NS EXCLUSIVE: Motivators and barriers for participation of teenagers in sport

NS EXCLUSIVE: Motivators and barriers for participation of teenagers in sport

By |2021-05-03T17:26:43+10:00May 3rd, 2021|Categories: Featured, Opinion, UK|Tags: , |0 Comments

It is widely known that participating in sport comes with a lot of benefits. It can improve your mental wellbeing – such as assisting in reducing stress and anxiety, increasing your confidence, improving your physical health, and it can create more diverse social connections. This is why the lack of teenage participation in sport – particularly for girls – is so concerning; so many teenage girls are missing out on these life-improving benefits. A staggering one in three girls who participate in an organised sport drop out in their teenage years. It is estimated that only around 15% of teenage girls actually achieve the recommended levels of daily physical activity. So, what are the reasons behind these statistics, and what can be done to help? 



The teenage years are an important time for education. For example, in the United Kingdom (UK), students sit their GCSEs and A-Levels when they are around the ages of 16 and 18 respectively, and the results they obtain in these play a huge part in shaping their future. 

Educational pressures are a common barrier for teenage participation in sport. Teenagers want to focus on education. This can result in them missing training sessions, or quitting sport all together. Typically, the decision to not attend training sessions happens more commonly around exam seasons. The coronavirus pandemic has further impacted this lack of attendance as it has led to most, if not all, exams being cancelled – leaving the exam grades that affect their future up to the discretion of the teachers. More and more teenagers are deciding to neglect training sessions because every piece of work they do can impact their grade. Unfortunately, this means that many teenagers are missing out on the benefits that sport can have on their school work. 

Netball, and sport in general, can provide a welcomed break from the school workload. Burning off energy can help students concentrate better on what they have to do. It is essential that teenagers get a good work-life balance in order for them to perform at their best throughout their education. In some cases, sticking with sport can also equip teenagers with essential skills and opportunities for their future endeavours. For example, if a teenager decides to attend university, they can take up the opportunity of joining a club. This is a perfect way to make new friends in a situation in which they are comfortable. Also, universities commonly look for individuals who have a strong balance between academic and extra-curricular success. Today, so much pressure is applied to students in terms of their education that they are not achieving this work-life balance.

Some of these pressures are also applied from parents. Some parents believe that their child’s education is of utmost priority; they do not believe that it is possible to maintain great grades whilst pursuing a sport at a high level. Sometimes, teenagers are encouraged to leave the sport they enjoy because their parents don’t believe it is essential, or they think that their children are not capable of balancing it with their school work. Even though parents may believe this is the best decision for their child’s future, there is a chance that it may actually be detrimental to their achievements. Taking breaks has been shown to be important in recovering from stress which, in turn, can improve performance. 

Essentially, teenagers are simply struggling with time management. Not only is this caused by educational pressures, but also by other extra-curricular demands. It is imperative that teenagers are helped to manage their time in the most beneficial way possible. By identifying and implementing time saving tips, techniques and strategies, students can succeed academically as well as athletically. For example, using a calendar for school and sports can help a teenager stay organised. A fixed schedule can actually help alleviate lethargy – you will feel motivated to attend what you have already committed to instead of giving up after a long day. 

Sport can be a welcome break from studies. Image May Bailey



Coaches are an integral part of a teenager’s netball experience. They are responsible for shaping the individual’s playing style and are a huge influence in their opinion of the sport. Often, coaches make a huge contribution to the player’s development, but unfortunately, they can sometimes be a barrier for teenagers participating in netball. Sometimes, coaches can be biased and devote their attention to a select few players. This might be those players who perform at a higher level, display a better mental attitude, or whose personalities mesh with their own.

This can create a negative club atmosphere because some players may feel like they’re not valued, or unequal opportunities even within one team. For example, some players feel as though they aren’t given equal court time. This can drastically damage the confidence of the players, as well as having a detrimental effect on their opinion of netball. Occasionally, players may be made to feel guilty or uncomfortable if they are unable to attend training sessions or matches due to external factors. Teenagers won’t develop their skills, or a love for the sport, if they are instructed by a coach who doesn’t motivate them and who has no belief in them. Without the support from a coach, players could deem themselves as worthless and not good enough to participate in the sport anymore. 

A good coach can be a huge motivator for teenage players, and totally transform their quality of play and opinion of the sport. It is clear when a coach has a lot of passion for netball. They outwardly radiate this passion and enthusiasm and this is a huge motivator for their teenage players. When coaches are inspiring, players will often put in that extra bit of effort to impress them and make them proud. Sometimes, players will set aside time to work on developing their netball skills outside training sessions because they feel encouraged and motivated to better themselves. A great coach helps their players achieve things that wouldn’t be possible without them – such as giving them the opportunity to play in a higher league in order to push themselves against harder opposition or preparing players for national squads. 

Support from coaches is also crucial. Players will perform at their best when they have a great relationship with their coach. This often means that their coach is there to support them, even outside of netball. Teenagers want to be respected and are at the age where they no longer want to be viewed as a child, so developing a more personal relationship with a coach can be a motivator for them because they feel as though they are equal. If a coach believes in their player and displays this, the player’s self confidence will begin to grow and they will also begin believing in themselves. Many players feel that it is important for a coach to take the sport seriously; they want to receive constructive criticism in order to improve their game, instead of just doing it purely for enjoyment. When coaches come across as harsh, it’s important to remember that they invariably only want what is best for their players.

The feedback that teenagers receive is also a factor in their level of motivation. Many find that praise is a huge motivator. It instils a strong sense of confidence in them that encourages them to try their hardest and perform at their best. Praise allows teenagers to feel a sense of pride in what they’re able to accomplish. Praise is especially beneficial for younger players; players who are just starting out and lack the sense of confidence that more experienced players often have. However, praise alone won’t enable the development of a player’s skills – constructive criticism is essential to further their skills. It is imperative that, when criticism is given to teenagers, it is only given in a constructive manner. Teenagers often feel that they lose motivation when they are only spoken to about what they’ve done wrong without being informed on how to improve. Constant negative feedback suggests that they are being judged and deemed inadequate. This can create a negative atmosphere – leading to stress. 

The team captain can also be motivational, and responsible for creating a positive club atmosphere and increasing team morale. As another figure of leadership within the team, they are able to motivate their peers. When a captain is clearly passionate and enthusiastic, it can be an inspiration for others. Also, when a team is losing, a team captain can inject hope and enthusiasm into the rest of their players. This can give the team the motivation they need to be resilient right up until the final whistle. Captains must also be very supportive – if they have a negative and judgemental attitude, team captains can create pressure amongst their teammates – the players can feel stressed and under pressure to impress and not disappoint their team captain. 


Constructive criticism from coaches is effective, but needs to be carefully managed. Image May Bailey


Health and Fitness

Sport comes with a variety of health and fitness benefits. For example, it can help control your body weight, lower the risk of major illnesses, and improve aerobic fitness and cardiovascular health. The various health benefits are a motivator for teenage participation in sport. Teenagers attend a training session with knowledge of the benefits that they will gain from attending. Some players find that if you maintain a healthy lifestyle outside of netball then it actually aids in encouraging them to attend. If they believe they have eaten well and made healthy choices throughout the day, then they can feel highly motivated to go to training and finish the day well. 

Of course, netball can take its toll on a players’ bodies – resulting in injuries. Injuries are definitely a barrier to participation. Unfortunately, as within all sport, injuries are sometimes unavoidable. Injuries can have quite a big impact mentally, as well as physically. Some players will never feel as though they’ve played their best after a match if they are struggling with a recurring injury. If a player overthinks this, there is a risk that they may start feeling almost like a burden to the team because they don’t feel as though they are performing well enough. It is important that coaches and teammates support players through injuries so that they still feel like a vital part of the team, and they are still congratulated for playing well. 

When a teenage player gets injured, there is a danger that they won’t allow the injury the proper time to heal. Although having a lot of passion for netball is great, they may be over-eager and return to playing netball before it’s properly safe to do so due to the fear of missing out on big opportunities. After an injury, especially a recurring injury, it is vital that players work out their limits and don’t push too hard, and that coaches are very respectful of their players’ injuries. 

Issues relating to puberty can also be a barrier to teenage participation in sport. This is particularly apparent when a young girl starts menstruation. For some, it can be difficult to know how to manage periods with sport. Often, side effects occur – these can sometimes be quite severe, such as extreme abdominal pain. Such side effects will make it difficult to be able to continue playing if the individuals aren’t sure how best to manage it. Exercise and being active is actually a good way of reducing symptoms whilst menstruating.

Menstruation also takes a toll on a teenager’s mental wellbeing. Throughout the menstruation cycle, hormones change regularly. These changes can result in mood changes, changing levels of motivation and energy, and changes in appetite. It is very understandable that these changes may dissuade teenagers from participating in sport. Older peers should be trying their best to educate young teenagers on how to manage these changes throughout puberty so that there is a maximised chance of teenagers being able to continue participating in netball – and sport in general. 


Participating in sport has many positive advantages in a healthy lifestyle, but teenagers face some specific challenges. Image May Bailey



The crowd can have a range of impacts on a player. It can be a barrier because it can add an intense amount of pressure. Sometimes, players feel that this pressure is increased when the crowd consists of people they know – such as close friends – because they feel as though they need to impress them. This is especially prominent when it is someone who doesn’t regularly watch – there is an added pressure for the player to show those watching what they’re capable of. 

Occasionally, a crowd can be partially responsible for a negative atmosphere at a match. If the audience becomes very involved in the match, there is a danger that comments will be made and directed at the players on the court which are meant, or are taken, personally. This can include members of the crowd verbally making their opinions known when they don’t agree with the decision of the umpire. These negative comments can knock the confidence of teenage players, and drastically demotivate them. 

Some players feel that the crowd had a bigger impact when they are younger and, as they have gotten older and matured, they have learnt to manage the pressures of an audience. Sometimes, teenagers feel as though the crowd can be a distraction – they can lose their focus on the game. This distraction, as well as the added pressure, can sometimes lead to mistakes being made within the game.

The crowd can be a huge motivator for teenagers as well. Often, players find that having a big crowd can fire them up. Cheering and applause can help generate an adrenaline rush which assists in providing teenagers the motivation they need to perform at their best. The praise that the crowd sometimes gives is a huge motivator for teenagers because it can make them feel appreciated and proud of what they are achieving. Some players feel they are actually more motivated when there is a male audience watching. This is because some males believe that netball is an inferior sport, so players want to perform at their best in order to prove to them that netball is a valid sport that requires a lot of skill. It is common for teenagers to care a lot about how others view them. The wish to impress the crowd can also act as a motivator because teenagers want to try their hardest so that others have a good opinion of them and their play. 

There can also be an increased element of pressure when parents are watching their children’s matches. Teenagers often desperately want to impress their parents in order to make them proud. This added pressure can either be a motivator, or it can hinder performance because players can start to overthink. There is a risk that, if a child doesn’t ‘perform’ as expected, their parents may criticise their child and visibly show their disappointment. These parents, while often well-intended, may end up being too hard on their child in an attempt to increase their quality of play. Despite this, having a parent present at a match can be a huge benefit. When parents know their child well, they will be able to provide them with beneficial advice from an outsiders point of view.


Supporters can be a positive influence on participating in sport. Image May Bailey


Wellbeing Aspect of Sport 

Participating in netball can have an effect on your mental wellbeing. Primarily, this is a beneficial and motivational impact. Exercise is an excellent stress relief – sweating and burning off energy can be very helpful after a stressful day. The mind is distracted by the sport, and exercise actually reduces the levels of the stress hormones in your body. Exercise also greatly assists in improving your mood as it stimulates the production of endorphins. Additionally, playing netball can create a sense of pride. Players can often feel proud of themselves when they achieve something they have worked hard towards. This can lead to an increase in overall confidence as the teenager is growing up and maturing. Self belief and a positive mindset are almost essential to succeed in sport. 

However, the negative effects that sport can have on your mental wellbeing can’t be ignored. Occasionally, participating in sport can knock your confidence. If a player personally feels as though they aren’t playing well, they can feel inferior and not good enough, which can have a detrimental impact on their motivation. Sometimes, teenagers may even blame themselves for a loss. This is especially prominent if the teenager is playing with older players – they may feel it is their fault because they are the youngest players. There is also the fear that they are being judged by others. For most teenagers, the opinion their peers have of them is of great importance – so they are often worrying about other people’s opinions of them and their play. There is also a small risk that those who are heavily involved in netball can feel mentally exhausted from it – they dedicate a lot of time to netball and it can feel as though they have no time for anything else. This can be a barrier for teenagers participating in netball because teenagers need time to pursue other activities. 

Often, players are motivated to stick with netball because of the love they have for the sport. The love of netball is motivational, and the majority of players miss it when they haven’t played it in a while. The absence of playing time during the COVID-19 pandemic made this quite prominent – some countries have gone about a year without being able to play netball. It is important that players love and enjoy what they are doing — this will help give them the motivation to improve. When they are passionate about something, they will probably display a high level of commitment. Commitment serves as a big form of encouragement to attend training sessions and matches. 

Motivation for netball often comes from inspiration. When a teenager sees a professional playing to a high standard, they can feel inspired to work harder in an attempt to emulate the professional’s play. Elite players can be role models for younger players. Younger players should be encouraged to watch elite players – whether it be the national leagues, or international matches. This is because players can learn a lot from watching others – if someone focuses on a player in their position, they can begin imitating their style of play. This can be very educational and can develop their play because younger players will begin picking up on the skills and movements required to improve their performance in their position. 

Big events, such as the 2019 Netball World Cup, are also excellent for inspiration. It was the best-sold Netball World Cup to date. England Netball experienced a 1,000% increase in visits to its online netball session finder at the end of the Netball World Cup, in comparison to two weeks before the event – showing that this massive event inspired a lot of people throughout the UK who weren’t already playing netball. Inspiration doesn’t always have to come from elite players. Some teenagers are inspired by their peers – for example, those who have made it onto the national squads. What their peers have been able to achieve can be extremely inspirational and motivational.

Teenagers will often follow professionals who they see as role models on social media. This is great because, as most teenagers use social media daily, they will be getting frequent exposure to inspirational content. However, some players feel as though this isn’t always beneficial. As with a lot of content on social media, what teenagers are exposed to isn’t always attainable or realistic. There is a risk that teenagers will be aiming for some goals that aren’t really feasible, and they could be disappointed if they don’t reach that level. However, on the whole, social media really is beneficial for motivating teenagers. Social media is actually a very important tool for promoting netball because the sport doesn’t receive the same coverage and exposure as a lot of male-dominated sports. 

As with all sports, netball can be very competitive, and players have differing opinions on how this impacts the game and their motivation for it. For some people, this can be a barrier for teenagers participating in sport because they find the sport becomes unenjoyable when it becomes too competitive. They believe it loses its element of fun and there is too much pressure on something that should be done for enjoyment. At club level, although there needs to be a level of competitiveness, it’s important that not too much pressure is applied to those who only want to do it for the enjoyment of the sport. Too much pressure can make people feel intimidated.


Covid enforced lockdown has limited participation in sport. Image Simon Leonard


A highly competitive game can also create a lot of stress. There is a chance that players may blame themselves for a loss even when it isn’t just down to them. They may feel demotivated if they don’t believe that they’ve performed at their best. Sometimes, teenagers apply a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed and not disappoint themselves and their peers. Some people also believe that netball in a school environment is more competitive – it is often taken very seriously. There are commonly rivalries between different schools. This can lead to bad relationships because often any negativity that happens in a match is continued outside of netball. 

A lot of players feel that good competition is a huge motivator. Players can be encouraged to try their hardest out of desperation to succeed and do well. Healthy competition is important because it can bring out the best in people. A competitive mindset gives players a focus and is a great source of encouragement. Competitiveness is a big motivator because players will always want to better themselves in an attempt to improve. 

Often, players will try hard in a match when they feel that the player marking them is doing better than they are – they will push themselves in an effort to be the best. If a player feels as though they aren’t playing their best, this can actually be a motivator for them to try their best. This is because they often have high standards for themselves and they want to succeed. Additionally, a tight game can be very motivational because players want to take the win, and the stress of a tense match can serve in the favour of the players because the stress can provide them with an adrenaline rush. 

Many players feel as though having goals is a really important motivator. It enables them to find small wins even when the match isn’t going their way. For example, if a coach sets a goal for one quarter and the team succeeds, they will feel motivated and it can help lessen the disappointment if the team loses. Goals are also great because they give players a specific focus to train on. It can also be very motivational when you achieve a goal and you can see improvement. For a lot of teenage players, seeing improvements is a huge motivator because they can see that the work they’re putting in is paying off. Achievement is also a huge motivator. For example, teenagers may feel inspired to keep working hard when they receive tangible rewards for their efforts – such as certificates and trophies to celebrate their work. 

Another pressure teenagers believe can affect their game is the pressure of expectations. When a player is a member of a national squad, or on the top team in a league, they can feel that there are expectations for them to perform at a high level. Even though this pressure can invoke some stress, it can be a big motivator for some players who hold themselves to a high standard. They also feel motivated because they want to maintain their good reputation, and retain their place on one of the top teams. 


Goal setting is important in gaining confidence. Image Simon Leonard


Social Aspect

The social aspect is an exceptionally important part of netball. It can be a huge motivator. For some players, friends are one of the biggest factors in their decision to continue participating in netball. They gain a lot of enjoyment from spending time with friends at training and matches. Netball also creates many great opportunities to extend a friendship circle – players meet people and gain friends that they wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to meet. This means that teenagers are able to have a much more diverse group of friends. 

In a team environment, players can become close friends; sometimes almost forming a family. This is especially prominent within national teams when they are representing their country in an international tournament. A great bond between teammates can improve the team’s performance. If seven players are all playing an individual game and not working well together, there is a very slim chance that they will succeed – whereas seven individuals working in harmony will increase their chances of success. Even if there isn’t a great bond, teammates must at least respect each other. It is also of paramount importance that teammates motivate one another. 

Words of encouragement from peers can be very motivational. It can be especially beneficial when older and more experienced teammates are able to encourage and give advice to younger peers because it will assist in their development, and confidence. It is also vital that players look out for, and support each other. Knowing that players have each others’ backs will form a strong bond between them and can help them unlock their full playing potential. Especially in high pressure situations, it is great to feel comfortable enough to be able to turn to teammates for support. Some players feel as though a loss actually hurts less when they have the support of a great team and know that everyone gave it their all. Good support can also help cheer up teammates if they feel as though they didn’t perform well. 


The family-like atmosphere of being part of a team is very important to teens. Image May Bailey


Despite the social aspect being very positive for the majority, there are, of course, some negative parts to it. The social aspect can be a barrier to teenagers participating. As typical within teenager’s friend groups, there can often be fallouts and individuals who don’t get along. This can be in relation to occurrences outside of netball. A player may be less willing to attend training sessions and matches if they don’t get along with the people that attend. A few teenagers also feel that they are sometimes excluded – such as having to partner with a coach during warmups. 

There is also a tendency for teenagers to feel judged. People feel as though they can’t join a club once they’re a teenager because they will be judged by those who have done it for awhile, and that they won’t be good enough. Some even feel intimidated by those who have been playing for a long time. People should be welcomed and encouraged into clubs at any age or ability. If players are made to feel comfortable in the playing environment, then they won’t feel the same amount of self doubt and they will be more motivated. They will also be less anxious about the possibility of peers talking about them behind their back – though, this is a very common worry within teenage culture. 

There are times when a team won’t perform at their best because of relationships within the team. There can be frustration if players feel that their peers aren’t trying hard, or aren’t working together. If a player’s teammates appear to not care about the match, it can be hard to find motivation. 

Good team morale and a positive attitude is important for motivating all the teammates. In addition to this, if an individual is heavily involved in netball, they may not have the time to see their friends outside of netball. For teenagers, having a social life is very important, but when someone is trying to balance education, work, and a lot of involvement in netball, it can be difficult to find time to have a proper social life. 

From talking to many teenage players, it is evident that there are a multitude of different motivators and barriers for teenagers participating in sport. It is of paramount importance that the teenage voice is heard, and that the netball community work together in order to try and break down the barriers and encourage teenagers to participate. Today’s teenagers are the future of netball.


Fun and a healthy sense of competition goes a long way in making team sport an enjoyable experience. Image May Bailey

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About the Author:

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To say I'm a huge fan of netball is definitely an understatement. Despite being from the Isle of Man which is only a small island, the netball community is amazing and has provided many opportunities for me to be heavily involved with the sport I love. I am the captain of my U17s team, and always support my club at other matches when I'm not playing. When I'm not playing or watching netball, I am a full time 6th Form student. I am doing an Extended Project Qualification alongside my main studies in which I am researching men's netball. I am very passionate about the unexplored topic of men's netball and promoting it because it can benefit netball as a whole, and I hope others can find the same enjoyment in netball as I do.
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