|Trying to fit playing sport around work and having a social life is difficult especially when you haven’t played since leaving school or university. What can be done to help rectify this? In 2010 England Netball created Back to Netball, an initiative which has helped encourage women who thought their playing days were over to get back into the sport. The campaign has been hugely successful with over 60,000 women getting back into netball which has naturally benefited the sport from grassroots to the elite game.|
England Hockey took a leaf out of the same book a few years back to create their own Back to Hockey campaign – using eye-catching creative to get lapsed players back into the sport, more recently evolving the initiative to make it as relevant and powerful to audiences as possible.
Reinventing Back to Hockey
2014 was a hugely successful year for the initiative, with 53% of players stating they wanted to take part in more Back to Hockey sessions within the club environment. This subsequently saw over 2,500 players regularly attend Back to Hockey sessions across England. To innovate for this year’s campaign, England Hockey connected with Sport England campaign ‘This Girl Can’, which has helped to improve and build upon the marketing of the initiative.
By using the same principle as Back to Netball, England Hockey have been encouraging hockey clubs to reach out into their local communities and encourage former players – women in particular – to put on their trainers and head towards their local club. Attracting female players back into sport has traditionally been a difficult task as there are numerous barriers to participation for them, therefore, the investment that governing bodies make towards similar campaigns is vital towards their success. Not only are England Hockey making the scheme more appealing to clubs by emphasising the potential of attracting new members, they are also encouraging clubs to use their own social media channels to help spread the word of the initiative further afield.
My own hockey club, Winchmore Hill and Enfield HC, has taken part in Back to Hockey this year, which has seen a massive positive impact within the club, as well as a growing interest in hockey from media within our local community. With the sports pages traditionally dominated by football and cricket, our local paper has helped us advertise the weekly sessions, which has widened our search for new ‘lapsed’ recruits. With the help of new creative content from the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, there has been a focus on combining simple skill-based drills with games, which has helped to slowly introduce lapsed players back into the sport.
Not only have we gained new members who have already started playing in our summer league teams, attendees have loved the laid back, enjoyable style of each session, which has seen us retain 70% of attendees from the first sessions we ran. From my own experience of the campaign, I’ve noticed a huge positive effect it has had, not only on our club members volunteering to coach and umpire each session, but also on how much the lapsed players have grown in confidence since we launched our weekly Back to Hockey sessions a few weeks ago. This has been particularly evident in our female players.
New Marketing Approach
In marketing terms, England Hockey’s tie-up with ‘This Girl Can’ has allowed them to produce a variety of content with a similar creative look and feel. The content has been shared via the governing body’s social media channels, which the participating Back to Hockey clubs across the nation have reciprocated through their own channels. Aligning with the high-profile ‘This Girl Can’ campaign has given Back to Hockey a shot in the arm, and allowed them to reach a wider target audience than it would have done previously. Using copy and imagery which is both inviting and current, especially for a more predominant female audience, has allowed the campaign to become much more relatable for the lapsed players.
This new content has also seen England Hockey completely readdress their current marketing of the women’s team, which previously would have had the same approach as the men’s. England Hockey have not only identified that when they are promoting the women’s team to a female audience they shouldn’t be focusing on the physical nature of the sport, but also that they should be showcasing the sport in a different environment. Profiling the women’s team in articles like The Daily Telegraph’s recent piece has highlighted the current shift in perception of the sport, which has seen an increased appetite for televised coverage of matches and internationals to be played within the UK.
England Hockey and England Netball have created impressive and engaging initiatives that challenge the significant drop-off in sports participation between school and adult life, with England Hockey’s connection to ‘This Girl Can’ hugely aiding their cause.
Is this simple concept something that other sports can learn from and adapt to their own sports? I definitely think so.