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What gets kids active – five findings from Sport England's Active Lives study

Enjoyment is the single biggest factor in motivating children to be active – while "physically literate" children do twice as much activity.

These are among the key findings uncovered by a detailed analysis of Sport England's Active Lives Children and Young People Survey.

More than 130,000 children and young people were surveyed in the academic year 2017-18 for the Active Lives study, which also included a survey conducted by Ipsos MORI, which asked children about their attitudes towards sport and physical activity.

The analysis of the results has now identified five key findings on the attitudes of children towards sport and physical activity.

The five key findings are:

1. Physically literate children do twice as much activity. The more of the five elements of physical literacy - enjoyment, confidence, competence, understanding and knowledge - children have, the more active they are.

2. Enjoyment is the biggest driver of activity levels. Despite the majority of children (68%) understanding that sport and activity is good for them, understanding had the least impact on activity levels.

3. Children who have all five elements of physically literacy report higher levels of happiness, are more trusting of other children, and report higher levels of resilience (continuing to try if you find something difficult).

4. Physical literacy decreases with age. As children grow older, they report lower levels of enjoyment, confidence, competence, and understanding. Previous research from Sport England shows that activity levels drop when children reach their teenage years.

5. The results also reveal important inequalities among certain groups of children which must be tackled – including that girls are less likely to say they enjoy or feel confident about doing sport and physical activity.

Following the publication of the analysis, Sport England CEO Tim Hollingsworth called for everyone involved in a child’s activity level to ensure that enjoyment is "at the heart of anything they do".

“This is a critical moment for all of society to better understand what will motivate young people to get active,” he said.

“This survey gives us the richest evidence yet that sport and physical activity for children needs to be fun and enjoyable above all.

“The fact that a third of children aren’t nearly as active as they need to be, demonstrates we need to do things differently if we want to build a generation of young people who want to take part in physical activity as children and into adulthood.

“With previous research showing that active children have better levels of attendance and achievement, we must prioritise physical literacy with the same vigour that we address numeracy and literacy. Doing so could not only help teaching and learning outcomes, it could be hugely beneficial for the physical and mental health of our children.

“We hope these results will be considered and acted on by all who deliver activity and sport. At Sport England, we look forward to playing our part to get children active as we roll out our national programme to train over 17,000 secondary school teachers in how to offer a greater breadth of PE and school sport that meets the needs of all pupils.”

Among those to welcome the analysis was physical activity body ukactive.

Commenting on the findings, Jack Shakespeare, head of ukactive Kids, said: “These findings clearly show that enjoyment is the biggest driver for children to be active.

"This supports ukactive’s recent research, published in Generation Inactive 2, which showed that play and fun are fundamental to children’s activity levels.

“However, this is the clearest evidence yet of the disparity between children and young people from low-income families and their more affluent peers, with opportunities limited.

"Children from less affluent families are not getting the same enjoyment from physical activity (just 45 per cent strongly agreed they enjoyed it) as those from medium (50 per cent) or high-earning families (58 per cent). Their confidence, competence, understanding and knowledge of sport and physical activity are also lower.

“Highlighting this inequality, the report found that despite black children being most physically literate, they are also the least likely to be active. And the survey sheds new light on the gender imbalance we continue to fight, with girls scoring lower than boys across all five key attitudes to sport and physical activity."

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