22 May 2023

Research investigates Covid-19 impact on children’s sport and exercise

Study to analyse sports participation trends for children and young people in Scotland

A child swimming in an indoor pool, wearing red goggles

Researchers at Abertay University in Dundee are seeking the help of children and young people (and their parents) across Scotland to develop a deeper understanding of sport activity levels and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the pandemic, all countries witnessed an unprecedented challenge to activity levels, with organised sport and exercise sessions halted as the stay-at-home mandate and other restrictions were imposed.

Habits shifted overnight, with walking and online exercise classes such as ‘Body Coach’ Joe Wicks’ PE sessions increasing in popularity as families coped with isolation and home schooling.

Now, three years on from the first national lockdown, Abertay University’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences is collaborating with the Observatory for Sport in Scotland (OSS) and the Data for Children Collaborative (DCC) at University of Edinburgh on a survey aimed at better understanding the data around activity undertaken by children and young people before, during and after the pandemic.

This work is intended to offer actionable insights to help inform resource priorities that address participation declines and drop-offs in sport at national and local levels.

Linking to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals on ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing, the survey is open to anyone aged 5-18, and is available to every school in Scotland.

Participants (or their parents or guardians) will fill in an online form and, if they wish, can choose to upload photographs and provide additional details on what sport and exercise activities might look like in Scotland in an ideal world.

The study also includes questions about the impact that the easing of restrictions may have had and barriers to being active that individuals may have faced on a personal level.

In the coming weeks, the Abertay University research team will also be visiting schools across Scotland to carry out inclusive and interactive engagement sessions, where children can choose to draw pictures or maps explaining their favourite activities, take part in sports challenges and talk directly to the researchers about their participation levels.

Lead researcher Dr Paula Murray, a lecturer on Abertay’s Sport Development and Coaching programme and OSS Research Associate, is leading the project in collaboration with University colleagues, Dr David Scott, Dr Rhiannon Lord and teaching fellow Julia Chan.

Dr Murray said there was a need for a greater understanding in Scotland of the impact of Covid-19 of levels of activity.

She added: “Scotland already suffered from holding patchy data on the levels of children and young people’s recreational sport and exercise participation prior to the pandemic and it’s important that we have strong and reliable datasets if we are to make informed choices about where the country’s limited budget resources should be directed to address declines in participation.

“It’s impossible to overstate the essential role that promoting recreational sport participation has in tackling health and societal issues such as obesity, anti-social behaviour and crime, and by better understanding the activities that children and young people favour we can help to plan a more targeted approach. I want this research to be genuinely inclusive and that’s why we will also be visiting schools across the country to engage with young people directly.”

David Ferguson, Chief Executive of the Observatory for Sport in Scotland, said: “It is great to have Abertay University as our academic partner on what is a very important study to start to build a better understanding of children’s sport activity levels in all shapes and forms. This will be a very positive study that we hope will provide up-to-date insight and evidence on why children and young people are now dropping out of sport activity, what impact, if any, Covid has had on that, and, crucially, how children and young people think we can address it. So, I would encourage children and young people, and their parents, to take part in this research and play a part in shaping a more inclusive, active future for all of our young people.”

Fraser Macdonald, Deputy Director at the Data for Children Collaborative said: “This collaboration highlights the power of academia, the private and public sectors working together, and how each of those areas brings different strengths to look at a problem in a new way. The unique aspect of this project is our focus on combining national-level data with real-life experiences, building a 360 view of how young people, families, and organisations have been impacted. We look forward to shedding new light and improving outcomes for young people across Scotland."

The research is being undertaken as part of a collaboration with the OSS, DCC, Mulier Institute and private data companies, with the aim of improving Scotland’s data through:

Share This

Pause carousel

Play carousel