Modernising the way people search and book sports is essential to opening up sport and physical activity (PA) to the mass market. Innovative approaches to the ordering process in services like takeaways, taxis and accommodation have grown these markets exponentially. Learning lessons from these examples will have a big impact on grassroots sport.
Sport England's new strategy for an active nation hinges on the role sport plays in changing lives. Attention has shifted to concentrate on the benefits of leading active lifestyles: physical & mental wellbeing; individual, social & community development.
The 'Towards an Active Nation' report focused on reaching the inactive and less privileged by putting particular emphasis on the role digital technology can play. The vast majority of society use smartphones and enabling people to search for and book sporting venues opens up activities to the mass market. Technology has greatly enhanced the user experience across a number of industries and the grassroots sector is well positioned to enjoy the same uplift.
Technology is central to getting people into sport by removing barriers to entry and changing perceptions of sport and PA. Current attitudes to engaging in sport, from both the general public and facilities operators, present significant barriers to improving lifestyles through sport and PA. Building an intuitive search and booking product means people can get into sport in a matter of seconds.
As exercise becomes more accessible to the public, an easier search and booking process can reverse declining participation numbers. Providing gateways to less mainstream sports like squash and badminton means a fresh wave of players are exposed.
A further tactic for reversing falling participation numbers is to educate the public about the benefits of playing sports. An attractive, functional booking platform can provide the perfect environment for communication with users about opportunities for activity and associated health rewards. The many inactive that deem it too much effort to book a court or aren't aware of the rewards of playing regular sport can gain most.
If all it takes is to pick up your phone to search for the nearest court or pitch, then playing sport can become second nature. Mobile technology has brought about many positives for society by making it easier to interact with a variety of services and the same principle can be applied to sport. This development will change how people think about sport, how they plan to partake in activities and is the best way for the inactive to get started and remain engaged.
The grassroots sector has been slow to adopt new technologies helping people find and book venues - there are huge possibilities and the sooner the old ways are abandoned, the better. Aiding venues with this change of philosophy is integral and includes offering free management software and marketing services to delivering a web and mobile platform for players to secure pitches. Integrating with third party platforms means venues benefit from online bookings, which limits the need to handle enquiries by phone or email.
Innovating how people search and book sports will have major benefits for sporting bodies, sports players and venues. Sport England has outlined its new strategy, and working with non-traditional sporting groups to achieve the new goals is pivotal.
An app or online portal is perfectly designed for the inactive as it simplifies the path between motivation and action. mylocalpitch has seen significant increases in particular sports bookings after major sporting events at the professional level. Last year England's Lionesses finished third at the Women's World Cup and we saw a 230% increase in women football enquiries. Great Britain's historic Games in Rio is having an impact as the country look to emulate their sporting heroes. Badminton stars Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge won bronze in Brazil and we have seen a 245% rise in bookings.
A smarter means for people to find local facilities and book slots enhances the experience for those already involved in regular PA, but more importantly can reach out to the inactive. Too few are aware of the benefits of active lifestyles and the solution lies both in education, and in making sport as accessible as possible. Take the hassle away from booking a pitch and more people will get involved in sports.
Harnessing technological innovations in the way people get involved in sport means there is a vast amount of data available for analysis for studying trends and user behaviour. 'Towards an Active Nation' promotes of the importance of strength in numbers and it is vital those in the grassroots space work together to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of the UK.
Will Chrimes is the Communications Manager at mylocalpitch. mylocalpitch helps players find and book their nearest sports venue whilst helping venues find users, and make instant bookings and payments.