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Creating Good Activity Programs for Kids

Published on September 17th, 2018

Ever since youth sailing in the USA modeled itself after other youth sports with its focus on age-based equipment and competition, it now is facing the same increased attrition as these other sports.

While it seems reasonable to deliver a sailing program that focuses on fun so the young sailors will continue sailing into their adult years, the heightened emphasis on skill training and competition without presenting the vast array of alternatives in sailing is often the result.

With school starting, it’s review time for youth sailing programs with this report from Active For Life, a Canadian initiative that promotes physical literacy, providing some direction for that process.

Quality programs in physical activity and sport can do immensely positive things for your child. Beyond developing physical literacy and physical fitness, good programs are capable of promoting confidence, self-esteem, social connection, leadership skills, and more.

Sometimes, however, the challenge is to find good programming. This is why there is a growing movement in Canada and the United States – and indeed most of the developed world – to examine the quality of the sport and activity programs that we are offering to our kids.

In the face of declining activity levels among children, including significant rates of burnout and dropout from activity programs, more sport and recreation organizations are starting to assess how well their activity programs retain – as much as train – their participants. This includes looking at whether a program is as much fun, safe, and enjoyable as it is instructive and developmental.

In Canada, Sport for Life has developed a comprehensive checklist for sport clubs and community organizations to assess the quality of their programs. It covers everything from coach training to facility design to inclusion policies and more.

Dr. Stephen Norris, an early champion for quality sport in Canada, describes it as being comprised of three major components: good people, good programs, and good places.

“And I’m cautious about that last one,” reflects Norris, “because there’s often a rush to build elaborate recreation and sports facilities, and I think that’s the last thing we need to consider in terms of the continuum. It all starts with the instructors and the coaches creating a great environment.”

With these concepts in mind, what are some things to consider when you look at a sport or activity program for your child? You can start by asking these questions:

• Are the coaches and instructors trained through the National Coach Certification Program?
• Does the program ensure the safety of participants through criminal record checks, concussion protocols, and emergency action plans?
• Is every child engaged and having fun? Or are some kids left out?
• Do you see respect for kids, coaches, parents, and officials prioritized over winning?
• Are the instructors and coaches willing to get to know your child and make program adaptations to make it inclusive if required?
• Are pre-teen kids encouraged to explore different sports and activities through the year?
• Does the program focus on teaching tactics to win, or does it try to develop physical literacy, athleticism, and skills first?
• Are the training regimens, competition formats, and equipment appropriate to the developmental stage of the kids involved?
• Does the program provide equipment, training facilities, and competition environments that are safe, clean, and accessible?

If you can answer these questions to your satisfaction, then you are probably looking at a good quality program. But if you are unsatisfied with more than a couple of answers, you may want to examine the program a little closer, or consider looking elsewhere altogether.

Physical activity and sport are profoundly influential in shaping the health and confidence of our children. This is precisely why the movement towards quality sport is so important.

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