Performance Versus Participation: A Necessary Breakup?

If you’re one of the two thousand plus subscribers to the UKGridiron group, or follow one of the myriad pages poking fun at the British game on Facebook,  you may have noticed that the near constant angst at the perceived inability of teams to “play their part” has once more flared quite dramatically.

The endless dichotomy between performance and participation has reared its head again, with prominent members of the Britball community sitting passionately on different sides of the divide.

As the debate enters yet another year, it’s time to ask: Is the answer to the question in fact that BOTH sides are right? That there’s room in the sport for both hobbyists and those with higher aspirations?

Is it best for Britball to split?


Let’s first look at what we mean by “Performance” and “Participation”.

Performance-based clubs, in this context, are organisations whose focus it is to achieve material success through competitive football, playing and winning at the highest level, and ensuring that level of performance in the long term with solid, reliable development of younger players at the youth and junior levels. In short, clubs for which it’s not “all about the taking part”.

Participation-based clubs on the other hand are outlets for those who simply want to play a sport they love on Sundays, away from the stress of everyday life. Organisations that offer the opportunity to get out of the house, put on all the kit and hit another eleven people for a few hours every other week.

It’s important, as a community, for us to remember that ultimately neither of those approaches are more valid than the other. If it’s win at all costs or you’re not even keeping score, if you’re in the gym seven days a week or in the pub until closing, neither approach to the game is wrong. Just… different. Separate?

The problems, and by ‘problems’ we would direct you to the huge number of blow out games this current season, seemingly come when we try and force the two to compete in the same arena.

Both ideologies can spout their virtues until the cows come home. Performance-based clubs will tell you they’re nurturing a love of sport across the spectrum, advancing the game, and that the higher level of competition breeds an athlete that is committed and motivated. They’ll tell you it’s their work that will shine a light on Britball, and will be the spark for future investment in the game that will benefit all levels.

Participation-based clubs will tell you they’re providing a pressure free environment for people to, well, participate, where results matter, but the priority is that people get to play a sport they love, and people don’t need to shape their entire lives around the game. A fun and flexible approach to playing the sport we hold dear.

Mashing those two ideologies into the same structure has inevitably led to some friction, never more obvious than when a game is cancelled.

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Gareth Thomas

Gareth has played for the Birmingham Bulls and Sandwell Steelers, and as a frustrated offensive play-maker craves only the sweet rush that comes with interceptions. He joined Double Coverage at the request of Rob Amor and is only here until he's picked up by ESPN or Sports Illustrated.