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Youth participation

Between the ages of 13 to 17 years a significant number of young people stop playing organised sport. This includes in secondary schools.

Inactive Youth: barriers and motivation

Sport, as it is being delivered, is less able to meet the needs of young people, including in secondary school. This is particularly true for disengaged students. It is important for those in sport and education to understand the barriers that impact youth and what can motivate them to participate in sport for active and healthy lives.

Disengaged and physically inactive youth are likely to be:

  • female
  • older
  • from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

They are:

  • less confident to participate in any sport
  • less likely to perceive their family and friends as supportive of them playing sport
  • less confident to try new sports
  • less likely to value sport.

What motivates them to participate in sport?

  • To improve their skills and fitness for a healthier, more energetic life
  • To spend time with friends whilst having fun.

Insights gathered from a youth participation research project with NSOs and over 100 secondary schools:


had not participated in organised sport in the last twelve months


average age of disengaged students


of disengaged students are female


live in an area with a Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) of 5-7


went on no holidays in the past 12 months

Barriers to sport delivery: experienced by schools

  • Curriculum pressures
  • Teacher capability and time
  • Cost, equipment and facilities.

Barriers to sport at school: experienced by students

  • Loss of interest
  • Competing commitments
  • Unaware of sport benefits
  • No confidence
  • Culture
  • Gender
  • School barriers.

Barriers to sport outside school: experienced by youth

  • Family support (financial, time, values)
  • Competing time demands
  • Limited access to sport or facilities
  • Perception of sport clubs wanting competence for competition
  • Unlikely to switch sports

Unique groups of disengaged young people

There are 4 unique groups of disengaged youth and they each have different barriers and motivations.

Group 1

Students who would like to participate in sport but are unable to due to environmental barriers


  • Lack of experienced school teachers, sport culture, facilities or equipment in school
  • Travel distance for deliverers or students in the community
  • Family support for sport fees and transport.


  • An interest or hobby
  • Be active
  • Learn new skills
  • Social connection.

Group 2

Long-term disengaged youth who do not currently participate in sport because they have never connected with sport


  • Lack of interest, confidence, fitness, skill or motivation for sport
  • Family prioritising academic ability; not supporting girls’ sport participation
  • Social norms of gender appropriate sports; peer pressure.


  • Try alternative sports
  • Spend time with friends
  • Improve their fitness level and live a healthier lifestyle (after psychological barriers are overcome).

Group 3

Students who participate (are present), but do not engage i.e. stand around talking, sit on sidelines


  • Lack of skill, fitness, motivation, confidence, interest; doesn’t value sport; feeling self-conscious
  • Cultural practices that prevent mixing genders
  • Repetitive or unorganised activities; inexperienced deliverers.


  • Try a new sport where all students have a low skill level
  • Spend time with friends
  • Improve their fitness level.

Group 4

Long-term disengaged youth who do not currently participate in sport because they have never connected with sport


  • Time pressures i.e. employment, academic, socialising
  • Sport is too competitive and is a large commitment
  • Females affected by gender stereotypes and social norms
  • Injured through sport; finding it challenging to return.


  • Keep up with their fitness and skills
  • The challenge of competition without the commitment and intensity
  • Stress relief.
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