By Tess Bain

When it comes to exercise post-Covid, it’s not about coming first it’s about being fit and healthy both physically and mentally.

Performance is tied to success. In sports, performance equipment is lighter, more technical and promises better results. For sports’ brands, performance often means faster, higher or more powerful. It means constant measurement. But things are changing. Sports and exercise mean so much more to so many more. It’s time for brands to redefine the idea of performing. 


On the 23rd March 2020, Boris Johnson announced that the people of the UK had to stay at home. There were a few exceptions; shopping for food and medicine, work if you were a keyworker, or for an hour of outdoor exercise each day. Countries all over the world said much the same. In England a week earlier, The Premier League had stopped all games. No gyms. No teams. No league tables. 


But people kept exercising. Online yoga classes soared. It was nearly impossible to buy gym equipment such as resistance bands. Public Health England’s ‘Couch to 5k’ app had 858,000 downloads; a 95% increase on the year before [1]. For many, exercise has become a coping mechanism to battle with mental health issues made worse by the Lockdown. In Britain, 67% of people said this was their motivation to get moving [2]. 

The physical effects of exercise - losing weight, more toned muscles - seem to be increasingly less important.


And this change in lifestyle, and inherent need to look after ourselves, is affecting us all - it’s not specific to one country. In the Netherlands, 80% of people reduced their outdoor activities during the Lockdown earlier in the year, [3]. Globally, 87% of people report that they feel stressed at work, but only 46% receive any support from their employer in managing these issues. [4] As a result, we’re seeking new ways to maintain our health and wellbeing, and looking for new opportunities that suit this new way of living. 


Technology made sporting events that were unable to go ahead evolve into something different; in Japan, the tourist board partnered with an anime themed bike race Granfondo Komoro and online platform Zwift to make the race digital and accessible to everyone, around the world [5]. Despite world sports more or less stopping, participation has evolved into something new and larger. You only have to look at the rise of Peloton, https://www.onepeloton.co.uk/company which saw sales of its hi-tech exercise bikes soar. The company packages up its exercise equipment with live streamed classes - creating a community of its own. It’s seen growth of over 100% in a year They are now aiming to increase membership from 3m to 100m subscribers. [6]


But whilst the Lockdown may have happened overnight, these ideas didn’t. Liverpool FC manager Jurgen Klopp stressed all the way back in 2018 that although he wanted to make sure his team won something soon, he also wanted them to have ‘the best time of [their] lives until then’ [7].

Only one person can win, after all. Community centred clubs and events have also been working their way into people’s lives. In 2007, the Run Dem Crew was started by DJ, poet and writer Charlie Dark as an alternative to traditional running clubs. Now, it focusses on mentoring youth, and aims to change their experience of urban environments into something safe, unique, positive and supportive. A disclaimer on their website addresses those who only have time for their own personal bests; feel free to run elsewhere [8]. And in parks up across the world, Saturday morning means parkrun, a free event open to anyone, where times are recorded but not expected, where you can walk, run and even bring the dog [9]. At parkrun, friends have been formed, hobbies have been started and plenty of post run coffees have been consumed [10]. For these groups, traditional measures of success haven’t been forgotten, but they are no longer the priority.


It’s something we’ve noticed before. Our design of the new Delta Max EFL ball for Mitre was inspired by flow states, inspired by the athletes on the pitch; fluid, organic and constantly moving. In a mindset that is not all about winning, but about moving and feeling. Something that is tied just as much to the mind as it is to the body. 

In the study of gender, there’s a landmark paper by philosopher Judith Butler that says we construct our gender through performing socially coded actions and behaviours [11]. In other words, we are not born with our identity, but are always constructing it. Performing is a way of putting something into the real world space. Performance means bringing something into being. What if we applied this theory to our branding of sports’ companies? What if performance wasn’t how we measured our speed, our strength, each other? What if performance becomes how we start to enact change?


With the world changing, it’s time for sports’ brands to change their view of what counts. Starting with performance. We’ve seen that what people care about and what people use sport for has changed. For many, it’s a way of making sure that their personal future is happier and managing their mental health. For others, like the run dem crew, it’s about creating a future and a culture where people are empowered. Far from existing in a vacuum, sport is becoming a tool for presenting our personal beliefs - and making them happen. Every time we put on a pair of shoes, pick up our racquet, or hit the gym - every time we perform - we commit to changing the future. Whether we’re making it happier, safer, more equal, innovative or sustainable. Performance matters, but not just as a time on a stopwatch. It matters what it brings to the world. 

Share this article