Information: sports & adventure

Information on the theory and practice of sport & adventure outdoors – from case studies to policies, examples of forms, documents & handouts, research and articles, and much more to support your theoretical explorations into the outdoors.

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Reports, articles, research etc are, as much as possible, arranged in chronological order, most recent at the top.

Sports & adventure

“As an outdoor pursuits instructor, expedition leader and keen ball sports person, adventure and sports have been a major part of my outdoors experience so I very much felt it was an important area that needed to be included in our Outdoor Hub.” Liz Edwards, Muddy Faces founder

Gary Marlow, wearing a red anorakWe asked Gary Marlow, who has been delivering award-winning inclusive programmes within sport, forest schools and outdoor learning since 2003, through Marlow Sports Group and Woods for Learning, to explain what outdoors sports means to him.

Gary has sat on the National Board for the Association for Physical Education and is Chair of South East Region; he has also developed a number of initiatives such as one of the largest schools’ tennis team competitions in the country.

What is sports and adventure?

Incorporated into the definition of ‘sport’ are all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction. These include: play; recreation; organized, casual or competitive sport; and indigenous sports or games.
United Nations Inter-agency Taskforce on Sport for Development and Peace

For me sport is competitive, challenges me socially, participating either within a team or as an individual, it can bring out the best in people if participating in the correct spirit.

An adventure is an exciting or unusual experience. It may also be a bold, usually risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome. Adventures may be activities with some potential for physical danger such as traveling, exploring, skydiving, mountain climbing, scuba diving, river rafting or participating in extreme sports.

For me adventure is something that challenges me individually, both physically and mentally. I like to seek out crazy adventures and see if I can complete them, if I don’t then I try again; my motto is ‘take the next step, if you do that you are one step closer to your goal.’


There are around 8,000 different sports and therefore there is lots to choose from. Through my work within physical education I try to inspire children to love the learning through a range of sports rather than specific sports; each sport is linked to a category. What I mean by that is the following:
• Striking & fielding activities: rounders, cricket, softball, baseball, stoolball, etc
• Invasion games: netball, football, blind football, rugby, hockey, wheelchair rugby, American football, etc
• Net & wall games: tennis, badminton, seated volleyball, squash, etc
• Target games: Boccia, golf, archery, darts etc.
• Swimming, athletics, gymnastics.


Well, where do we start with that one – Everest, Kilimanjaro, Great Wall of China? Often out of reach for many of us; an adventure could be anything that challenges the individual; e.g. pick a letter of the alphabet, get a map of your local area, go to the street with that letter, discover how you will get there, what trees, plants, birds are along the way – what clothing will you need (there’s no such thing as bad weather, its bad clothing)?

Taking it up a step: learn and teach someone how to navigate, use a compass and use a map – then the adventures can really start a new life, to orienteering.

More about Gary

As well as his exciting programmes Gary takes part in crazy adventures, such as when turning 30 he took part in 30 challenges, from bob sleighing, to visiting 30 different piers, to doing the three peaks solo. He gained a Guinness World Record on his birthday in 2012 for the longest ever hockey match (34 hours). More recently he has taken part in Britain’s most brutal race “The Spine Race” – 110 miles of the Pennine Way in January 2017; he hopes to complete the 268 miles in 2019.

Something new for primary Schools – use your PE & Sport Grant

Marlow Sports Group has devised a brand new permanent orienteering concept for primary schools; it has been piloted in 7 schools including a special needs school.
It takes relatively inaccessible, drab maps and way points for “young children” and makes it fun in the comfort of your own school; it doesn’t only link to PE but works across all subject areas including English, maths and science.

How it works:
1. Email for details
2. Marlow Sports map designer will visit your school to take photos of the area, and start to develop the map
3. Together we’ll decide on the design of the way points – it can have:
a. Numbers 1-26, b. Letters a-z, c. Characters, d. Colour triangle.
4. Everything will be sent to the school – for the caretaker to put up the way points (keeping costs down)
5. Map finalised with blank map, map with all way points on, map with blank way points
6. Training if required (although it is designed in a way to reduce the need for training) but a basic concept can be achieved in less than an hour.
Installing the orienteering package is a great “SUSTAINABLE” way of using your PE and Sports grant and for getting children excited about adventures.

Now back to bigger adventures…

Thank you Gary Marlow.

Find out more about Gary and his exciting projects at

Learning Through Adventure

‘Learning outside the classroom through adventurous activities is known to have significant educational benefits. It helps children develop technical, intellectual and social skills by overcoming challenges and sharing decisions.’ The Conversation, 13 February 2020.

Raising Next Gen Adventurers

How do you share a love for the outdoors with your kids? Some of the biggest names in climbing, mountain biking, skiing, ultrarunning and adventure racing offer their advice. REI C0-0p (US), 4 January 2018.

Countryside ban for children because mums cannot read maps and hate mud

‘Middle class parents are too afraid to take their children rambling because they struggle to map read and are reluctant to let them get muddy, a new study suggests. The Hertfordshire University research … found that while children were open to the idea of rambling, their mothers were not confident in the great outdoors.’ The Telegraph, 20 February 2010.

What can we learn from climbing trees?

Interview with a professional tree-climber looking at the benefits and risks of tree climbing and why it seems to be in decline. BBC News Magazine, 22 April 2008.

Green Exercise

Linking Nature, Health and Well-Being.
Indepth precis of his own book, by the author and Professor of Environment and Society & Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Essex, Jules Pretty – it “draws together internationally-recognised research on the synergistic health benefits of being physically active in green spaces,” presents “the therapeutic properties of green exercise, known as green care,” discusses “how environmental & social contexts shape health and wellbeing” and more.

Green Exercise book cover

Residential reach

Many students say that residentials are the most memorable experience of their time at school. But how often do we hear about the many positive impacts they have on the adults participating? Peter Carne, the national adviser for Learning Away, describes some of the benefits of taking part in a residential for teachers and other staff in schools. Learning Outside the Classroom, 11 April 2018.

Study links camping to happy, healthy children

“Children who camp in the great outdoors at least once a year go on to do better at school, as well as being healthier and happier, according to their parents. That’s the finding of a study carried out by the Institute of Education at Plymouth University and the Camping and Caravanning Club, who collaborated to discover perceptions of the relationship between education and camping.” Plymouth University, 21 May 2015.

Directions: Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience

“Between 2001 and 2004 the American Camp Association conducted research with over 5000 families from 80 ACA-Accredited camps to determine the outcomes of the camp experience as expressed by parents and children. Main Findings – Parents, camp staff, and children reported significant growth in: Self-esteem, Peer relationships, Independence, Adventure and exploration, Leadership, Environmental awareness, Friendship skills, Values and decisions, Social comfort, Spirituality.” American Camp Association, 2005.

Learning Away: free resources

‘Our practical resources, written by teachers and practitioners, are designed to help you make your residential a brilliant one.’ Topics: Lower cost models, Curriculum integration, Evaluation toolkit, Winter residentials, Planning tools, Co construction, Student leadership, Early Years and Key Stage 1, Special needs and Families. Learning Away.

5 Easy Ways to get Kids Hiking

“Do you enjoy hiking but don’t know how to get your kids excited about nature?” These tips could help. Back Road Ramblers (US), 16 February 2017.

A Guide to Hiking with Kids

‘With some simple planning, taking kids on a hike can be a fun adventure for the whole family.’ Planning, tips, safety & links from AAA State of Play (US).


Our sports & adventure links page signposts you to the main national bodies, key organisations, initiatives and websites in the world of sports, physical fitness and adventure pursuits outdoors.

Have a browse – there are tons of links to loads of interesting, important & inspiring organisations!

Sections include:

Access & disability
Climbing – mountains & trees
Cycling, boards & wheels
Land, wind & air
Sports & fitness

Adventure education and Outward Bound:

Out-of-class experiences that make a lasting difference.
“The purpose of this meta-analysis is to examine the effects of adventure programs on a diverse array of outcomes such as self-concept, locus of control, and leadership.” Wilderdom, 1997.

Why Adventure?

The Role and Value of Outdoor Adventure in young people’s personal and social development (UK).
“A Review of Research focusing on the more adventurous kinds of outdoor learning. A significant contribution to the task of exploring the value and benefits of outdoor adventure to the personal and social development of young people.” Your Guide to Active Reviewing, 1995

Moved by Nature in Finland

Fun, meaningful, and health-enhancing physical activities for school children
The Moved by Nature Project took a group of 9-12-year-olds on 3 nature activity days over 3 different seasons. An analysis of the children’s views about what they most enjoyed found meaningful experiences in 3 areas: freedom, autonomy and adventure, inspiring learning experiences, and co-operation and connectedness with peers. LOtC, 3 July 2019.

  • Details on the aims & objectives, funding etc of the project here, from Metsähallitus 2 July 2019
  • 2 videos about the project can be found in the videos section of Information/sustainability & nature.

Combating Obesity in Head Start: Outdoor Play and Change in Children’s Body Mass Index

‘Outdoor play time at Head Start is associated with decreases in children’s BMI scores and, thus, may serve as an important means of preventing obesity. Head Start programs should consider establishing clear guidelines encouraging more outdoor time.’ NCBI (US), October 2015.

How Walking in Nature Prevents Depression

A study finds that wild environments boost well-being by reducing obsessive, negative thoughts. The Atlantic, 30 June 2015.

Did you know?

A collection of stats on the benefits of physical activity for children, from the Outdoor Classroom Project, c2015.

Influence of Forest Therapy on Cardiovascular Relaxation in Young Adults

A study of young men in Japan finding that “Walking in the forest environment may promote cardiovascular relaxation by facilitating the parasympathetic nervous system and by suppressing the sympathetic nervous system. In addition, forest therapy may be effective for reducing negative psychological symptoms.” Hindawi, 10 February 2014.

Easing Brain Fatigue With a Walk in the Park

‘An innovative new study from Scotland suggests that you can ease brain fatigue simply by strolling through a leafy park. Well, New York Times (US) 27 March 2013.

A Repeated Measures Experiment of Green Exercise to Improve Self-Esteem in UK School Children

“Exercising in natural, green environments creates greater improvements in adult’s self-esteem than exercise undertaken in urban or indoor settings. No comparable data are available for children. The aim of this study was to determine whether so called ‘green exercise’ affected changes in self-esteem; enjoyment and perceived exertion in children differently to urban exercise.”, 2013.

Benefits of outdoor exercise confirmed

‘A systematic review has analyzed existing studies and concluded that there are benefits to mental and physical well-being from taking exercise in the natural environment.’ Science Daily, 5 February 2011.

Stepping Outdoors Boosts Mood, Self-Esteem

Why 5 min of exercise is all you need.
A report from researchers at the UK’s University of Essex analyzed 10 studies that involved over 1200 participants, examining the self-esteem and mood benefits of “green exercise” – that is, some activity outdoors, in the presence of trees, an open sky, water, a garden, or other natural scenery. Psychology Today, 11 May 2010.

What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health?

A Multi-Study Analysis.
This multistudy analysis assessed the best regime of dose(s) of acute exposure to green exercise required to improve self-esteem and mood (indicators of mental health)., 2010.

Using nature and outdoor activity to improve children’s health

‘This article reviews the current evidence of the mental and physical health benefits associated with unstructured, outdoor activities and time spent in a natural environment such as a park or other recreational area.’ Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care, 2010 (registration needed for access to full article).

The health benefits of walking in green spaces of high natural & heritage value

“This study focuses on evaluating changes in selfesteem and mood after walking in four different National Trust sites of natural and heritage value in the East of England. The standardised measures of both self-esteem and mood were administered immediately pre- and post-activity. Selfesteem scores for visitors leaving the sites were significantly higher than those just arriving and overall mood also significantly improved…”, 2009.

Outdoor Recreation, Health, and Wellness

Understanding and Enhancing the Relationship
‘Considers how being outside in natural surroundings may improve health and how outdoor physical activities benefit participants. Particular attention is given to children’s health problems that can be mitigated through outdoor play, sports, and nature study.’ Geoffrey Godbey, 2009, Resources for the Future (US).

Green exercise in the UK countryside

Effects on health and psychological well-being, and implications for policy and planning.
“The authors have hypothesised that ‘green exercise’ will improve health and psychological well-being, yet few studies have quantified these effects. This study measured the effects of 10 green exercise case studies (including walking, cycling, horse-riding, fishing, canal-boating and conservation activities) in four regions of the UK on 263 participants…”, 2006.

Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children

Looking Beyond Fitness and Fatness to Attention, Affiliation, and Affect. Our purpose in this article is to demonstrate why play, and particularly active, unstructured, outdoor play, needs to be restored in children’s lives. We propose that efforts to increase physical activity in young children might be more successful if physical activity is promoted using different language—encouraging play—and if a different set of outcomes are emphasized—aspects of child well-being other than physical health.” The JAMA Network, January 2005. 

The mental and physical health outcomes of green exercise

Both physical activity and exposure to nature are known separately to have positive effects on physical and mental health. We have investigated whether there is a synergistic benefit in adopting physical activities whilst being directly exposed to nature (‘green exercise’)., 2005.

Health matters: getting every adult active every day

Extensive guidance from Public Health England, with lots of useful infographics, recommendations, a look at physical and mental health benefits and inequalities, and ways for health professionals to promote & increase physical activity levels. 19 July 2016.

Nothing Ventured… balancing risks and benefits in the outdoors

Aims to encourage readers to take a reasonable and proportionate approach to safety in outdoor and adventurous settings, and to reassure them that managing risks should not be a disincentive to organising activities. It is not a ‘how to guide’. Rather, at a time when many wonder whether society has gone too far in trying to keep children safe from all possible harm, it adds its voice to the call for a more balanced approach: an approach that accepts that a degree of risk – properly managed – is not only inevitable, but positively desirable. English Outdoor Council, c2010.

Nothing Ventured Cover