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What is the Sports Development Continuum?

What is the Sports Development Continuum?

A contentious area surrounding sports development has been that of work at grassroots and elite level. Disagreements and conflicts have arisen as to where the focus should be, and debates about the importance of both grassroots and elite sport have clouded this area. In essence, sports development is all about encouraging change and the only way for change to happen is by all departments and individuals to understand and agree on the objectives set to reach the ultimate aims (Eady, 1993).

Certainly, sport and physical activities can develop individuals and build stronger communities by bringing people together (Sport England, 2021). Therefore, the importance of sports development is paramount; however, the question is how this development should happen. UK Sport, and more recently Sport England and many other national governing bodies have endeavoured to identify different roles and responsibilities for those involved in sports development, from grassroots to elite level.

The clearest aspect is a sports development continuum which classifies development on a hierarchical source, starting at foundation, participation, performance and ending at excellence. The sports development continuum model has been used by various organisations to provide a fundamental perspective on their plans and policies for sport.

Sports development continuam

Figure 1.1 Sports development continuum model.

The sports development continuum model illustrates the gradual progression from grassroots right up until elite and world class level. The foundation represents the basic development of young people’s movement and skills, such as, throwing, catching and hand-eye co-ordination. The ‘Active Schools’ scheme that Sport England run, focuses on the foundation levels.

From then on it is about participation in physical recreation which is open to all members of the community, whether it is for fitness, enjoyment or socialisation. Sport England also runs a scheme at this level called ‘Active Communities’. This scheme is delivered by local authorities and targets people who are physically inactive or regularly inactive.

The performance level focuses on those who already participate in sport with the potential to progress onto a professional club or represent their country. They have the opportunity to improve their performance at specialist training camps and intrinsic motivation plays a major factor in wanting their desire to wanting to improve.

And finally, excellence relates to professional athletes who have an opportunity to compete on national or global scale and win ultimate honours such as an Olympic gold medal. UK Sport is responsible for regulating programmes at elite level.

Generalists usually work at all levels of the sports development continuum with a wide-cross section of the community. Specialists, however, are expected to work at the higher end of the spectrum, in more depth, focusing on specific group, working with a school of developing performance and excellence in a particular sport (Gooding, 1999).

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Last update: 25 April 2021


Eady, J. (1993) Practical Sports Development. Essex: Longman Group UK Limited.

Gooding, A. (1991) 101 Ways to Succeed in Sports Development. Reading: Institute of Leisure & Anxiety Management.

Sport England (2021) Social and community development, available at: (accessed 22 April 2021)

Author: Zia Ahmed

Graduated with a BA (Hons) in Sport Management from Loughborough University, UK. Ahmed writes regularly on sports science and relevant subjects. His other areas of interest are business development, customer service and social media marketing.

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