About our project

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Informal sport as a health and social resource

About our project

This study represents the first major analysis of informal sport within Australia.

The project will generate new knowledge of how informal sports are self-organised and sustained, the factors enabling and inhibiting participation, and provide a detailed evidence base for the economic and social impact of informal participation. We anticipate that the study will support the development of coherent policy guidance for government, sport and health agencies to better equip them in supporting informal opportunities for diverse young people and enhancing health outcomes.

What is informal sport?
Informal sports in this project is defined as participation that involves individuals and groups who are not affiliated with a club or governing body, self-organising their participation in sport, outside of traditional structures.

Our rationale

Ongoing studies have illustrated that participation in sport can provide physical, mental and social health benefits. However, participation data across several countries (including Australia, New Zealand and the UK) suggests that involvement in traditional structured and club-based sport is either stagnant or declining.

On the other hand, participation in informal sport is rising, with some studies suggesting informal opportunities are particularly appealing for diverse young people who are under-represented in mainstream sport.

The capacity for informal sport to support a diverse participation base and its rapidly rising rates of participation present a compelling need for robust research to inform policy and generate practical guidance for a range of agencies.

This project will explore the potential of informal sport to more readily connect with, attract and retain diverse young people, and ways in which informal sport can be supported by the various agencies.

Our approach

In this project we will be working with 4 case study local authorities (Hume City Council and City of Casey in Victoria, and City of Canning and City of Stirling in WA).

Our research will be undertaken in three phases.

Phase 1: Analysis of policy network

  • Collect policy documents across sport, health and local government sectors
  • Interview key stakeholders from national, state and local authorities (60 interviews).
  • Analyse the policy landscape and provide a comprehensive overview of the ways in which informal sport is supported (or hindered) by current policy structures and systems.
  • Using network mapping, identify the key influencers in this space.

Phase 2: Case study analysis

  • Conduct case studies to examine how young people are participating in informal sport.
    • Identify 4 facilities and locations from each local authority where informal sport takes place (16 sites in total).
    • Conduct observations using system observation of play and recreation in communities (SOPARC), and measure physical activity levels
    • Conduct focus groups and social connectedness survey
    • Chart the experiences of establishing and maintaining participation
  • Undertake a cost/benefit analysis of informal sport.
  • Drawing on a mixed methodology, examine the role of sport in social connection for diverse young people, as well as physical and mental well-being.

Phase 3: Participatory design workshops

  • Conduct 4 collaborative design workshops together with the key stakeholders and young participants from our case study communities (one workshop in each local authority).
  • Develop guidance and resources to assist agencies with managing and supporting informal sport in ways that benefits all.

Young participants will play a central role in our design workshops.

Expected benefits

Benefits include:

  • Identifying what practices underpin the successful development of informal sport and physical activity opportunities for diverse young people;
  • Providing the first mixed methods evidence base that will determine the economic and social value of informal participant to enable partners to make informed decisions on the value of investing in supporting ongoing participation;
  • Developing evidence-based, community led guidance and practical resources outlining how sport, physical activity and health agencies can support local communities to initiate and sustain informal sport and physical activity opportunities;
  • Providing ‘multi-level’ guidance to support the development of new policies, strategic planning and local level operating systems to foster informal sport participation;
  • Modelling a participatory design approach to develop solutions that can be utilised in other areas of the partner organisations.