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Troy

Troy Kirkham

Year of Award: 2015 Award State: Western Australia Community > Social Change
To investigate innovative and inclusive retention strategies for youth participants in community sport - Canada, USA, UK
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Sport is far greater than simply wins and losses, and it certainly isn’t about which team won or lost on the weekend. It has an ability like no other to connect, unite and bond communities. It has a long lasting impact on an individual’s physical, social and emotional well-being and there is strong evidence to suggest those who are active youth participants are significantly more likely to participate in physical activity as an adult. Subsequently, if we can achieve greater levels of youth retention the ongoing wider community and health related benefits would be substantial.  

The social capital that is established through engagement in sporting clubs contributes to society. Sport provides an opportunity for inclusion, education and employment and has a considerable cultural significance to all Australians. 

This fellowship report looks to build on innovative international approaches to physical activity and retention in youth sport and make recommendations for an Australian context. It will explore factors influencing retention, contemporary approaches to accessibility of programs and provide a benchmark for future approaches to retention of youth participants across local clubs, State Sporting Organisations (SSO) and National Sporting Organisations (NSO). 

Upon embarking on this journey, there were eight key focus areas that guided the discussions with the organisations that I planned to meet with. These were: 

  • The importance of unstructured play, along with the development of fun, and the significant role that both of these factors play in youth retention; 
  • The development of physical literacy and fundamental movement skills and the role that this development plays in retaining participants long term; 
  • Engagement strategies – with a particular focus on diversionary programs; 
  • The role that technology can play in youth sport retention strategies; 
  • The impact of parenting styles in youth sport retention – particularly around female engagement and retention; 
  • Socioeconomic influences – and the importance of programs to support accessibility for all, 
  • Youth advocacy – and empowering youth in program and product development; and 
  • Inclusive program development – ensuring opportunity for all. 

However, the discussions provided so much more than the eight key discussion points listed above. They provided insight and knowledge around a number of factors that directly or indirectly impact youth retention in community sport, and they helped to shape and redefine my thinking around this topic. The conversations all lead to one key premise, in that there needed to be an integrated or interconnected approach that sought to coordinate and organise the key components impacting youth retention, thus providing clear direction to sport.  

Ultimately, retention comes down to relationships, and the ability to maintain and enhance these relationships over a number of years and through a number of key transitional phases within a sport context. It is from this foundation that the proposed ‘Interconnected Model of Youth Retention’ was developed. It looks to unite all the key factors impacting youth retention, but also highlights the importance of the relationships between these components, and the interconnected manner in which they impact or influence each other. 

One of the real challenges in sport is that organisations or clubs when looking at youth retention tend to focus on one part of the puzzle. That is a great starting point, but it fails to recognise the interconnected manner in which key components influence each other. By only addressing one aspect, you may get some small improvements in retention or churn rates, but when you have a direct focus (or an interconnected approach) on all key components, then that’s where the real improvement and success can be achieved. 

When setting out to finalise this Churchill Report, the objective was to develop a tangible document that could be utilised by sports to guide and/or challenge their current way of operation, and provide authentic ideas or strategies that could be introduced to enhance youth retention in community sport. This document needed to be more than simply a report that explained where I went, and whom I met with. Hence, this report proposes a model for youth retention and discusses the key aspects that impact each of the proposed nine components. The outstanding individuals and organisations that I visited all helped to shape this report, through their willingness to share ideas, resources and strategies around youth retention, and for that I am truly indebted. 

The opportunity to meet with leaders in their field and examine examples of best practice provided not only knowledge, but also discussion and debate, and through proposing this model I hope that it helps to encourage further debate around youth retention, and its importance in community sport. I look forward to having ongoing conversations and working with others in the industry to shape and mould the proposed ‘Interconnected Model of Youth Retention’ into a workable template that achieves significant community outcomes that benefit youth participants and enable then to gain the positive impact that sport can provide. 

Thank you to the Sir Winston Churchill Memorial Trust of Australia for providing an amazing opportunity to explore and investigate a topic that I am extremely passionate about, and believe can play a significant role in the future of young people in Australia. The following report looks to highlight my discussions, make observations and seeks to encourage community sport to potentially do things differently. 

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