11 April 2019

Dean Woods


England Korfball welcomes research revealing ‘life-affirming benefits’ of Korfball for all

Research conducted by Leeds Beckett University, based on 6300 korfball players registered for competitive matches, has revealed the life-affirming benefits of korfball, particularly as a family-friendly, unifying team sport.

Korfball is a uniquely mixed-gender team sport that has been played since the early 1900s, and now has a presence in 70 countries worldwide. Four male and four female players participate in teams in a game which has similarities to basketball, handball and netball.

Key findings include the motivation and participation rates of men and women in the sport and how, despite major life events, korfball commitments can be flexed around other demands to allow women in particular to continue to play throughout their lives.

Participation rates for men and women

There is near parity between men and women playing the sport between the ages of 18 and 30, with the number of female participants very slightly higher, although women play in fewer competitive matches on average.

Participation rates start to decline after age 30, as the demands of career and family increase. While women’s active participation in competitive matches does reduce during their 30s relative to men’s participation, these increase again in their 40s. An important factor allowing them to resume participation is the availability of informal childcare within the korfball community (either their club mates or their partner being at the matches and able to look after children).

Both genders show similar levels of participation in their 40s and 50s. An important factor in encouraging both genders to remain active as they age is the ability to play with or alongside their children and partner, demonstrating the family-orientation of the sport. 

Men remain more active into old age, with more male participants in their 60s and 70s still playing competitive matches. However, some women do continue to play in their 60s or remain involved in other capacities (volunteers, coaches etc.), supporting Korfball communities and the next generation of players.

Motivational drivers for korfball players

The research also highlighted that being able to play in mixed-gender teams was a significant motivation for remaining in the korfball community and playing the sport over a lifetime. Other motivations included:

  • Trying a new sport – the ability to try something new in adulthood is important (i.e. to start on an equal footing with a clean slate, regardless of individual sporting experience)
  • Playing a sport that is inclusive – both men and women valued the opportunity to play a sport with a partner or with others of the opposite gender
  • Possibility for personal development – both men and women saw opportunities to learn and progress in something new and also expressed equal interest in competing and performing at the highest level possible. Equal numbers of both genders are willing to travel long distances for high quality coaching and match opportunities
  • Volunteering opportunities – the ability to “give back” to the sport through coaching, volunteering, organising or refereeing, was equally important to both genders. Common among all survey participants was also the importance of being part of a “sporting family” and deriving a sense of belonging from playing korfball

England International Jo-Anne Wilson commented:

“My brother Jack and I started playing at school. After watching us for a few years, my dad, who was then in his 60s, decided he wanted to give it a go. He is now captain and top goal scorer of our club’s fifth team. It’s great for us as a family to have something to do and talk about together over the dinner table. And as dad is a builder, it helps keep him fit for work – despite being in his 70s, he’s still running up and down ladders all day.”

Dame Helena Morrissey, Head of Personal Investing at Legal & General Investment Management, sponsors of the England Korfball Grand Finals, also said:

“Korfball clearly offers lifetime value for its players and creates a community that other sports don’t. It’s wonderful to be able to support a sport that is inclusive and accommodative by design. Having seen my own daughter play and become so involved with korfball I know how fulfilling it is – and the korfball joy is felt in the rest of the family too! The research from Leeds Beckett University should inspire policy makers because of the opportunity korfball offers for anyone to participate in grassroots sports, become part of a warm and welcoming community, and encourage better health and wellbeing.”

Ellen Pearce, Chair of England Korfball said:

“At a time when we are seeking to minimise drop out of sports and activities, korfball seems to be retaining its gender balance, with female participation levels bouncing back to around 50% for players in their 40s and 50s. Our research suggests that while female participation does drop off due to career and family commitments during the 30s, the family friendly nature of the sport is crucial for female returners. As a minority sport, korfball clubs are also used to welcoming adult beginners. So for those people that did not engage in team sports at other times in their life, korfball can provide a welcoming, family-friendly environment to dip their toe in the water of competitive team games.”

Press Release: Legal & General X England Korfball