It takes more than money for all children to participate in club-organised sports
Children from low-income families are less likely to join a sports club than other children. Researchers from UMCU Utrecht and Utrecht University recently investigated why this is the case. They conducted interviews with parents and professionals at welfare, sports and municipal organisations. Although policies are mainly focused at offering financial support, this research shows that a lack of money is certainly not the only barrier. Organizing transport, investing time and planning, finding and understanding information, and applying for financial support also emerged as barriers. The research results offer concrete starting points for solving these issues. Professionals can start working on this together with parents, taking into account the local context. Hopefully, more children from low-income families are able to join a sports club in the future.
What makes it difficult for parents from low-income families to organise joining a sports club for their children? And what could help them do so? These questions were pivotal for this research. From the literature, it is known that both the child and factors in his/her environment influence club-organised sports participation. Determining factors, for example, can be found in the social environment (including parents), the physical environment, economic environment and the policy environment. Therefore, the researchers were motivated to explore this subject broadly and interdisciplinary in the interviews as well.
What makes organising sport difficult for parents?
Public Health researcher Lonneke van Leeuwen (UMCU Utrecht) focused on understanding what helps or does not help parents to organize sport for their children. She discovered five fields in which the parents experience difficulties in organizing sport for their children. These were: paying for sport, organizing transport to and from the sports club, investing time, planning, receiving, understanding and giving information, and arranging support.
The study also provides insight into what might help parents
For example, a number of parents lived at a large distance from the sports club or the route to the sports club was not safe.", says Lonneke van Leeuwen. "Some did not have transport available to bring their children to the sports club, or could not afford the transport costs (e.g., petrol). Then organising sports for your child becomes very difficult. It helped them when parents supported each other with transportation, if possible facilitated by the sports club. Parents who lived close to the sports club or whose child could get to the sports club independently and safely experienced far less problems with transportation.
The study also provides insight into what could be of help for parents. For example, making information about sports easier accessible and understandable, making it normal for parents to support each other (e.g., with transportation), but also making the route between home and sports club safe(r).
What makes obtaining financial support for sport difficult for parents?
Public administration researcher Anne Annink (Utrecht University) then focused more specifically on understanding what might help or does not help parents in obtaining financial support for sports participation by their children. She also examined what involved professionals encounter during that process. What Anne noticed is that while financial support is often available, applying for it is often not easy, for parents as well as professionals. For example, if a parent lives in Utrecht and wants financial support for a membership fee, he/she can apply via the U-pas. Is it about an outfit? Then that is possible via the Paul Verweel Sportfonds. If that does not fully cover the costs, there is Stichting Leergeld.
It is quite an organizational process, according to Anne Annink: It is important to understand what helps and hinders parents in the whole process, from receiving information about financial support to the moment parents register their child with the club. Professionals can play an important supporting and informing role here. It is important for professionals to maintain personal contact with the parents and to have an open attitude. Parents may feel ashamed to have to ask for help.
Professionals can also be better supported
In turn, professionals themselves could be supported by sports clubs providing trial lessons and more information, so that children could make an informed choice and the associated costs are clear. Schools could also provide parents with information on opportunities for financial support. Finally, it would help if the municipality provided an overview of the financial support options, available to parents and professionals alike, and if the support organisations applied flexible regulations, so that professionals could help as many parents as possible.
A summary of the research results can also be viewed in this knowledge clip (in Dutch):
Solutions in the local context and with the parents
To jointly think about removing barriers, the researchers recently organised a brunch session in Utrecht. During this session, they presented the results of the research to parents, professionals and other interested parties who are involved in practice, such as community sports coaches, care providers and sports teachers in education.
Based on this research, the researchers, together with parents, professionals and the municipality, want to further prioritise what is important and feasible to change. They will do this in the specific context of Utrecht. Every city or village has different policies, different funds and different subsidy rules. Also, neighbourhoods may look different and if sports clubs are close by and the routes safe, then the transport problem is less of an issue. So, the local context is important to take into account. When solutions are discovered, they can contribute to more children from families with little money joining a sports club in the future.
If you would like to know more about this research project, please visit the website of the Vitality Academy: Vital@2040.
Please have a look at the fact sheets (pdf, in Dutch) here: