Overcoming travel habits and preconceptions in grassroots football

Birmingham County FA (BCFA), is the Regional governing body for football in the West Midlands. It is a not-for-profit membership organisation with 1000 affiliated grassroots clubs.

In June 2021 they launched a pioneering and award-winning environmental initiative called ‘Save Today, Play Tomorrow’. The project is looking at the impact areas for grassroots football and where it can influence and affect change. 

Given the numbers of teams and players, travel was an area they knew had a high carbon footprint, with an estimated 12.6 million football related travel movements each season. The extent of this football travel also adds to the worrying levels of air pollution in and around Birmingham with 50% of football venues in areas where air quality exceeds WHO safe guidelines for PM2.5 matter. 

With the game forecast to grow over the coming years Birmingham County FA are committed to supporting clubs with more active & sustainable ways to travel to games to ensure the health & wellbeing of those involved is not compromised through poor air quality.

Project objectives 

As part of a research project funded by the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE), The Sustainable Sidekicks were commissioned on behalf of BCFA to conduct research on travel behaviours for clubs in central Birmingham. As well as to work with clubs to pilot some initiatives. This kind of project was a first within grassroots football and it was hoped that the findings and outcomes could shape wider initiatives across the network of regional governing bodies and possibly outside of football. 

Research findings – reasons for driving 

The Sustainable Sidekicks conducted telephone interviews with coaches and visited a football club to chat with parents. Focusing on parents travel habits for weekly training we learned that: 

Convenience–  Ease was a frequent remark. Cars and driving was cited as being much easier than other transport options

Time- Getting children fed, changed and to training after school and work was cited as a rush and so car travel was the quickest option 

Practicality– Carrying kit was a reason given for driving

Safety – Children’s safety was acknowledged as a reason parents many choose to drive

Research findings – lift sharing insights

When prompted further about lift sharing parents were also concerned that:

However, researchers also spoke to parents and youth teams who were lift sharing to training. These were people who:

Pilotted actions with clubs

The next phase of the research was to actively engage with a couple of clubs that had multiple teams from junior through to adult.  Crusaders FC an inner-city club near Bournville and Sporting FC from Solihull were selected, and their coaches and  parents/supporters were invited to try informal lift sharing over a number of weeks to allow for data to be gathered.. Both clubs were incentivised to support the trial withthe offer of free footballs & training equipment from BCFA . Coaches played a pivotal role in communicating this to their teams by: 

 “Besides the obvious benefits to the environment, which are very important. When players and parents share lifts, they tend to be more likely to arrive on time and it gives everyone a good opportunity to do some team bonding. So I’m all for it.” Crusaders


Three youth teams at Crusaders FC gave lift sharing a go, as well as the adult ladies, , sharing their stories and experiences on social media to encourage other parents and teams to give it a go. 

Through the lifts shared, we calculated that four teams avoided  687 miles a season equating to a £200 saving on fuel costs

One group of lift sharers revealed that ‘ With large families, personal and work commitments, Benita and other families realised that they couldn’t always get to training and matches. Now a group of four families, who live within two miles of each other share weekly. They organise by messages and share the lifts, knowing that each person is reliable.

The Sustainable Sidekicks created some simple guidance documents for BCFA to share with clubs so other coaches can ask parents to give it a try.  


Findings and recommendations 

Lidftsharing works best if people live within a couple of miles, suggest people: 

“This was the first project of its kind anywhere in the UK looking at travel behaviour & attitudes within the grassroots game. The support received from Sustainable Sidekicks from the outset was integral to being able to deliver on the planned outcomes. 

They very quickly understood the landscape of the grassroots game and through the initial robust research phase they collated some powerful insights that helped engage the hearts & minds of the 2 clubs who participated in the trial stage.  

They were proactive in their approach with clubs and following the conclusion of the trial presented a comprehensive report and a toolkit that is being shared with our clubs on best practice on how to reduce travel journeys within their teams.”

Richard Lindsay AIEMA

Sustainability & Business Insights Manager