Volleyball BC is embarking on a multi-faceted initiative to boost the number of Canadian newcomers playing the sport, and has already seen success through their pilot projects and summer camps.
This is part of a larger strategic plan launched by the provincial sport organization in early 2021 to promote diversity and inclusion in governance, programs and activities, and to offer opportunities to youth and adults who otherwise might never get a chance to play.
“This is about giving an opportunity to people who haven’t played our sport. Volleyball is a sport you can play indoors, in the grass, at the beach … it’s very recreational. You don’t even really need a net but if you haven’t been given the chance to develop those skill sets, it is a specialized sport and it can be hard to get started. So we give our participants the basic skill sets so they can be confident and participate fully,” said Kiruthika Rathanaswami, Adult Programs Manager for Volleyball BC.
Funded by Sport BC and the Province of British Columbia, Volleyball BC partnered with immigrant and community organizations and completed two pilot projects. One was an outdoor program in South Vancouver partnering with South Vancouver Neighborhood House focused on South Asian and Filipino youth. The second was held in Richmond partnering with Richmond Multicultural Community Services, where the participants were Cantonese, Mandarin and Arabic-speaking children. Coaches who spoke one of the languages of the participants were hired and completed the course Welcome to Canada: Engaging Newcomers in Sport and Physical Activity. And despite the language and cultural barriers, both programs were popular and successful.
“It was a positive experience for both the participants and the coaches. Participants created bonds and friendships with each other, they were able to speak freely in their language with other kids and coaches, they increased their confidence levels and now want to play in school too,” Rathanaswami said.
“For the coaches, they expanded their own coaching knowledge working with these groups and were role models that the participants could identify with and look up to from their own ethnicity.”
A few more pilot programs in other regions such as Victoria, Northern B.C. and in the Okanagan are planned for later this year.
“We’re trying to figure out how we can sustain this program, and how we can hook up these youth with other volleyball clubs and opportunities across the province. The question is: how can we bridge that gap?” she said.
Both partnerships in South Vancouver and Richmond are continuing into 2022 as well, while another newcomers camp is currently being offered in Richmond with the support of the JumpStart Sport Relief Fund. And this project has been selected by Sport for Life and Canadian Women & Sport as one of the three initiatives to implement equitable and quality community sport for newcomer women and girls.
And Volleyball BC is always looking for new populations to welcome, prioritizing communities that have historically been overlooked or excluded. To that end, they’ve been open to suggestions from the communities they serve.
"We received feedback from one of our coaches through our newcomer pilot project last summer that South Asian youths would like to have a program for female youth only. Through this project we hope to address the needs of female youths and deliver a quality volleyball and mentorship component for newcomer women and girls,” she said.
“We want to empower these women and girls and bring in successful female coaches, referees and athletes to share their experiences and stories. One goal is to recruit more female coaches and referees. Through this mentorship program newcomers will not only learn the physical skill sets of volleyball but also the other facets of the sport such as employment and career opportunities”.
All of these programs adhere to the ideals of Long-Term Development in Sport and Physical Activity. Each one presents a unique challenge, and requires innovative thinking to keep the women and girls engaged. With each new pilot the administrators and coaches have learned strategies for how to approach programs in the future.
“One of many strengths of the initiative Volleyball BC and South Vancouver Neighbourhood House are undertaking is the care and consideration towards skills development that extends beyond the field of play. The project team has really tailored their approach to meet the needs of their newcomer girls and young women, and I am really excited to see the impact of their efforts on increasing accessibility and long-term engagement with volleyball,” said Francesca Jackman, Sport for Life’s Manager of Strategic Initiatives.
“It’s not like one approach will work for every community,” she said. “Each one has been different and has involved unique barriers that newcomer groups face, but the collaborative approach with the organizations has been so instrumental in this process. We’re excited to see where this goes next.”
According to Kabir Hosein, Director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives, this is about a lot more than just volleyball.
“Quality sport is based on three Ps — good people, good places and good programs. Volleyball BC has demonstrated that with a genuine passion to include newcomers and empower their abilities, which will also assist in creating a sense of belonging, these programs can have a lasting impact on these communities.”