Sport England announced a £40m investment to get families across the country active earlier this year. As part of their ‘Towards an Active Nation’ strategy they identified that parents and families play a major role in creating sporting habits amongst children and young people.
At IMAS we have taken a more ‘organic’ approach as the delivery of Mixed Ability sports enables families to get involved rather than just being a taxi service or supporter. It does this by creating sporting environments that are safe, welcoming and non-judgemental for all, including family members. For example, within MA Rugby Union it is not uncommon to see siblings, cousins, parents and grandparents all joining in as players. The Derby Bucks, established as part of Comic Relief’s ‘Try for Change’ project, exemplify this trend with 2 sets of brothers and a whole family involved!
Clare Frances, mum to MA player Ben, explained ‘I’ve watched him move further away from sports that won’t be accepting … to have him play with his cousins is just brilliant, it has given them a connection again that I didn’t expect. Sam and George wanted to play as well, to compete alongside him. It’s inclusive not exclusive. It’s changed Ben’s life right now.’
Aside from those involved on the frontline of MA sports we have also sen how the MA environment fosters a sense of belonging and community that is shared between generations, a vital asset if we are to encourage the next generation to become more active. Michael Randle first got involved in MA Rowing as a participant via sessions held at Bradford Amateur Rowing Club (BARC). He identifies the social side of the club as a key motivation and appreciates MA as a different model of inclusion, which has extra relevance to him:
‘One of my granddaughters has extra needs and so over the past few years I’ve had that direct experience of being with her and encouraging her, and it’s great for me to see something where people are actually involved in a community activity and not separated off all the time.’
As we all know, grassroots sport simply wouldn’t function without the support of family members giving up their time each week to provide travel, coaching, volunteering whilst also cheering them on. Where MA differs is that family members no longer need be relegated to the role of ‘number 1 fan’, instead they can play alongside their loved ones, providing support in attack and on the river rather than simply from the side lines.
To find out more about the research that we have carried out please visit:
 All in the Same Boat: Mixed Ability Rowing in Practice, Dr. Jen Dyer, 2018