THE BLOG

Why 'Understanding Women's Lives' Is Key to Getting More Women Playing Sport

07/09/2015 12:04 BST | Updated 06/09/2016 10:59 BST

Like so many people around the country, my jaw dropped when I saw Jess Ennis-Hill steam through the finish line of the 800m in her final heptathlon event in Beijing last month. Not just an Olympic Champion, but suddenly a World Champion, and the latter achieved just 13 months after giving birth to her first child. If we didn't know that the face of London 2012 was a phenomenon already, we certainly know it now.

The thing is, it's particularly astonishing because so often sport doesn't do enough to take into account the needs of mothers. And not just mothers; daughters, too. And sisters. Aunts. Grandmothers.

Women.

Of course the demands of elite sport are different from the demands that I might feel when I take to my surfboard, but the fact is that with around 2 million fewer women than men playing sport on a regular basis something isn't working.

At Women in Sport, we exist to transform sport for the benefit of every woman and girl in the UK. That means many different things but, critically, it means making sure sport is there and accessible for as many women and girls that want it to be a part of their lives. That's why, today, we've launched our new report, Understanding Women's Lives, detailing how insight the Women in Sport team has spent almost two years trialling and testing is helping sport gain a better understanding of the distinct needs of women.

Our research identified one major factor: for women, many of our decisions are underpinned by a complex value system which changes constantly throughout our lives. The system contains six values which tend to be common, to varying degrees at different times of our lives, to most, if not all, women. In no particular order these values are: looking good; feeling good; nurturing family and friends, achieving goals; developing skills; and having fun. The importance of each of these values changes over time and can range from short-term influences (we might make choices predicated on making us look good if there is something particular we're aiming towards; a big social occasion, for example) to long-term behavioural evolutions (having children might make us more focussed on nurturing friends and family). The simple reality is that we're extremely unlikely to be influenced by the same dominant value for our whole lives, but we will be influenced by each of the six values at some point in our lives.

For sport, this represents a challenge - and a huge opportunity. Traditionally, sport, even when it has been designed with women in mind, has too often been guilty of knowing how to accommodate only those women who are already 'sporty'. This means there are vast numbers of women out there - myself included - who simply don't feel sport is offering them anything appealing or achievable.

Our report shows sport bodies what they can do to change this. Since undertaking the research in 2013 we've been working with different National Governing Bodies to test out our findings with new products, offerings and marketing tactics across a whole range of sports; with impressively positive results.

Last year, more than 13 million women in England said they would like to be doing more sport than they currently are. There is a huge market out there for women playing sport and I really believe that the enthusiasm is there from both women and from sport bodies to make things work. I also believe that our research can be the bridge between 'enthusiasm' and 'understanding'.

Programmes like the LTA's Tennis Tuesday, the FA's Soccercise and England Athletics' Why We Run are great examples of what sport is starting to do well in considering women and girls' values.

Now we want to see the rest of sport taking a lead and putting serious effort into Understanding Women's Lives.