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Research Case studies

Gymnastics research has wide reaching impact


In April 2011 British Gymnastics (BG) commissioned Leeds Beckett University to undertake research to find out more about the children, young people and adults who participate and perform in gymnastics in its many different disciplines and forms. The work has had a significant impact on BG’s strategy and programmes including ‘Gymnastics for All’ and coaching. This case study provides a brief overview of the work and highlights the difference it has made.

The research

BG wanted to know more about the types of individuals who participate and perform in gymnastics. Leeds Beckett was commissioned after undertaking similar work for the British Canoe Union and Rugby Football League.

There were two stages to the work:

  • a thorough review of all secondary quantitative data relevant to gymnastics participation including ‘Taking Part’ data for children and ‘Active People’ data for adults as well as examining BG’s membership data.
  • interviews were also undertaken with 10 gymnastics experts and BG staff and with 40 participants, parents, coaches in four clubs settings. The work was completed in final report form by February 2012.
The results

The research produced a participant and performer segmentation approach based on age-stage and motivation to engage in the sport. The analysis suggested eight age-stages: 0-4 years, 5-7 years, 8-11 years, 12-14 years, 15-16 years, 17-18 years, 19-21 years and 22 years and over. The analysis suggested six main motivations to engage in the sport: ‘movement and skill development’, ‘flexibility, strength and fitness’, ‘dance, display and socialise’, ‘compete’, ‘compete at the highest level’, and ‘help others’. This provided the following tools for analysing participation and performance in gymnastics:

Eight segments were identified in total: ‘Early start’, ‘exploring the options’, ‘late start’, ’flexibility, strength and fitness’, ‘dance, display and socialise’, ’compete’, ‘talent and performance’, and ‘guiding and helping’.

For each segment detailed descriptive information was provided: age, motivations for engagement, entry routes, physical characteristics and development, psychological characteristics and development, family/friends, other influences, sport structures, environments, activities, coaching, other support/services, progression / exit Routes, information on drop-out.

The research suggested that the segment information should be used to inform BG’s overall strategic approach to ‘Gymnastics for All’ as well as targeted programme development for specific segments. A notable feature of the work was the suggestion that there should be more variety and improved coaching in the 5-11 years age range to address drop-out from the sport. It was also suggested that there should be more product options for older gymnasts and boys.

The impact of research

“The participant model project has … given us the insight needed to underpin our strategic and operational planning in certain areas. It was also a key component in the writing of our Sport England Whole Sport Plan 2013-2017, allowing us to focus our efforts on the areas that should produce the greatest impact in terms of retaining and growing participation in gymnastics.” Jane Allen, Chief Executive Officer, British Gymnastics, June 2012.

“The research provided within the ‘Further Development of the Participant Model’ has enabled us to better understand the motivation of our participants and therefore strongly evidence and shape our ‘Gymnastics for All’ mass participation and retention strategy for the next four years” Gemma Barton, Gymnastics For All Manager, British Gymnastics, July 2013.


For example, programme resources have been developed for:

  • ‘Gym Fit’ based on the ‘flexibility, strength and fitness’ segment.
  • ‘Gym Challenge’ based on the ‘compete’ segment.
  • ‘My Leaders Academy’ based on the ‘guiding and helping’ segment

The research has been also used to inform the common core units in UKCC Level 1-3. BG puts 1000s of coaches through its UKCC programmes every year impacting on participants right across the UK.

The Participant Model was well received by coaches at two club conferences. For example, the Participant Model was used by leading coach Paul Hall (coach of Louis Smith) to inform his club’s provision showing impact in the club network.

In sum, these programme changes are likely to impact on many thousands of coaches and participants in gymnastics every year.

gymnastics students

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