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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.

Overcoming barriers: the sport-in-school relationship

To address the barriers that exist for disengaged and inactive young people, a strong relationship between the sport and the school is essential.

Success happens when both the school and sport have a shared understanding of the student group, and the needs of the program.

To achieve this, sport organisations and schools should:

  • understand what motivates schools to deliver a sport program
  • set up the key relationships in the school environment
  • transition students to community clubs so young people can keep playing
  • work together to build a more inclusive and positive sport culture in the school.


When determining which sport programs to deliver, teachers consider:

  • budget and cost
  • equipment
  • their own experience
  • timing
  • community opportunities
  • the benefits gained from external providers, such as student and teacher development, links with the curriculum and inspiration for lifelong participation.


Sports can demonstrate the value of their sport program by:

  • justifying the time and resources needed
  • demonstrating how the program can improve the school’s sporting culture
  • ensuring a high-quality program and deliverer
  • designing the program for the secondary school market.

Pre-program questions

Coaches and teachers should use these 14 pre-program questions when setting up a secondary school sport program.

It is important for both the teacher and coach to discuss the program objectives and plan together using their combined expertise and knowledge. For example, the coordinator will understand the nuances of the school and its students, while the coach has access to the resources and expertise of the sporting organisation.

  1. What is the school's desired outcomes for the program?
  2. What is the sport's desired outcomes for the program?
  3. Who are the targeted students for the program? Determine:
    1. their current level of sport engagement
    2. their barriers to sport, and the opportunities for the program to address these
    3. their skill levels.
  4. Is there an opportunity to engage disengaged students in the program?
  5. What activities will be delivered in the program, and are these suitable for this student cohort?
  6. What facilities and equipment are available from the school, and what can be provided by the sport?
  7. What are the suitable times for delivery, and are there any sessions that may be affected by other school activities?
  8. Is there any opportunity for the program to provide legacy equipment for the school and the student?
  9. What is the weather (hot/raining) contingency plan?
  10. Can the program align to the curriculum?
  11. Can the program build the sport culture in the school (e.g connect with families)?
  12. Is there an opportunity to involved community clubs and facilitate transition for students from school to community sport?
  13. What are the costs involved?
  14. What are the roles and responsibilities of the supervising teacher and the coach?

Setting up relationships in the school environment and ensuring each stakeholder plays their role, supports successful sport programs and improves students' participation in sport.

Set up the key relationships

Setting up relationships in the school environment and ensuring each stakeholder plays their roles supports successful sport programs and improves student sport participation.

Parents, Guardians, families: Leverage parents as key influencers to student sport participation through student/teacher/school relationships. Teacher: Have the right conversations early to ensure delivery is aligned to students and school needs, and a balance is achieved between school and sport objectives. Provide delivery support to enhance student experiences. Coaches: help with understanding student needs and adapting to meet them. Sports: help by using program design to build a student-sport connection and teacher confidence in the program


Sports can build their sport-student connection through:

  • off-site programs and visits
  • designing versatile programs suitable for disengaged students i.e. fitness-based sessions, social vs competition
  • providing merchandise and legacy equipment
  • coaches wearing branded uniforms
  • adding novelty or bending the schools rules (e.g. seeking permission for students to wear their sport uniform all day).


Teachers, sports and coaches can collaborate in these five ways:

  • LEARN how to identify disengaged students and how to innovatively engage them through program delivery, deliverer or design.
  • USE the pre-program questions to discuss administration and shared objectives of the sport program.
  • UNDERSTAND and clarify the roles of the sport deliverer and teacher in program delivery.
  • DEVELOP tools to build the school’s positive sport culture, including reaching students' families to encourage support.
  • ESTABLISH an open feedback channel between the school, the deliverer and the national sporting organisation, to continuously improve and maintain program quality.


Learn about the students you’ll be coaching and if you have a diverse group, adapt your delivery.

Parents, guardians and families

Parents are important influencers and can add value to the sport program.

  • Educate parents on how sport benefits academic performance.
  • Provide take-home sport program information i.e. photos of students, setting homework for the family, community sport club opportunities.
  • Invite parents to volunteer at sport sessions.
  • Use social media to engage families with photos and videos of their child.

For disengaged and inactive young people, community sport clubs can seem scary and intimidating.

Common fears include:

  • competition
  • embarrassment of making mistakes
  • time pressures
  • social pressures
  • financial cost to the family.

Some young people also face additional external barriers, such as those below.

Regional and RemoteLimited sport options and opportunities
Culturally and linguistically diverseLocal clubs are often not equipped with the appropriate equipment or deliverer skills to deliver sport to this group.
Low socioeconomic statusCost, transportation and awareness of opportunities are all barriers for this group.
Low skill and ability If the local community sports clubs don't provide opportunities for inexperienced or unskilled participants it can be difficult for young people to start playing sport.

How can community sport and schools overcome this?

A long-term approach is needed to transition disengaged and inactive students into community sport. The diagram below shows how to bridge the gap between schools and community sport.

School  Engaging the student with sport > Creating a personal connection between the students and the club > Building and communicating through key school relationships such as teachers and parents > Developing bridging programs > Ensuring the community sport opportunities are available

The sport culture within a school—positive or negative—is built on:

  • perceptions about sport and sport’s value (positive or negative)
  • previous experience of individuals with sport (positive or negative)
  • opportunities to collaborate with schools and sport organisations
  • capabilities and resources that exist
  • personal values
  • student interests.

Undertaking these six steps will help counteract any negative culture and foster a positive and inclusive sport culture for young people.

  1. the existing values and beliefs about sport in the school;
  2. leadership support form the Principal and parent leaders;
  3. the benefits of sport, as it relates to the broader school and community values (i.e. academic);
  4. and deliver opportunities to maximise student interests and mitigate barriers;
  5. with surrounding schools and sport clubs to provide sporting opportunities that build community relationships;
  6. opportunities and stories of success with the school and community.
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