Eighteen months ago, the COVID pandemic threw Australian sport into a tailspin as Australian society ground to a halt. Shops and offices closed. Sporting behaviours ingrained over decades disappeared overnight. But now, with vaccination targets on schedule for most states, life is about to return to a new normal.

Yet, what of the many community sporting clubs forced to merge with another entity or sadly shut their doors? How do they begin re-engaging with players, members, spectators and volunteers?

Return to sport toolkit

Sport Australia has developed a Return to Sport Toolkit that includes a suite of resources to help sporting organisations to get ready to recommence training, competitions and programs in a safe, responsible and low-risk manner.

The toolkit includes easy to use templates and step-by-step checklists for organisations to follow when planning a return of sporting activities for the community.

Note too that each sport (at National, State and Association/Zone Member levels) has its own COVID-19 Safety Plan in place that is available to all Grassroots Community sports organisations. If the individual sport does not, then they are not performing their duties responsibly. Checklists, QR codes, attendance registers as well many other guidelines are available from various organisations.

Supporting a safe return to sports

I recommend organisations appoint a committee person (or a sub-committee) to lead the return to sport using a recognised strategy that builds on the AIS Framework for Rebooting Sport. The Return to Sport Toolkit being the prime example because it offers step-by-step guidance in a four-stage strategy. For example:

  • Plan– gives easy to follow templates that help implement plans, processes and systems to meet government and health requirements and provide safe sports environments.
  • Prepare – offers strategic steps to ensure safe facility and participant practices, like hygiene, attendance registers at training and limited shared equipment as much as possible.
  • Respond – outlines how to be prepared to manage a COVID-19 outbreak, noting how things can change quickly in a local area.
  • Recover – suggests consideration of protocols to optimise good public and participant health in the future

Free hands-on help

If engaging a committee to organise a return to sport isn’t feasible, consider contacting students studying sports management. Work placement is a part of their degree completion so they’ll welcome the opportunity for any hands-on experience. Volunteers and retirees are another option when seeking motivated helpers keen to encourage healthy communities through sport.

Big sports challenges ahead

The big challenges now are getting people to re-engage with community sports as they redefine life outside of lockdowns.

Grassroots sports will play a vital role for the community in winning back the hearts and minds of a lot of people looking to participate in organised activities.

Ongoing community sports participation

My suggestion is to focus on promoting the primary motivations for playing community sport like:

  • improving physical fitness
  • boosting mental health
  • positive social engagement

Gone are the days of promoting community sport as just fun and enjoyment. Post-COVID people  want physical activity that aligns with their new evolving lifestyles.

Now is the time to rethink the most effective way to promote and support ongoing participation for all community members.

However, identifying the primary motivators for re-engaging in community sports is not only for the players.  Determining what will motivate coaches, umpires/referees, spectators, volunteers, and other stakeholders to re-engage in your organisation is just as important.

Sport is an excellent vehicle for bringing people together post-COVID.

I use a vision statement that epitomises this:

Every member of our community will experience the teamwork and social inclusion created by participating in their chosen sport as we work together to define our new normal.

Further resources

For further COVID-19 resources, policies, and guidelines developed across the Australian sport sector visit the Clearinghouse for Sport website.