Keeping Them in the Game: Taking Up and Dropping Out of Sport and Exercise in Ireland

This report has been peer reviewed prior to publication. The authors are solely responsible for the content and the views expressed.

December 18, 2013
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Keeping them in the Game, commissioned by the Irish Sports Council and compiled by ESRI researchers, provides evidence for policy from three large nationally representative surveys of activity, covering everyone from primary school children to older adults. In launching the report Minister Michael Ring highlighted “the importance of having research of this quality in order to inform important policy decisions around trying to increase the number of Irish people taking part in sport throughout their lives".

Key findings include:

  • Almost all primary schoolchildren engage in regular sporting activity – it's what happens after that stage that is a cause for concern.
  • Many children drop out of regular activity during the second-level years, especially girls.
  • School exams have a strong negative impact: students participate less in exam years and this has a lasting effect on whether they are active in later years.
  • Students who play sport get, on average, better Leaving Certificate results.
  • Activity as an adult is less related to attitudes and beliefs than to life events: most adults believe sporting activity is good for them and want to be more active, but leaving education, work commitments, relocations and family responsibilities lead many to drop out.
  • Cycling and, in particular, swimming, are most likely to persist into later adulthood; Gaelic games meanwhile have a high drop-out rate.
  • New sporting activities are mostly taken up through social connections with friends, colleagues and family members; finding facilities is not a barrier.
  • These factors lead to a widening socio-economic gap as people progress through adulthood – the less well-off are more likely to drop out from sport as young adults and less likely to take up new activities.

The study discusses a number of policy implications.