How to Create Quality Experiences in Sport and Activity: Keep Everyone Moving in Progressive and Challenging Ways

This article was originally published in the resource Aboriginal Communities: Active for Life. This resource aims to help our 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 throughout the country throughout the development of this resource.

Everyone Included and Participant Centered

When I’m coaching and leading activity programs, I find that I’m often working with kids and youth who have a wide range of skills and development. It can make it tricky for me to design practices that are interesting and challenging for all of them. Sometimes I set up activity and skill stations that allow them to do their own thing in their own way, while still allowing them to interact with each other. I try to set up the stations in a way that takes away the pressure of time and space, allowing them to improve and progress at their own level.

Some of the people that I’m coaching need more help during practice than others. This type of station practice also allows me to spend some one-on-one time with those who need extra attention.

I try to keep in mind that everyone has different skills and talents. Some people also have more experience than others. Sometimes there are differences in ability between the males and females, or with participants who have come from another school or program. I also know that there can be physical differences between my participants, so I try to offer different size equipment that helps all participants to find success (e.g. balls, balloons, lower hoops, bigger nets). I also adjust the size of the space to suit the number and skills of the participants (e.g. half court or rink compared to full court or rink).

I want everyone to feel challenged and involved. As a leader, I find that it is important to progress an activity, or modify it to make sure that each person feels the right level of difficulty—challenged but not frustrated. It is important to make everyone feel included.

Always Moving

While watching one of my daughter’s basketball practices, I noticed that the girls spent a lot of time standing still. The coach did a lot of talking, often making them wait in line for a turn to shoot the ball. The players looked bored and were not getting much exercise.

I want to make sure that I don’t let this happen in my programs. I know that if I keep my participants moving, not only will they do more activity, but it may also help them feel better, faster, stronger, and smarter.¹

My daughter’s team is coached by my aunt, and she trusts my knowledge, so I gave her a few suggestions on how to keep her practices more fun and productive for the players:

  • Ask a friend or assistant to time the practice so you compare the amount of active to inactive time.
  • Plan a few extra activities in case one activity goes faster than you expected.
  • Keep lineups short so there is more “time on task”. Sometimes this means having different lines doing the same thing, but it’s still better because more people are moving and less people are waiting and standing still. Sometimes I also get the people in the line to do an activity so they are moving between their turns. Balance poses or partner work are good options while waiting in line.
  • Use stations. Stations are great for helping different abilities and making sure everyone feels included.
  • Keep instructions brief and at the level of the participants. If an activity takes longer than a few minutes to explain, it is probably too advanced for the group.
  • Try a Teaching Games for Understanding Approach in which instructions are layered on as the skill of the groups adapts (see the Supplement in Aboriginal Communities: Active for Life).

Progressive and Challenging

Since children grow and develop at different rates (physically, emotionally, and intellectually), it can be hard to design programs that are interesting and challenging for all of them. You can help each participant stay engaged by getting to know them, giving them options to increase or decrease the challenge, and providing individualized options and goals. I use the idea of the Optimal Zone of Challenge when designing my programs. This can be seen in The Challenge Zone figure.² If a kid seems bored, I suggest ways to make the activity more interesting for them. If I see a kid giving up easily, I might adjust the activity to make it easier for them to feel successful. If I see the kids smiling, laughing, sweating, and having fun, then I know I have it right. When kids experience success, they are more likely to continue the activity.

>> Read the previous stories

>> Read Aboriginal Communities: Active for Life


¹ McHugh, T.L.F. (2011). Physical activity experiences of Aboriginal youth. Native Studies Review, 20(1), 20.

² Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

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