As a sports mega event, the Games' reach is significant and goes well beyond Birmingham and the concept of Commonwealth.
We know the benefits of sport and physical activity to the development of young people’s lives are significant. These benefits – and challenges – are well understood in terms of physical, social, educative, wellbeing and health. Yet the cultural and contextual elements of sport, including key issues of diversity, inclusion, safety and child protection are also critical to bringing these benefits. The Commonwealth Games offers an important context within which to foreground these topics.
Over recent years I have been very fortunate to have been involved in exploring and observing the development of grassroots sport (my own area of interest) across the world, and spoken to many coaches, administrators, families and young people themselves about their experiences.
There is no doubt that these games will have a significant positive global impact on young people engaging in sport and physical activity, and whilst the word ‘legacy’ is over-used, its real potential impact is substantial.
Yet, whilst we talk about legacy. We also need to consider much broader social, cultural and contextual factors as to how and where this impact happens. Very recent conversations with competing athletes from across the Commonwealth suggests that whilst their experiences have similarities, their journey and developmental stories differ significantly between their contexts and cultures.
One thing they all had in common though was the passion to succeed and the passion to pass on their experience to the next generation in their own countries. Understanding and appreciating the nuances between (and even more so within) cultures and contexts will hopefully allow us to play a part in exploring and influencing how children can gain positive experiences in sport and physical activity in appropriate and safe environments.
For children and young people across the world, watching the Commonwealth Games will hopefully inspire a lifelong love of sport and physical activity – regardless of their country, culture and context. It is up to us to nurture, facilitate and support this engagement.Dr Martin Toms, Associate Professor in Sport Pedagogy
In a soon to be published edited book The Handbook of Coaching Children in Sport, it is a surprise to see how little focus there has been on the younger age group in research, and you will notice the broad conceptualisation of ‘young people’ is more often used across the research, policy and media frameworks.
As such, exploring things like legacy for children is a challenge, since, like the broad differences between cultures and contexts, there is a significant difference between young people of all ages as well. As a grass roots coach from a Commonwealth country once said to me, “there is as great a difference between 5 and 16 year olds as there is between cricket and badminton!”. Our understanding of the complexity and fluidity of development in children and young people, therefore, needs some cultural and contextual thought and consideration, and we must consider the key issues of diversity, inclusion, safety and child protection in all we do in providing children with sport and physical activity opportunities.
The Commonwealth Games will leave an indelible mark on the lives of many people across the world, and it is up to us to ensure that this legacy will allow inclusive opportunities for participation, engagement and ultimately future lifelong participation. That does not just mean understanding children and participation, but understanding everything around that – from physical, social and emotional development to injury prevention, nutrition, coaching practice, safeguarding, play and practice activities, physical environments, diversity, family influence, policy and also the (problematic) concept of talent. Yet we still talk about it as just ‘children’s sport’ despite it being much more than that.
In a few weeks when we will move on from this sporting mega event to the next, we must ensure that legacy does not become an over-used term that gets slightly frayed at the edges, when it is something that will have a significant impact on each and every future generation across the world. For children and young people across the world, watching the Commonwealth Games will hopefully inspire a lifelong love of sport and physical activity – regardless of their country, culture and context. It is up to us to nurture, facilitate and support this engagement throughout the lifespan – after all, we are only the caretakers of this current legacy, and legacy is only a baton that we pass on to the next generation……..
Toms, M. & Jeanes, R. (Eds) (2022) Handbook of Coaching Children in Sport, Routledge, London.