Sports are in the air here at THINKHOUSE. It’s an Olympic year, the Australian Open is currently on (amidst complaints of poor air quality, charity matches for the bushfires garnered headlines worldwide) and the European Six Nations begins tomorrow.
THE ROLE OF SPORTS IN YOUTH’S LIFE
For many young people, their routines revolve heavily around various sporting activities:
“I play hockey, tennis in the summer and I swim so sport is a pretty big part of my life. I have hockey 2 or 3 times a week and swimming once a week. My sisters play GAA and they always have training and matches over the weekend so I’m used to going to them with my parents and hearing them talk about it.” Siun, 15
But, just as sports superstars culturally impact arenas far beyond their specific playing field, the role of sport in youth’s life is dynamic. Beyond its physical benefits young people see it as a release, a social connector and something that builds professional skills:
“Sport is a central part of my life - being active daily is something I find good for my mind and a release from work stresses. I feel accomplished after exercise and motivated to do more in the other activities I carry out. Playing sport in a team is a big part of it for me- working with others towards a common goal and learning how to play with other people.” Nicola, 26
Many of the words that young people use when it comes to playing sport are emotional ones - especially in a culture so saturated with digital connectivity, it is a key offline tool for releasing and opening up different parts of themselves, and others.
“Whenever I go on a surf trip, even if it’s just for a weekend, I come home and I feel like I’ve been on a 2 week holiday. Surfing itself brings so much adrenaline, but then in between waves where there are lulls - you could be 100 feet out in the water with your friends and you’re just chatting away. No phones, no other stimulus, just you and maybe the odd seal popping up. What I love about surfing is that the sport is as much about everything else around it. It’s about the ‘getting there’ and bits in-between, as much as it is about the brief moments you’re riding a wave.” Rob, 28
SOCCER X ENTERTAINMENT: PODCASTS, YOUTUBE + INSTAGRAM
What accounts, platforms or podcasts are worth exploring in the context of youth culture and the world of soccer? While Instagram accounts from iconic sports brands like Paddy Power and Sky Sports are an obvious place to start when exploring soccer culture, there are other less well-known places where youth are engaging with soccer entertainment:
- The Offensive is a popular mockumentary podcast “that follows fictional Premier League club Ashwood City FC.” You can even buy real (fake) team merch. For more context on the craze read here.
- Copa 90 is probably the most heralded football media account. Copa90 puts out top-flight content that plays into real fandom and tells the most incredible stories from football globally - from Cork City to Korea.
- Platforms like the Rising Ballers Instagram account showcase the ability for sports scouting to diversify, with highlights reels having the capacity to go viral and reach a target audience that can afford these budding young stars an opportunity at a higher level.
- The Peter Crouch Podcast is having huge success by giving humorous and unprecedented insight into the modern game through one of football’s most loved personalities. Now on it’s third season, the BBC owned podcast has gathered a sizable audience, so much so that the podcast finished season 2 with a sold out crowd in the 02 in London - Liam Gallaher from Oasis even played on the night!
- ‘The Athletic’ has seriously big moves to gain traction by recruiting the top soccer journalists in the UK over the last year. It’s a subscription media service that offers in-depth stories from game analysis, transfer news, player interviews, podcasts etc.
SOCCER X FASHION
You might think that football fashion is all about getting the newest club jersey - or even finding old-school vintage retro jerseys. While old-school jerseys might be a fashion trend outside the stadiums, big-brand fashion culture has evolved over the years as a casual uniform of serious football fans:
“Traditionally fashion has always been associated with things like football hooliganism/yoof. But over the last 5 years it’s become really noticeable. When you go to clubs in the UK for a game a lot of people are decked out in luxury branded clothing… For away matches nobody would be wearing club colours. You see 15-30 year-olds wearing brands like Stone Island, Ralph Lauren, Barbour, The North Face, Lacoste, Lyle & Scott, Canada Goose. Wearing Adidas Gazelle shoes is a big ‘thing.’ 15 year olds could be wearing an outfit worth over a grand going to a game, and it’s the ‘cool thing to do.’ If you wear club colours it’s a little nerdy.” Adam, 25
‘MAN MANAGEMENT’& FRESH SOCCER PERSONALITIES
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp is one of the modern youth sporting heroes that appears to have captured hearts and minds for bringing fresh and authentic personality to the conversation - and image - of the sport.
“What makes him amazing is not only his tactical genius and engagement with innovation with coaching and football style, but his man management and massive personality. He’s always laughing and joking with players and seems like a genuinely warm person. So many of the other managers are monosyllabic, where Klopp’s always joking with the press. His football style is incredibly unique as well - he’s improved almost every player that works under him.” Patrick, 24
Most noteworthy of all, is his ability to reach and connect with people who would not be dedicated fans of the Premier League. This ‘celebration of personality’ is also noted as a big thing for young people, with reference to recent changes in punditry entertainment:
“I’m a massive fan of Sky Sports, especially for football. They’re offering an amazing product. With the pundits they are getting on air and the new technology they’re using I’ve heard they’re getting record viewing numbers. New pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher have important roles. I like that they bicker and slag each other loads - it’s like watching two real football fans who are passionate and intelligent. It used to be the case where punditry was dry and safe - that’s changed now because of getting people like Roy Keane on air - it means they’re actually having very heated discussions.” Mark, 24
TRENDING DEBATES & CONTROVERSY: RACISM + VAR
As we’ve seen when it comes to discussing personalities in the world of modern football - engagement with the sport is not just about the game - it’s the connections between people that make it count. Sky Sports recently were called to apologise after reportedly ‘shutting down’ a racism discussion on air. As the issue seems to be getting worse, many calling for the premier league to stand up to the problem of racism in the sport (watch example video of Gary Neville here). While the Football Association claims to be giving off a message of zero tolerance, statistics from football anti-discrimination campaigners ‘Kick It Out’ suggested there had been a 43% increase in racist abuse in English football in 2018-19 from the previous season.
Elsewhere the introduction of VAR (video assistant referees) to the Premier League is sparking great debate - is it beneficial or ruining the game? Is it costing teams points? Is it being used effectively? Is it killing the atmosphere?
The culture of soccer continues to evolve with its own codes and rituals. What are your brand ‘culture-codes’ that young people could connect with - on or off ‘the pitch’?
Stay tuned for Youth x Sport part 2 next week.
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