Attractively laid out and accessible public spaces that invite people to engage in sports are important for encouraging more participation in sports, writes PhD candidate Ineke Deelen in her doctoral thesis. The personal characteristics of different groups of sports players also play a major role and relate to preferences in the use of sports spaces. A better understanding of this interplay of factors will enable more effective policy to be developed that encourages more people to practice sports and continue to do so.
Sports that are generally unorganised or practised and offered informally, such as running, cycling, CrossFit and yoga, appear to be gaining ground on more ‘traditional’, organised sports. But very little is known about the specific characteristics of the spatial environment that encourage people to practice (more) sports and how all of this relates to personal factors such as motivation.
Spatial environment makes a difference
In her research, Ineke Deelen explored how the spatial environment and personal factors affect each other and also explain participation in sports. Her findings demonstrate that the spatial environment makes a difference. Not only the availability and proximity of parks, woodland and nature areas, and sports facilities, the liveability and urban density of the neighbourhood turn out to be key factors. The experience of the spatial environment also plays an important role. For example, a green, vibrant environment and a pleasant ground surface largely explain the extent to which runners experience the environment in which they are running to be attractive.
Personal preferences also a factor
In addition to the spatial environment, Deelen concludes that personal factors, such as motivation, obstacles faced and the time spent playing a particular sport also play an important role in explaining participation in sports. More casual types of sport especially are easily accessible and flexible and therefore a good match for the motives, aims, preferences and needs of the large group of ‘busy’ people and those who practise sports for health reasons. She also identified differences between experienced and less experienced runners and discovered that travel distances to the sports club only play a role for young tennis players and not for footballers. In other words, the spatial environment is not related to participation in sports in the same way for everyone. On the contrary: for some, personal factors play a much more important role.
A good starting point
According to the researcher, landscaping public space in a way that is sports-friendly would be a good starting point for concerted efforts within area development to make residential districts healthier, more social and safer. An important precondition for this is to ensure that the interests and needs of all stakeholders, including those offering and (potentially) making use of sports facilities, are effectively identified in advance. Proactive collaboration in multidisciplinary teams that transcend specific domains can enable progress to be made towards achieving a more inclusive, liveable and healthy living environment.