THE BLOG

Participate, Enjoy, Compete If You Like

24/06/2014 11:14 BST | Updated 23/08/2014 10:59 BST

Olympic Day is celebrated every year on 23 June to spread the legacy of the Games and increase participation in physical activity. But does it work?

Most of us know the benefits of increased physical activity, including maintaining a healthy weight and being mentally more alert. Yet growing waistlines suggest we haven't really signed up to the idea. Successive programmes of investment in sport to encourage increased participation have failed to make an impact. Why could this be?

Do we perhaps focus too much on sport and not enough on activity? For some, sport is a dis-insensitive to be active. It suggests competition and performance, and levels of participation some just don't feel confident engaging with. There probably is an activity out there for everyone - the key is to match it to the individual, whether it is Zumba, trampolining, rowing or walking through forests. If they enjoy it, they will be back for more.

I am not suggesting competitive sport is to blame - some people need that element to drive them on. But we need people to participate to get hooked on physical activity. The only way to make it part of their lifestyle is if they experience the direct benefits of fun, stress release, socialising, or giving themselves a new challenge.

We know there are problems associated with childhood obesity and inactivity, and these are too often addressed from a top-down perspective. We should listen to the experts, the young people themselves, about what they would like to do. We might expect them to say they prefer video games to volley ball, but there is an uncelebrated mass out there who loves to be active, and work in their communities to encourage others to do the same.

This summer, Asda Active sports days, powered by Sports Leaders UK, are reaching 50,000 young people through active days led by sports leaders. Sports leaders volunteer their time, and we know younger people see them as active role models and are much more likely to take healthy living advice from them.

If we listen more to our active young people, and encourage them to spread the joy of physical activity in their local communities, we will also reach those people who thrive on the personal challenge of competition, and it is here that we will find our future Olympians.