Overheard from the field: six ways to promote equality in sports clubs

In Finnish sports clubs, there are children and young people who speak dozens of different languages ​​at home and come from diverse family backgrounds. The activities of sports clubs are most impactful when they reach children and young people from all walks of life. How can this be achieved? Together with sports clubs, we gathered six ways to increase the equality of sports clubs.

Before we delve into the six observations, let's briefly review what data collected together with sports clubs tells us about the backgrounds and well-being of children and young people participating in the activities.

Based on the data, on average, 20 percent of the children and young people in sports clubs come from, for instance, single-parent households or low-income families with lower levels of education. However, these are individual factors: only 2 percent of participants come from families experiencing compounded disadvantage.

Just under half of the children and young people engaging in sports club activities feel that the club activities have a positive impact on their well-being. Yet, according to the data, the effects of club activities on well-being are not solely positive. On average, 7 percent feel that the activities have negatively affected their well-being in the past six months.

Nevertheless, sports club activities hold ample opportunities to enhance the well-being and sense of belonging of children and young people. That's why, together with club operators, we've gathered means to increase equality and the experience of well-being in club activities. Here are six of them.

1. Bring club activities close to children and young people

To ensure that sports club activities are equitable and impactful, hobbies need to be accessible to children and young people regardless of their backgrounds.

A great example of accessible club activities is the initiatives of the football club HJK in various parts of Helsinki. According to the data we've gathered, HJK's initiatives have successfully engaged children and young people from diverse backgrounds. Twenty percent of those participating in neighborhood teams come from families whose background factors, such as low educational backgrounds or low income, could lead to marginalization.

To enhance accessibility, We Foundation's own football club, FC Meltsi, schedules practices immediately after school within walking distance from home. The aim was to make football activities as easy as possible for parents in the Mellunmäki area, many of whom are unable to transport their children to practices farther from home. Sixty-five percent of FC Meltsi's participants come from a socio-economic background that could predispose them to marginalization.

2. Make participation free or affordable

Various entities such as municipalities, the government, and foundations fund sports club activities. These funders encourage clubs to create more equitable opportunities for hobbies through different targeted grants. The Ministry of Education and Culture's 'Harrastamisen Suomen malli' has also accelerated the availability of free hobby opportunities nationwide.

An excellent example of rationalizing hobby fees is the Turku-based ice hockey club, TPS. TPS Juniorijääkiekko ry, with support from the city of Turku, has launched Easy Hockey ice hockey clubs where participation fees are reasonable, and participants don't need to acquire their own equipment. The club has also established a Special Hockey group for players needing special support. According to team-specific data, children and young people experience the most positive well-being effects in the hockey clubs and the Special Hockey group.

Moreover, several sports clubs have set up funds for children and young people who wouldn't be able to afford regular sports participation without the support of such funds.

3. Coach with joy

Effective hobby activities demand a pedagogically skilled coach who understands the significance of creating a positive atmosphere in coaching sessions. If you ask Mostafa, the coaching director at FC Meltsi, what's most important in coaching children, the answer is clear: joy. Joy comes first, then everything else - enthusiasm and motivation for the sport, followed gradually by technical skills in the game.

Additionally, a coach needs to have cultural understanding and an interest in fundamental education. They must know how to support a child in developing emotional and social skills and help, for instance, in resolving and organizing conflicting situations. This kind of pedagogical expertise doesn’t develop overnight, but adding joy to coaching, on the other hand, is something that can be easily enhanced step by step.

4. Communicate in a way everyone understands

It's crucial for sports clubs to communicate in clear and understandable language to reach hobbyists who speak different home languages. For instance, children in FC Meltsi's teams speak a total of 20 different languages at home. Both in coaching work and team communication, the language used is easily understandable and accessible.

Here are three insights related to clear communication that we've acquired while working with sports clubs:

Preconditions for participation: Do your website or platforms provide easily accessible information, for example, on how to join the club and what the hobby requires from parents? It's beneficial to explain these details as concretely as possible.

Translating tacit knowledge into words: Especially for novice hobbyists and their parents, it might not be clear, for example, how progression works within the club or who plays at which level.

A simple vocabulary: Sports and club-related terms can be entirely new for parents starting their child's hobby. It's advisable to avoid professional jargon and other hobby-specific terminology. Clear information helps build understanding, trust, and the commitment of the entire family.

5. Gather expertise around you

A sports club always operates as part of the local community. Around it, there are certainly a group of schools, organizations, and other entities that are familiar with the children and young people in the area. Could these parties collaborate in reaching new hobbyists and supporting and engaging current participants? Other sports clubs, municipal social services, schools, family services, and various organizations are often the most important partners for sports clubs.

6. Measure your success

Up-to-date information about the effectiveness of sports club activities is crucial for the clubs' development. Quality data also convinces funders: it's a way to tangibly demonstrate that the club's activities reach children and young people in more vulnerable situations and improve their well-being.

We Foundation collaborates with sports clubs to gather data on the reach and impact of hobby activities using the data and impact tool Melvio. We have identified metrics to examine the reach of activities, the commitment of hobbyists, and the well-being effects of club activities. Through our technology, we regularly monitor participants' family backgrounds, well-being impacts, and their commitment to the activities.

Are you interested?

Are you a sports club operator or a funder? Get in touch, and let's make the impact of sports club activities visible together: info@mesaatio.fi