Our Sector: Building confidence & resilience through sport

In this piece Ben Jessup, BUCS Development Coordinator details collaborative approaches that use Student Sport to build confidence and resilience amongst students

There is very much a perception that BUCS and university sport as a whole is all about competitive opportunities. Whilst this is what BUCS has historically delivered, the organisation’s new strategy embraces the broad spectrum of sport & physical activity opportunities across Higher Education, as they very much seek to provide the best university sport experience in the world. And competitive sport just cannot deliver that for everyone.

BUCS’ SU17 session touched on a number of areas including This BUCS Girl Can and Take A Stand campaign activity, available personality insights which could be deployed by delegates, a series of best practice examples & information on support and resources available via BUCS and their expert partners.

Personality insights are key to developing effective interventions to engage inactive students in sport & physical activity and subsequently support students in developing increased confidence and resilience across their time at university. The two key insights referenced at SU17 were Sport England’s Youth Personality insight (available to institutions across the UK) and Women in Sport’s Understanding Women’s Lives research.

The Youth Personality insight and Understanding Women’s Lives research refer to six distinct personality types and a complex-value system respectively, with both resources discussing the varying motivations and interests for many would-be participants, as well as discussing the change in language and/or method of delivery required to optimise engagement of inactive students. We encourage you to take a look at both.

A series of best practice examples – namely the University of Leeds’ Uni Girls Can campaign, the University of Bristol’s Fit & Fabulous programme, Virgin Active’s AttrActive Project & the University of York’s YorActive Trail – highlighted a number of key takeaways which Students’ Unions are encouraged to consider as proactively as possible:

  • Diversify what it means to be physically active. Sport holds negative connotations for many students, as it is perceived to, first and foremost, be competitive, so changing the language and talking about “being active” rather than “playing sport” can keep would-be participants listening.
  • Simplicity and support are key to making participants advocates, and where opportunities beyond the traditional student sport clubs engage them, those previously inactive students can be the most powerful advocates as you seek to engage even more students in sport & physical activity.
  • Any activity must take place in an environment which would-be participants find safe, comfortable and familiar. Some students love their university sport centre, others can be intimidated by it. Instead think about adapting other available spaces for delivery, whether that be within your Students’ Union, typically academic spaces, on-campus accommodation, or locations within the local community. Make it accessible and welcoming.
  • Ensuring the environment is safe, comfortable and familiar applies to the human environment as well. Deliverers need to be people like me, with peer-to-peer deliver proven to be most effective. A knowledgeable sports coach can be intimidating where students might feel they need to understand the activity and cannot ask questions.
  • Listen to your audience and tailor your programme. Collating insight on the needs, wants and concerns of your students can enable you to deliver a more bespoke programme of activity, tailoring opportunities to what they would like to engage with rather than what we think they would like to engage with.
  • It is unlikely that we can establish a well-functioning programme to engage a broad student demographic without working across departments and linking together sport clubs, social sport facilitators, societies, liberation networks, international and postgraduate student associations. Collaboration is key.

You can find out more about This BUCS Girl Can & Take A Stand via BUCS’ Support & Guidance hub, including links to the additional resources referenced throughout the workshop – e.g. Women in Sport’s resource centre, Stonewall’s Rainbow Lace toolkit and the Mental Health in Sport resource BUCS developed with Student Minds.

If you have any questions about any of the above, please contact Ben Jessup, BUCS Development Coordinator.

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