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School Sport for All

Side view of five teenage sprinters in sportswear lined up ready to race at the stadium

If School is for All, School Sport is for All.

Sport is a powerful mechanism for social impact, community engagement, cultural pride and self-worth. Participation in school sport has been connected to increased educational benefits, creating a strong sense of belonging, improving wellbeing and student attendance and the likelihood of attending post-secondary institutions.

Participation in sport provides students with opportunities to develop a lifelong love of physical activity and to practise some of the social and emotional skills that will help them later in life. Schools are an opportune place to provide sport programs as they act as an access point for students.

However, as it exists today, the middle school sport model is not equipped to encourage participation. Schools often lack the best facilities and trained coaches, and sports tend to cater to financially stable families who can afford to put their kids in sports in and outside of school, and those who can reliably get their kids to and from events. The students who play competitively have more opportunity to develop as athletes in quality facilities with trained coaches, therefore making them the better competitors and the ones chosen to play on the school teams. It’s a reality that leaves many students behind.

According to the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (2014), children of recent immigrants are less likely to participate in sports (32%) than children of Canadian-born parents (55%), limiting their exposure to the varying benefits. Schools can often be the first point of introduction between new Canadians and sport and recreation activities. The quality of that introduction is important in terms of generating interest, ongoing participation, quality instruction, and in enriching enjoyment. It is important to not only encourage more new Canadian participation in school sport but to increase school offering of school sport so youth who happen to be cut by a team still have a place to participate. 

Reimagining School Sport is a continuing project that aims to make participation in school sport a viable option for all students. If school is for all, school sport is for all (Säfvenbom, Geldhof & Hauge, 2014). In the 2018/2019 school year, Ph.D. student and middle school teacher Jonathan Mauro began working to develop a new school sport framework. Ever Active Schools and the University of Alberta are supporting the project by facilitating workshops with Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools and Edmonton Catholic Schools.

Through a pilot program in September 2019, both the Red Deer and Edmonton Catholic school districts plan to have developed a school sport framework that increases access for students who want to play on school sports teams. This new framework will encourage an increased number of student participants; professional development for coaches to be able to provide a better program; improved facilities, whether within the school or partnering with recreation facilities; and lowered costs to reduce financial barriers.

To build on the pilot program, with funding from Sport Canada, Ever Active Schools and the University of Alberta worked with 5 Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools to increase new Canadian youth participation in school sport. Red Deer Catholic Schools took a leadership role at all levels of their organization to support this initiative. From the Board of trustees down to committed teachers, the school jurisdiction was an ideal environment to run this pilot project. 

We believe that redesigning school sport for inclusivity and improved participation would increase, not only the number of new Canadian youth but any youth who wishes to participate, as well as enhance the quality of their sport experience within a welcoming and healthy school sport environment.  Further (and most importantly) we have found that when a child or youth is involved in school sport they have increased school connectedness, improved academic success, and personal wellbeing through school sport opportunities. 

Though the COVID-19 pandemic brought on challenges for this project we were still able to come up with 3 recommendations for schools to increase new Canadian youth participation in school sport:

  1. Develop School Sport For All Programs for New Canadians through a Comprehensive School Health Approach.  
  2. New Canadian Students are Change Agents within their school communities.  Engage students in a school sport for all models and have them voice their thoughts, enthusiasm and leadership.  
  3. Support teachers and coaches with time (sub release time), training opportunities and thank you’s.  No school sports program exists without the extra time that teachers/coaches put into the model. Even in a very unpredictable and challenging year, teachers still wanted to give as they saw the benefits of having students engaged in sport. 

Podclass Miniseries:

In an effort to increase new Canadian parent's understanding of the holistic benefits of school sport, a 3 episode podcast miniseries was created. Check the series out below! Great for parents, teachers, coaches and anyone interested in the lived experiences of school sport of new Canadian and Indigenous families.

“We know that there are many benefits, from physical to social and emotional, to life skills, from participation in school sport. The uniqueness of school sport is that  it reaches almost every single child. So if we’re able to use it to have these positive impacts on children, that is what we’re trying to aim for.”

- Jonathan Mauro, Teacher, St. Francis of Assisi Middle School 

“In an ideal world, we’d be able to offer a team or school sport program for every student who wants to participate and be on a team. That program would be able to still develop the skills of all of those kids, and yet offer competitive sport for those students who want to go that route… It wouldn’t hinder the ability for the other students to participate in sports as well. Whether that’s an intramural type program or a jamboree type of league where kids are showing up and still getting the same practice and skill development from qualified coaching but playing in just tournament type of play, and still offering that competitive side for the higher end athletes.”

- Gary Gylander, Principal, St. Francis of Assisi Middle School

“The successes that we’ve seen in our school has been amazing. It gives students an opportunity to have somewhere to go after school. The amount of values and characteristics that they get through school sport has helped our kids out so much. We’ve seen so much more respect and kindness toward each other. They’re getting those values of respect, commitment, trust, all that kind of stuff.”

- Kelsey Heatherington, Physical Education Teacher, St. Gregory the Great Catholic School


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