Grassroots sports play a vital role in the lives of millions of people in the UK. Remember what it felt like to be on a sports team for the first time? That sense of camaraderie (or intimidation) is unforgettable. Parents and friends cheered from the sidelines and you felt invincible. As the world becomes busier and faster, people are disconnecting from each other and their communities. Yet, we seek respite from our day-to-day toil. We want to feel connected; part of a tangible, physical team, rather than endless Whatsapp groups and connecting on LinkedIn. The answer is community; and the grassroots sports industry has a huge part to play.
That warm and fuzzy feeling…
Players might be freezing their knuckles off on the pitch, but that infectious, community feeling warms the soul. Even with amazing facilities, a cold and unwelcoming atmosphere will result in icy customers. Parkrun, is a community led initiative on a global scale. It began in Bushy Park, Teddington with 13 amateur runners who believed “no-one should ever have to pay to go running in their community regularly, safely and for fun.” It now has nearly 100,000 events and 1.5 million runners worldwide. It will continue to grow as it embeds itself deeper into communities. There is no marketing plan, just word of mouth; laughter, praise, and egging each other on. This Chinese whispers effect has reached the airwaves, with radio presenters on LBC and other channels discussing their own successes and shames from the weekend ParkRun.
Taking part for taking parts sake…
Many people play sport because they like to win. For others, it is the physical and mental benefits of being active that is so addictive. Win or lose, the social value of sport can be life changing for kids who are bullied at school, adults who have just moved cities, or anyone who wants to feel part of something.
Funding favours community enhancing projects
When it comes to sports funding, professional sports programmes receive the largest proportion. The aim is to boost British pride through Olympic and national sporting success. The system hope people will feel inspired to be the next Andy Murray or to hurdle like Jessica Ennis. Hillary Clinton would call this “trickle down economics”; Donald Trump would love it. Not-for-profits and community based programmes receive whatever money is left over. Local authorities are the biggest providers of government funding to grassroots sports, spending £1 billion per year in community sport and physical activity. In order for grassroots organisations to get in on some of the action, they need to promote themselves as vital parts of the community.
Turn to your local launderette, supermarket, or sports shop and ask them to sponsor your team or club. They could supply your jerseys in exchange for having their logo printed on the front. Maybe the village coffee house could provide snacks and drinks at match events. Take a walk around your area and assess what businesses could benefit from advertising at your sports venue or event. Even if somewhere cannot provide sponsorship, they may let you leave leaflets at their venue.
Facebook is on a mission to reunite people with their local community. The new algorithms favour familial interactions and community engagement over mass media and clickbait culture. Upload live videos of your matches and tag photos in the local area and Facebook will give you preference in the ranking structure.
The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is evidence of a community run programme achieving nationwide success. Volunteers are the lifeblood of the GAA. Dads and Mums coach teams, wash the jerseys, and store equipment in the boot of their cars. Even with hectic work schedules, parents rave about the joys of getting out onto the pitch and coaching their child’s team after a busy 9-5. This “muck in” attitude provides mutual benefit to parents, children, and the GAA itself. Even professional GAA players are viewed as local heroes and play alongside a full time job. Many of the country’s top players are primary school teachers, as the schedule lends itself to training. They also coach their students, thus they pass down the community sport to the next generation as part of their after-school curriculum.
When you’re improving the community, you are viewed favourably by government councils, potential sponsors, and the locals themselves. Engaging the community is commendable service and one which any club or team should feel proud to provide.