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Getting people active

Participation in Adventure sport/activity is growing whilst it is declining in many more traditional sports. Why is this and how can this trend be harnessed to help more people get active?

Adventure activities are attractive to a growing number of people for some fairly simple reasons:

  • In general people want to be more active in their leisure time. But only if the activity is appealing and affordable.

  • The sheer variety of adventurous activities means there is something for everyone. Many are accessible to a very wide age range.

  • Many activities require no previous experience and you can simply walk up and have a powerful experience (e.g. zip wire, bungee jump).

  • They look great on social media and are generally perceived as cool and legitimate.

  • Many adventure activities can take place in beautiful and inspiring environments but equally can be enjoyed or practiced at very local facilities (e.g. climbing, mountain biking)

All this adds up to a very attractive package. And the numbers back this up, with Sport Englands 2018 Active Lives survey showing 2.7m people participating in Adventure Activity in a 28 day period. This is an increase of 213,000 on the previous year. Importantly a very significant proportion of people who are attracted by adventure activity are not otherwise particularly active. This is particularly true of younger people. The reasons for this are many and worth their own post. In simple terms adventure activities are accessible to all shapes and sizes, are social without being team based, lack any perceived class or social distinction and generally considered cool and a bit rebellious.

And as well as all those people already trying adventure activities there are many more who are interested in having a go and this makes for a huge opportunity. The most oft quoted barriers to these people doing more adventure activity are 'nothing i want to do near me' and 'too expensive'. Facilities that can address these two issues will attract many people into more active lifestyles. The key is relevance and accessibility. This means a mix of activities that really appeal, which are fun to try for the first time but also things you want to do again, along with a welcoming atmosphere and an affordable price (or free!). If that all sounds a bit academic lets have a few examples:

Urban Pump Tracks and Singletrack: Mountain biking has grown rapidly over recent years. It appeals greatly to young people but did suffer from a lack of accessibility insofar as places to ride were in rural locations far from centres of population. This situation has been changing for some years now with the development of high quality facilities near to towns and cities (e.g. Lee Quarry, Lancashire), with more off road routes going through cities (e.g. Preston Guild Wheel) and with the addition of pump tracks to many municipal parks. The impacts are clear and along with bike loan schemes these facilities have got many young people into an active lifestyle.

Indoor Climbing: Climbing walls are becoming much more inclusive and are now seen by many as a fitness and social destination in their own right. Indeed a significant proportion of climbing wall users don't even climb outdoors! The addition of youth focused fun climbing units (such as Clip n Climb) has further broadened the appeal and blurred the line between exercise and play. And because climbing is social with largely individual goals, where skill and flexibility is more important than strength, it can appeal to many who do not feel team or strength based sports are for them.

Four Season Ski Slopes: Ok so these have been around for a long time but it is worth recognising just what an impact these have had on participation within their catchments. After all pretty well all our successful olympic skiers snowboarders started on one of these! They give local schools something different to offer and again these activities appeal to those who are not doing much in the way of other sport. And there is plenty of evidence that shows how effective schemes aimed at using snowsports to engage with kids from difficult backgrounds have been. But the issue has always been affordability and sustainability. Looking forward the introduction of new surfaces which are more inclusive with more interesting terrain and the addition of other revenue generating activities to sites offer exciting opportunities.

And then there are skateparks, ropes courses, indoor caves, surf parks and so on....The sector has now recognised the opportunity and is innovating to meet the challenge. For leisure leaders and policy makers adventure activity should be an integral part of any well being strategy.

Caving, in an artificial cave, is fun, social and inclusive whilst also offering challenges and learning opportunities.

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