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Opinion: The notion that 'elite creates breadth' runs the risk of deterring young people from (e)sports

By Mads Didriksen, DGI

There is a widespread belief that elite sports have a positive impact on sports participation in general, but in fact, the opposite may be true. This is the opinion of Mads Didriksen from DGI, who advocates for responsible development of esports within the Danish association and local sports clubs. Competition is a natural element in most sports. However, if young people are to continue enjoying participation in sporting activities, the emphasis on competition and the elite aspect must not become overwhelming. That's the assessment of Mads Didriksen, an esports consultant at DGI.

“If the organisational development within esports follows a pyramid-shaped and competition-oriented mindset, it risks influencing the overall development,” he says.

He is concerned that a prevailing perception persists of sports as being activities that primarily cater to individuals striving to reach the top of a podium.

What is your main goal in your work as an esports consultant at DGI?

“One of my main goals is to ensure that these relatively new activities, gaming and esports, develop in a responsible direction in our local sports clubs and associations," he says.

“As an organisation, we have a central role in shaping what we see developing positively in many places in the country. In my work, it's about being a link between esports consultants at DGI who work closely with our clubs on a daily basis.

It's also about ensuring that what we develop and the efforts we make have quality and relevance for the people who work voluntarily in the associations. We are constantly focused on staying in the loop and keeping track of the development, as esports is still a new dimension in the associations, and is constantly evolving."

What has been the most impactful influence you've had to achieve these goals?

“I could mention many things that I believe have been successful in the past six years with esports at DGI. We know that we have had a significant impact when it comes to ensuring relevant education for a wide range of coaches and leaders in the associations.This year, we officially launched the new basic-coach-education in collaboration with the Danish Esports Federation. We have already seen the first many coaches completing the courses, and we have noticed that it is well received. We even see that many teachers and external educators seek our training and courses in esports for inspiration on good teaching practices in esports. This provides significant value for the individuals on the ground and helps them to be well-equipped for the role they play when dealing with children and young people in the local esports clubs. Our in-depth knowledge of motivating sports environments and expertise in esports creates a good package that coaches can benefit from. I am proud that we have succeeded in this in close collaboration with the Danish Esports Federation.”

Do you have any advice for others who want to engage new target groups in sports?

“When looking at new target groups and new activities in general, we need to be good at involving the young people we talk about. If I take an example from esports, where associations have succeeded greatly, it is when skilled and experienced association leaders involve the target group right from the start, before the activities are launched, and at the same time are good at balancing support with delegation of responsibility.

It's a mix of good leadership and a deep understanding of what it means to be young today, which can be part of the solution if you want to get started with community- or club-based esports. If you can assemble a good team with diversity and different knowledge, taking into account these factors, the likelihood of success is much greater.

In esports, we see that it cannot be driven solely by skilled leaders. It requires a significant involvement of those who are part of the language, culture, and trends that move in the esports and gaming world.”

What do you see as one of the biggest challenges in Danish sports at the moment?

“A recurring trend that has caught my attention and raises my concern is the persistent and traditional perception of sports as activities primarily reserved for a selected group, often those striving to reach the elite.

If the organisational development within esports follows a pyramid-shaped and competition-oriented mindset, it risks influencing the overall development.

The idea of a pyramid structure in sports is by no means a new phenomenon, and it has been some years since the mantra 'Elite creates breadth' was believed. For us, the approach is quite clear, and it's something we've been working on since 2017 – namely, cultivating what esports and gaming can offer in a community or association context: social activities, a space for leisure, and a place for many young people who don't find their way to traditional activities. We believe this is a responsible approach.

It's undeniable that wellbeing plays a big role in these years, and in certain cases, it may be necessary to dial down the competitive aspect and some of what many characterise as a culture of perfection.

When I work with esports, it's about supporting the development of strong communities, especially for the many children who are not typically seen in the traditional sports clubs or associations. For me, a sports club should be, above all, a space for leisure – something I have personally enjoyed throughout my life.”

This opinion piece is an adapted extract from an interview conducted by Lærke Møller Hansen, Editorial Assistant at Altinget in Denmark. The translation is by Mads Didriksen for the European Grassroots Esports project


Posted on 06/12/2023 by Mads Didriksen, DGI


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