While the number of people running regularly has increased considerably in recent years - the number of England Athletics registered athletes and runners has increased by more than 100% to over 185,000 in the past decade, for example - unfortunately the same cannot be said for the number of people taking part in track and field.
Indeed, the last 12 months has seen 51,868 track and field performances recorded on Power of 10 - a 0.5% decrease compared to the previous year - with a drop of 2% since 2016. While the performance standards across a number of events continues to impress, the overall number of participants is falling.
This will come as no surprise to many track and field coaches and club officers, who have reported the difficulties that they face in retaining athletes in the sport: 43% of the 24,854 athletes aged between 13 and 19 who competed in 2016 did not go on to compete the following year.
Track and Field research findings
England Athletics is committed to addressing this problem and to understanding why more athletes, especially younger athletes, do not continue in the sport after being first introduced to it. Our first step was to commission some consultative research in late 2018 to identify the main reasons why young athletes of all abilities drop out of the sport.
The key findings will be familiar to many, but the detailed responses provided by more than 600 participants, including athletes both current and former, coaches, officials, club representatives and others provide an evidence base on which we can now act. These responses included:
- disillusionment with competition formats, scheduling and structure
- the athlete experience within their clubs
- coaching that focuses largely on high performance rather than simply participating
- social factors such as commitment to education, making the transition from school to university or beginning to work part time.
England Athletics Action Plan
Some of these issues are clearly beyond the control of anyone within the sport. However, competition is clearly a key area where we can start to address this problem to help address this decline and retain more young athletes.
This summer we will be piloting, with partner clubs, short form competition formats to be hosted within club environments aimed at athletes who want to take part and have fun without travelling longer distances to compete. Scoring will focus on rewarding individual and team improvement and will feature a run, a jump, a throw and a relay, allowing male and female athletes of all ages and abilities to compete alongside and against each other in a fun, sociable setting. These will take place towards the end of the season in the build up to the world championships.
Secondly we have refreshed the officiating journey to ensure that we have appropriate numbers of high quality officials to officiate at quality competitions and our officials' recruitment campaign, officials mentoring programme and officials taster days will focus on converting more trainees into licensed officials. The officiating campaign builds on our update last year to our coaching and leader journey through our #gocoach campaign, which has resulted in more coaching courses being booked to help support our athletes and runners.
Our third area of attention is for our club support managers to work with track and field clubs to support them in their efforts to provide the best possible experience to young athletes. We value the incredible work being done by volunteers within clubs across the country and we want, along with our regional councils, to share best practice and success stories as much as possible.
We know that clubs and competition providers are trying their best to provide competition and coaching to our young athletes and we also know that volunteers are in short supply, which is why increasing the number of volunteers in the sport is our biggest priority.
However, if we are to see a reduction in drop out rates from track and field and an increase in the number of people enjoying our great sport, we will all need to work together and reflect on what we could do differently which is why we are launching a process for gathering best practice examples and new ideas to be shared through the form below. If you would prefer to email your best practice examples and new ideas, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This will allow all of us together, England Athletics, British Athletics, clubs and the many competition providers who devote their time to making the sport happen regionally and nationally, to identify changes that we can make to what we do to address the reasons that athletes give for dropping out.
Sharing best practice examples and ideas
All member clubs and affiliated athletes are invited to share best practice examples and suggest other ideas to build on the steps we have already put in place to help ensure young athletes of all abilities remain part of the athletics and running family to help halt this decline:
This information will help the development of a best practice guide for the sport that is part of our action plan. We will ensure that everyone within the athletics and running family is aware of our actions to help halt this decline and the results we have achieved through regular communication on our website and through our newsletters for example.