Me & Activity: Is digital really the answer for engaging young people?

Date: 25 November 2021   Author: Energise Me

Earlier this year we launched the Me & Activity report, showing how young people’s activity habits had changed in response to the pandemic. Here, Emma takes a look at whether all things digital are really the best way to engage Generation Z.

The Me & Activity report shares the findings of a survey of 151 young people and two focus groups. It recommends that organisations working to support young people to be physically active should:

  1. Focus on accessibility
  2. Weigh the benefits of digital resources
  3. Hold frequent consultations with young people
  4. Celebrate the relationship between physical activity and mental health
  5. Offer free or subsidised activities in conjunction with paid programmes
  6. Invest in tackling the underlying issue of motivation

For more information, the recommendations are found on pages 26 and 27 of the report.

In this blog, we’ll look at recommendation 2, our experiences of ‘digital’ in 2021, and some ideas and practical tips for youth workers, sports clubs, leisure centres – or anyone else supporting young people to be physically active.

“Going online”

If you’re anything like me (very firmly in the “Millennial” camp) you still refer to “going online”. But over the last eighteen months it has felt like I’m never offline! I’ve used Teams & Zoom for meetings, I’ve done online exercise classes, we’ve held consultation events and training online… even our Christmas party was on Zoom . Thankfully with real cake.

And for the most part, it’s worked. I’ve met new people, launched new projects, and taken part in our Investing in Communities project that has awarded funding to 37 different organisations to help people be physically active online, in person and in “socially distanced” ways. But. I miss 3D people!!
And young people do, too.

The Me & Activity report shows that, even though 31% of young people surveyed said they would like more digital ways of moving, 42% said they were happy with what was already available. And when young people were asked about the future, their hopes and plans, they nearly all talked about doing it in person.


What does this mean?

So, what does all this mean for your activity? The key lies with your participants, so definitely ask them. But most young people want an in-person offer. If you’re worried about future lockdowns, or how to run sessions when staff and participants are isolating, then here are some ideas:

  • Look at what already exists. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to! If you want to run an online dance session with your youth group, you might not need to choreograph and plan your own class. Look for Just Dance, Pop Sugar, or the This Girl Can videos .
  • Go to where young people are. Us oldies like to think that teens these days are all on TikTok, but lots of research shows that YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook are the most popular platforms. Try using Instagram Live to deliver a short session, or a private Facebook group to share photos.
  • Keep it snappy. It’s harder for us to stay engaged online – the lag between what you’re seeing and what you’re hearing tires our brains out quicker (yep, that’s why Teams meetings are so exhausting!) So don’t try to make your online sessions as long as your in-person ones.



Here are some ways that our Energise YOUth partners have used digital over the last year:

  • The “loading screen challenge” – if you’re waiting for Netflix or Red Dead Redemption to load up, or if you’re hit by “Video Buffering” – get up and move! Jog on the spot, stretch it out, or walk up and down your stairs. One of our clubs got young people to take video and photo proof and share it on a WhatsApp group.
  • Real life Among Us. If you live with anyone under 15, you cannot have got through the last year without hearing “Imposter” or “You’re sus!” One of our partner projects harnessed this enthusiasm and tried real life Among Us. Basically, a high-octane game of wink murder, with active tasks and obstacles to complete before the Imposter kills you.
  • Social media challenges. Whether it’s a daily step challenge, Do-the-Splits in 30 days, or different activities each day for a month, you can’t beat a good old-fashioned social media challenge. Especially if you can come up with a prize.

If you’ve got any ideas for unusual ways to engage young people using technology and social media, we’d love to hear about them. We run regular Energise YOUth network calls to share our challenges and successes in supporting young people to be physically active.

Contact Emma to tell us how you've engaged young people digitally

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