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Sport England Ten-Year Strategy: From Great Adversity Comes Great Opportunity

Getting the nation moving again is the unifying element that all organisations focused on improving health outcomes have as their common purpose. Sport England’s new ten-year strategic plan, ‘Uniting the Movement’, sets out how this can be achieved and the tremendous rewards that will be reaped by partner organisations working closely together and aligning around this overarching goal. Blake Richardson puts the new strategy under the microscope

Cometh the hour, cometh the plan! And what an invigorating strategic plan Sport England have given us in our time of need.

Its launch marks a new epoch, for the sport and physical activity ‘movement’ and for the many satellite sectors – including the coaching industry – that have physical activity at their beating heart and that exist to harness its power to build stronger, healthier communities and enrich lives.

At a critical time when the need for ‘movement’ has never been greater, Sport England’s ten-year vision to transform lives and communities through sport and physical activity offers a route to recovery through reinvention and innovation, inclusion, ambition and collaboration

Our nation stands at a crossroads. Trepidation and adversity have ridden on the coat-tails of the Covid-19 virus, the spread of which has, to quote Sport England, created a “perfect storm of health, social and economic problems”.

This long-term plan – which in the words of Minister for Sport Nigel Huddleston “looks far beyond the world of Covid-19” – gives the network of organisations that are responsible for providing sport and physical activity opportunities, some clear direction and a platform to accelerate progress.

At the strategy’s virtual launch, we heard from leading lights in the sport and physical activity, local government and healthcare sectors, all about Sport England’s meticulously designed pathway for positive change.

The ten-year plan builds on the successes of the previous five-year strategy, whilst seizing the opportunity that has presented itself in the wake of successive lockdowns to do things differently and tackle deep-rooted inequalities. Regrettably, the barriers to specific population groups getting active have only been reinforced by the disruption that the pandemic has caused.

For the coaching sector, every bit as much as governing bodies, Active Partnerships, the leisure and fitness industry, charities and the health care system, the strategy is a roadmap to a brighter future – a future where people are encouraged to get back on the move, and begin enjoying the transformative benefits that being active brings.

There is power in unity, and there is power in numbers

This article will focus on two of the strategy’s guiding principles: collaboration and opportunity.

You can sift through each of the strategy’s key objectives, and see how each layer of the strategy – in respect of its ‘five big issues’: Recover and reinvent; Connecting communities; Positive experiences for children and young people; Connecting with health and wellbeing; Active environments – work together as an integrated whole to form a ten-year vision, by reading the full strategy here

Rather than dissect each chapter, for reasons of brevity this article will focus on two of the recurring themes of the strategy as a way of illuminating the bigger picture. 

And it will highlight the integral role the coaching sector has to play in delivering on the strategy’s KPIs, with specific examples of how UK Coaching plans to step up its commitment to being a “catalyst for change” and to contribute by “turning our shared plans and ideas into action.”

It was Martin Luther King who said, in his 1963 speech, ironically entitled “Keep on Moving”, “There is power in unity, and there is power in numbers.”

And it is fair to say that the cornerstone of Sport England’s strategy is collaboration – the underpinning force driving the strategy that will ultimately ensure its success. 

You get a clear sense of its underlying importance by the number of times the word appears in the strategy – 11 in total; while there are 42 mentions of the word ‘connect’ and its derivatives (connection, connected) and 10 instances of the phrase ‘working together’. As it states in the strategy:

We won’t – and can’t – do it alone. Lots of us care about making life better across society, which means ours is a collective purpose: we’re part of a much bigger team.

“This isn’t an individual pursuit. We want to work with other organisations, locally and nationally, who can see the enormous untapped potential of working together – whatever their sector or industry.”

UK Coaching’s Director of Coaching Emma Atkins says that collaborating around common goals is central to UK Coaching’s own policy and practice.

It is our collective responsibility to make long-term change happen. And by collaborating better, we can solve problems better,” says Emma.

 

“With our digital capabilities and great track record in collaborating with hundreds of partners, we are here for coaches to enable the vision set by Sport England: ‘to change lives for the better, in every home, in every community, across the country’.”

Next week will see further evidence of UK Coaching’s commitment to collaborative working, with the launch of a Coaching Advisory Panel – part of the organisation’s ongoing work to tackle inequalities and put the coach at the heart of our activity.

“This kind of collaborative work between our network and national strategic partners, national governing bodies of sport, community leaders and coaches will ensure that we gather the right information to drive our own strategy, which we will develop in the coming months.”

So to recap, the need for joined up thinking in the form of partnerships and strategic alliances is integral to getting the nation back on its feet, as it will allow us to solve problems and rise to challenges together.

‘A connecting organisation’

This vision was echoed by each of the speakers at the virtual launch, none more eloquently than Hayley Lever, Exec Lead of Greater Manchester Moving (GM Moving) and CEO of GreaterSport. Describing the need to work together collaboratively to make a difference in a crisis, she said symbiotic relationships, where each organisation plays its part as equals, are critical:

It is about communities, councils, voluntary sector organisations, all working together to that shared purpose with good, rich, deep relationships. Which is why the ways of working and the practice [set out] in this strategy is so fundamentally important to what we do next.”

And Sport England board member Chris Grant talked about how, for a national change in culture to take place, the entire “network of assets” needs to unite behind the movement in mutual support.

Sport England, he said, were not just a listening organisation, a campaigning organisation, an insight organisation and an advocating organisation, they were also a connecting organisation: “In Uniting the Movement, what we see our role as is bringing together the assets. You represent this amazing network of assets throughout the country: from the elite (which we can all be proud of as it is truly world-beating) to the absolute grass-roots, which are like the nutrients in the soil.

“So, [to change the culture, in order to change attitudes to physical activity and sport] it is about breathing together.

There was a lot of talk this summer post George Floyd: was it a moment or was it a movement? Well, there’s no doubt in my mind that when we are talking about sport and physical activity in England, we have all the ingredients of a movement. All we need to do is unite them, and that’s what we are going to do.”

Opportunity knocks

Aside from the rallying call for greater collaboration, there is another central pillar to this strategy: the belief that, while sport and physical activity remains, for the most part, in a state of limbo, now is an ideal opportunity to make a lasting difference. We must seize the day.

Covid-19 may have pressed the pause button on progress, but while this has been incredibly frustrating for so many reasons, the down time at least gives organisations some much-needed pause for reflection and a window of opportunity to collectively adapt and upgrade their methods and approach.

Giving his backing to Sport England’s strategy, Nick Pearson, chief executive of parkrun, writes in the strategy: “[It] comes at a time of both tremendous uncertainty and significant opportunity and is very welcome. If we can reflect on the coronavirus crisis and learn from it, if we can effectively invest and support those most in need, then we can build a healthier and happier society.”

Ali Oliver, chief executive at the Youth Sport Trust, writes: “This new Sport England strategy comes at a pivotal time. Helping young people to recover from the impact of coronavirus and turning around a generational slide towards inactivity has to be our biggest national priority in the tough months and years ahead. Sport England has set out an important statement of intent… there has never been a generation more in need of the life-changing benefits of sport and play.”

Sport England’s own stated ambition is: “We have an opportunity to use the disruption Covid-19 has brought to accelerate progress – to reinvent as more agile, inclusive and resilient and to change the way we do things so we better meet the needs of everyone, in every community.”

 

The pivotal role of great coaching

UK Coaching recognises the need to grasp the nettle of opportunity and is looking forward to joining the movement and, particularly, the challenge to confront the stubborn inequalities in physical activity levels that is at the heart of the strategy. 

Great coaching has an instrumental role to play in the nation’s recovery by providing opportunities to people and communities that have traditionally been left behind – because coaches have the power to remove barriers to activity by providing the individual care and support, the motivational nudge and the empathy, influence and expertise to effect positive behaviour change.

“Sport England’s new strategy aligns perfectly with our mission to get, and keep, the nation active through our coaching family,” says Emma. 

“Although there’s every hope that we will return to pre-pandemic activity habits once we overcome the virus, this is our opportunity to reach and increase the activity levels of the whole nation. That is why UK Coaching is focused on supporting a fully inclusive and diverse coaching workforce that helps people from across all communities.

And it is why we share Sport England CEO Tim Hollingsworth’s view that ‘together, we can change lives for the better, in every home and every community across the country.’ That is our intention too. Our contribution will be to bring the coaching family with us on the journey, supporting them as people first and ensuring that they are happy and healthy so they can then go and do amazing things for others.”

To deliver fully on this objective and keep progress firmly on track, it is imperative we invest in our coaching workforce, including funding/employing coaches who work in those communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

“We may well lose more of our coaches if we don’t support them financially and physically,” says Emma.

“Great coaches across sport and activity settings don’t just inspire people to get active but can bring communities together. We must invest in great coaches and include more people into the coaching family to ensure accessible activity is available for all. And as we drive this agenda, we must be able to fund and employ coaches who work in communities that have been hit hardest.”

Join together as one

In summary, those responsible for making change happen should look on these as exciting times, not frightening times.

Sport England’s ten-year strategy is a blueprint for long-term improvement and aims to align the interconnected network of organisations in a shared purpose and collective commitment to cultural change.

The title itself, Uniting the Movement, is a clever play on words, and works on so many levels. Each word works well enough in isolation and attests to the mission that lies ahead, but, together, they take on even greater significance. You could say, by joining together, side by side, an amazing transformation takes place. Touché to that!

Related Resources

  • Thought leadership article: #UnitingTheMovement

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  • The Coaching Plan for England and the Changing Role of the Coach

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  • Uniting The Movement: UK Coaching proud to be a supporter of Sport England’s new strategy

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