Creating the stepping stones to sport participation: Keep it fun and purposeful

This content was originally published in the resource Aboriginal Communities: Active for Life. This resource aims to help aboriginal children and youth across the country enjoy long, healthy, happy, and good lives. This work seeks to address the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, and serves as a tool for addressing fundamental rights of Indigenous Peoples—the right to health, the right to education, the right to culture, and the right to play.

Written as a first-person narrative, the reader follows the stories of Taylor, a fictional Aboriginal sport leader. All characters are fictional, but represent the voices of many of the people that we have heard from across the country throughout the development of this resource.


My cousin Robin is a recreation leader. She always starts her camps with a team cheer that the kids come up with, followed by some energizing activities and games like “Everybody’s It” tag or “Run and Scream” to get the kids playing together and having fun.¹ Activities like this have the ability to instill positive values such as honesty and courage. Robin spends time organizing and planning her programs so that the kids are learning new skills and moving as much as possible throughout the day. She also builds in time for free play where the kids can choose to do activities that they love. Robin treats the kids with respect and encourages them to try hard and do their best, and gives them compliments and high-fives when they complete activities. She also participates in some activities with them and likes to joke around. At the end of the week, she brings in a snack to share and takes a group picture that goes on the community board. The kids in her camps feel good about themselves and each other, and they are excited to come back the next day.

Researchers have actually studied what makes a fun program, and my cousin Robin seems to be doing all of the right things. All of the ideas shared above are summarized in the top 11 research findings.²

# 1 Being a Good Sport - Playing well together as a team and showing good sportsmanship.

# 2 Trying Hard - Trying your best, being strong and confident, and setting and achieving goals.

# 3 Positive Coaching - A coach who is friendly, encouraging, and a positive role model.

# 4 Learning and Improving - Learning new skills and being challenged to improve and get better.

# 5 Game-time Support - Being congratulated for playing well and having people cheer you on.

# 6 Games - Getting playing time and playing against an evenly matched team.

# 7 Practices - Having well-organized practices with lots of different individual, partner, and group activities.

# 8 Team Friendships - Getting along with teammates, being around friends, and meeting new people.

# 9 Mental Bonuses - Keeping a positive attitude and relieving stress.

# 10 Team Rituals - Having a team cheer, high-fiving, and going out to eat together.

# 11 Swag - Wearing a special uniform, having nice equipment, and earning medals or trophies

With Purpose

My friend Joe is a soccer coach. When he designs his practices, he always begins with Movement Preparation drills as a warm up (see Movement Preparation Supplement in Aboriginal Communities: Active for Life). These are simple exercises that, when done properly and regularly, wake up the energy systems and help to reduce injuries during practices and games. At the same time, they also help athletes to perform better by training some simple movement patterns and increasing balance.³

Since he introduced the preparation drills, his players have had far fewer injuries. The drills focus on carefully selected activities, technique, and gradual progression of time, space, and pressure. There are a lot of repetitions, and the drills are led by a trained coach who keeps them fun and interesting.

I know it’s important to get my players moving, but I know it’s also important to move the right way. Now when I plan my practices and warm-up sessions, I take a few moments to think about what I want the participants to learn and practice. I try to choose the games and activities that will benefit them the most.

I also try to plan my sport practices and activity programs with a clear purpose. For example, am I trying to improve the participants’ skills in a certain movement? Or am I trying to improve their fitness? Those are two different things. Maybe I want them to work better as a team, or develop their strategy or problem-solving skills. Sometimes I might just want them to move and have fun. By planning activities with a purpose, I can create a better experience for the participants.

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¹ Bruner, M.W., Hillier, S., Baillie, C.P.T., Lavallee, L., Bruner, B., Haire, K., Lovelace, R., Lévesque, L. (2016). Positive youth development in Aboriginal physical activity and sport: A systematic review. Adolescent Res Rev, 1: 257-269. DOI:10.1007/s40894-015-0021-9

² Visek, A.J., Achrati, S.M., Mannix, H.M., McDonnel, K., Harris, B.S. (2015). The fun integration theory: Toward sustaining children and adolescents in sport participation. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 12(3): 424-433.

³ Steffen, K., Emery, C.A., Romiti, M, Kang, J., Bizzini, M., Dvorak, J., Finch, C.F., Meeuwisse, W.H. (2013). High adherence to a neuromuscular injury prevention programme (FIFA 11+) improves functional balance and reduces injury risk in Canadian youth female football players: A cluster randomised trial. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47:794-802.