refrain from advising them to take a Level 1 or safeguarding course. “It just puts barriers in place and women don’t want that responsibility at that time.”
  2. The Mums’ Team programme embodies a lot of the key behaviour change principles. One handy behaviour change tip is to invest in blank business cards. If someone writes down the time and date of the next session, they are more likely to turn up. This is an example of commitment bias – the tendency for people to act on what they have said they will do, particularly if this is made public, for fear of being proved unreliable.

Have a go

Actively seek to use insight from other projects and marry them with your own ideas to help you create your organisation’s own signature intervention programme.


Related Resources

  • Sport England Ten-Year Strategy: From Great Adversity Comes Great Opportunity

  • Understanding Unconscious Bias

  • How to Create an Inclusive Environment


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