Make it Accessible

What is the difference between 91,000 and 59,000?

Apt mathematicians will quickly come back with 32,000, but the answer is actually 50%. With more context, we are able to better understand the original question, and then the answer becomes clear. In 2019 when the average household income was $91,000, a study found that children from lower-income families were half as likely to participate in sport. In that same year, the average US household income was $59,000 – the difference between 91,000 and 59,000 is 50%.

Do you know why?

Studies from 2019 published on and indicate a significant difference in sport participation based on household income. With inflation rates hitting 40-year highs, stretching the family income to cover the cost of rent, food, and other essentials is becoming increasingly difficult. At the same time, the cost of sport is high; depending on the sport, the average annual cost can range from a few hundred dollars to multiple thousand.

That’s only half of it!

Jumping over the US-Canada border, in an article published on, age, race, and gender also play significant factors in participation. As players age, we see education, relationships and employment opportunities start to take a higher priority over sports. In addition, as players mature and gain a better grasp of language, blatant microaggressions are no longer easily overlooked. The build-up of noticeable microaggressions leads to games no longer being as fun. This correlation can be observed by the increase in the dropout rates as players age.

How do you Grow?

Players participate in sport for multiple reasons: friends, competition, travel, experience, and more. But, the most popular reason, at least for younger players, is fun. To ensure it is fun for all players – regardless of age, ethnicity, sex – the program has to be at the right level. Recreational programming is fantastic for all participants but it can lead to tension for players looking for a higher level of competition. Boredom can set in for those competitive players in rec sports. The opposite is true for competitive programming with recreational players: recreational players will become frustrated when they are outmatched and unable to contribute to the team.

Contributing to the program can be as little as showing up to the game – that may be all the player is interested in giving. With recreational programming, this could be perfect. With highly competitive teams, just showing up might not be enough. Setting the right expectations ensures players will get placed into correct programming for their success.

The pedigree of a player may give them an edge to their program. It is their historic knowledge of the game that provides them with an edge. It is important, to ensure that your registration process or player selections should be unbias (regardless of whether the bias is intentional or unintentional). Only by setting the tone at the executive level will it have a chance to be passed down to your team staff, and finally your members giving all an inclusive opportunity to participate.

Having the correct programming in place for player participation maximizes opportunities for success with those players that register. But, what about those that cannot afford it? In our previous article Media and Advertising, we spoke about the benefits of sport and exercise. It is important to battle as many of the leading causes of death as possible for the next generation. Ensuring that everyone in the community has access to these supports is something that can easily be done with in house support programs.

Where to Go from Here?

Before planning the next season, analyze the previous seasons' registrations, network with similar community organizations, and survey your executive and members for what can improve your program. Using the results from the feedback gathered, look to tailor programming for the market that you want to have. Through networking with similar community organizations and member feedback, there could be channels of programming easily added to your existing programming. Additional programming will then better support your community expanding your membership.

Through diversification of programs with clearly communicated expectations, you can guarantee your members will have a great experience. Forcing players into a poorly planned melting pot program is a recipe for disaster. Even worse would be to find out a program has changed as a result of a lack of planning and foresight. Nobody likes a bait and switch. By planning multiple programs your organization will have the ability to dynamically react to change in registration. Closing, cancelling, or event expanding programs as a result of registration shifts is not a big deal when this has been communicated at the time of registration. Include those excited about these programs in the planning process, with little additional effort their advocation for programs will help with your communication effort.

Parent sports organizations have recognized the importance of participant inclusion. Many now provide seminars on inclusion and diversity. US Lacrosse has a great course on cultural competency, it clearly illustrates the effects that snide comments, or microaggressions, can have on an individual. It talks about strengthening your organization by tapping into all athletic resources regardless of background. In Ontario, Canada, the Ontario Minor Hockey Association course Gender Identity and Gender Expression Training provides resources for education and the importance of allowing one to express themselves as an individual. Utilizing the resources available to you, making them available to your executive and members, and implementing minor changes to your administration you could tap into additional athletes through a fully inclusive process.

By removing social barriers for participants and ensuring inclusive programming, you are going to increase potential registrations. However, the economics of sport remains. As a large organization, you may be able to develop assistance programs for those in need. Controlling access to programs is important, but just as important is making the access control not feel like the applicant has to: prove how poor they are. Smaller or cash strapped organizations should look to the community for connections to provide the support that does not come directly from the organization. Finally, a list of resources of alternate organizations that can provide support, such as government grants or corporate support allowing your members' anonymous access to help.

In conclusion

Creating a core organizational culture of inclusion will enable you to maximize your access to potential members. It strengthens the bond of your members in your organization and will allow you to grow with subtle changes to your existing policies.

Providing a variety of programming that is communicated clearly to ensure member expectations are set from the beginning. Including program leaders in the design will open up advocations and promotion giving programs a bigger chance for success.

Spend time educating your executive about inclusion. This will ensure you continue to provide great programming with an expanded audience. It will make sure that all peoples feel included and will form a greater bond between members across your organization.

Finally, look at opportunities to decrease financial commitments for participant registrations. Larger organizations may be able to do this in house. Others can reach out and connect with community leaders that can provide the same support, failing that collate resources of corporate and government grants enabling support for your members.

Being an inclusive organization with a diverse program offering and the lowest bar possible for entry will ensure that you can maximize registration and grow your community in the strongest way possible.

Kids aren't playing enough sports. The culprit? Cost - August 11, 2019 -

Sports Participation Gap Exists Between Youth from Lower-Income and Middle-Income Families - July 18, 2019 -

Race & income, plus related challenges, create complex sport participation barriers, say industry leaders - October 24, 2020 -