Community grass pitches need improvement suggest GMA report

1.4m more children could play sports weekly, if community grass pitches were improved suggests the latest report from the Grounds Management Association (GMA), which reveals need for more investment, volunteers and resources to kick-start and boost grassroots sport participation post lockdown. 

The report by the not-for-profit membership organisation for the grounds sector released today (13 May, 2020), reveals that junior participation levels in rugby and football could increase by almost 1.4 million (1,376,252) children every week, and in cricket, by almost half a million (489,859) per season. With the right investment, guidance and care, a massive 4 million more children’s football matches could be played on existing pitches every year, post the current COVID-19. 

The data, gathered through national Playing Pitch Strategies, the Grounds and Natural Turf Investment Programme (GaNTIP)* data, and a national survey of over 4,000 people, shows the huge opportunity for change.

With the nation desperate for sport to resume, and many individuals being more active than ever before, the GMA is calling for volunteers, investment, and more resources to improve access to community-level sport.

Limiting play

The report also highlights the impact if nothing is done. Over the next decade, one in five football and rugby players, and half of cricket players will be left unable to play weekly or seasonally. This equates to over half a million players a week, and 170,000 players during a cricket season.

Geoff Webb, CEO at GMA, says, during COVID-19 lockdown: “Across the world, playing and watching sport has been sorely missed. We’ve realised how much it means to us. 

“After a season of no sport, now is the time to ensure pitches are playable when games resume.  We know that if we act now, we can turn the tide and even improve access to local grass pitches. But, without immediate long-term investment and care, the huge benefits of sport for mental and physical health, community cohesion and the economy, will be lost to millions every year.”

Jason Booth, Director of Technical and Learning, adds:

“We have around 56,891 rugby union and league, football, and cricket pitches in England today. That’s one pitch for every 984 people. While pitch improvement programmes such as GaNTIP* are making huge strides, more needs to be done to support grassroots sports and increase playability. With the right approach we can reduce cancellations, increase year round participation, engage new participants and promote active lifestyles.”

Get involved

The research found that pitches play an important role in our communities, for both children and adults. 57% of adults think playing local team sports is a fundamental national pastime, and over half (54%) think having teams play sport locally has a positive impact on their area.

A quarter of British children aged 7-18 think playing team sports locally is good for their communities and 64% want more grass pitches in their area. GMA is therefore calling for people to enter the profession, either as volunteers or professionals, to increase participation levels in our local communities.

Despite the enthusiasm for local grounds, many young people aren’t entering the grounds management profession, and one in five grounds managers will be leaving the profession in the next 10 years, leading to a perfect storm when it comes to pitch care. Only 19% of children are currently considering a job in grounds management. This means the UK does not have the workforce to stop the crisis.

Geoff Webb continues: “While play isn’t currently happening, we’re urging people to get involved and contact local teams right now. The whole nation – government, sports bodies and members of the public who love sport – must help kick start sport as we are freed from restrictions. 

Sports turf volunteers and professionals are key to having surfaces ready for play, beyond this season of no sport. Through investing in local pitches, valuing the role ground staff play, encouraging more volunteering, or promoting careers in the profession, we can get more people playing sport than ever before.

The GMA’s report suggests that without a force of grounds teams working on community pitches sport will be lost to many, so the organisation has put a strategy forward for making sport possible. 

This call to action is welcomed by many across grassroots sports including  Andy Salt Chairman of North Staffordshire Turbshaw Cross Playing Fields.

“The backbone of maintaining our pitches is a core team of five volunteers,” he explains.  We do the day-to-day pitch maintenance. Four out of the five of us have done GMA level1 training. 

“What motivates me to volunteer is doing it for the kids – you want them to have something good to play on so they can get maximum enjoyment out of training and playing. Then, once you get into it, pride kicks in and you want to have the best possible pitches. 

“At our club, we’ve had over 1,500 volunteer hours in a 12-month period.” 

Geoff concludes: 

“The skill of groundstaff, be they paid professionals or volunteers, and the crucial part they play in enabling sport to take place, must be recognised.  Alongside all the benefits they bring to individuals, teams, and the local community – its crucial to invest time and money in our pitches right now so we can all get back to play.”

Whilst play is currently restricted, it’s possible to sign-up with local teams and take specialist online training, to start the volunteering journey right now. Find out more here:

*GaNTIP is an ongoing collaboration between Grounds Management Association, The Football Association, Football Foundation, and The England & Wales Cricket Board, supported by Sport England

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