Athlete Voice: Listening to and Valuing the Voice of People Involved in Your Sport or Activity

British Athlete Survey

Listening is Key.

Being open to hearing and understanding the concerns and issues that may be affecting those taking part in your sport or activity will help your organisation protect staff, volunteers and participants from harm and abuse. It will also help reinforce what makes sport and activity such an enjoyable experience.

If you hear about things that aren’t going so well, you’ll know what areas to work on to make improvements in your organisation. But it doesn’t have to all be negative. Through asking, you’ll also learn what is working. You’ll find out what makes your sport or activity a safe and enjoyable environment that people want to return to.

Issues Affecting Women’s Elite Sport in Britain

The BBC recently carried out an Elite British Sport women’s Survey. They sent their survey to 1,068 women in 39 different sports, and received responses from just over half. The results offer some invaluable insight into issues and concerns within women’s elite sport in Britain.

The survey highlighted many inequalities between female and male elite athletes, as well as some concerning statistics about online abuse and sexism. Both of these have seemingly increased from the previous survey carried out in 2015:

  • 64.6% said they had experienced sexism in sport, with only 1 in 10 reporting it (compared to 41% in 2015).
  • 29.9% said they had been trolled on social media (compared to 14% in 2015).
  • 60.2% also said that fans expect a different standard of behaviour from female athletes compared with male athletes.

The full survey results can be found here

A Wider Problem?

Many of the issues highlighted in the survey are not unique to sport and elite athletes. But this survey shows that athletes are by no means immune or exempt from such behaviours, attitudes and beliefs. So what can organisations do to help support participants who have been subject to abusive behaviour from trolls?

How can we help those who are experiencing sexist behaviour and attitudes? Can education show people how to block and report abusive social media posts? How can cultures be improved so that inappropriate behaviour is not tolerated or accepted as ‘normal’? What processes does an organisation have in place to deal with inappropriate behaviours or inequalities? And how do these processes apply when the inappropriate behaviour comes from someone within the organisation?

The survey also highlights the value of hearing directly from participants. They have views and perspective that only they can give. If people don’t feel able to share concerns, or if they don’t feel supported when they do, wrongdoing will go unchecked. This might cause people to leave their sport and activity. Meanwhile, the harm and abuse will continue.

How To Listen to Your Participants

Many funded sports, NGBs and clubs carry out periodic member, volunteer and staff surveys. Or if they don’t, they should!

Often they conduct these surveys once a year. Is this enough? What happens with that information from year to year? Do people feel it is worthwhile? Does it make a difference? What other opportunities throughout the year are there to raise concerns? 365 days is a long time to wait if these surveys are the only opportunity to share views, feedback and concerns!

Having said that, I can hear organisations saying: “we ask for feedback, but no one replies to our questionnaires. So we stopped sending them”.

It is a two-way street. There is a responsibility for those being offered the opportunity to have their say to embrace it.

So what can you do as an organisation to encourage people to share their views with you?

The Importance of Good Survey Design

The more you collect participant feedback, the better you’ll be able to listen and act upon concerns. And the more you act upon concerns, the more you’ll be able to show evidence of change. When participants can see evidence that you genuinely value their views, they may be more likely to provide their feedback when you ask. With regular feedback surveys you’ll build up momentum, and before long you can embed feedback and change into your organisation’s culture.

But there are other things you can do to make it easier for people to share their views:

  • Invite feedback in a welcoming, open manner.
  • Provide the opportunity for anonymity where possible.
  • Explain the benefits of your survey – that it’s a chance for your members to have their say and to shape the future of your organisation.
  • Where possible, provide evidence that you act upon feedback. Share an example of when you used feedback to instigate positive changes or improvements.
  • Consider offering an incentive for people to take part in your survey. This could be entry into a prize draw, a small gift, or a discount voucher.
  • Offer a variety of ways for someone to respond. Are you ensuring the method you use is inclusive?
  • Make your survey quick and easy to complete. Aim for as few questions as possible.

After you’ve completed your survey, it’s essential that you:

  • Follow through on plans and promises.
  • Share the outcomes or findings.
  • Share plans or actions taken as a result of the feedback.

Ultimately, the success of your survey will depend on how well you know your audience.

How Often Should You Run Feedback Surveys?

It’s important to find the right balance between too much and too little. Run too many surveys and people might stop engaging. Run too few and people might think of your surveys as unimportant “tick-box” exercises.

The best solution is to ask! Run a survey as soon as possible, and make this one of your questions:

“How often would you feel comfortable sharing your views?”

You can also ask how people prefer to provide their feedback. Be flexible, and be prepared to change your plan based on the feedback..

A Healthy Listening Culture

Seeking the voice of athletes, volunteers, staff and participants doesn’t always have to be a ‘formal’ process or questionnaire. If there is a healthy listening culture in your organisation, sharing views could be a natural part of your everyday practice.

Seeking the voice of those involved in your sport or activity has many benefits. It sets the foundations for a healthy culture, which creates a happy environment, so ultimately a safer environment. If people feel valued, and if ideas, thoughts and concerns are welcomed, listened to and acted upon, they are far more likely to report a concern about safeguarding or poor practice. They are also more likely to do it sooner.

ACT Sport and Activity Participation Forums

The Ann Craft Trust run a series of Participation Forums. Forming part of a research project, these forums offer the opportunity for the voice of the participants, and staff and volunteers of sport and activity organisations to help influence and steer the work we do at ACT. They ensure that we can deliver guidance and best practice that is relevant to those involved and taking part in sport and activity.

Upcoming dates:

If you can’t attend these forums, you can still have your say. Take the time to complete our short online surveys: