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The Sport Information Resource Centre

Highlights 


Until recently, a typical research process would include generating ideas or research questions, gathering and analyzing data to test hypotheses, publishing the results in scientific journals and anticipating that the findings would be adopted or applied in the “real world.” Then, this cycle would repeat, replacing old questions with new lines of inquiry.  

True, this outdated approach generated new knowledge, although clearly at various levels of depth and breadth. However, that approach rarely resulted in uptake of research findings by the people or organizations best positioned to make use of such findings. They’re also known as knowledge-users or end-users.  

Without that uptake, the findings don’t lead to meaningful shifts or improvements in how things are done. For example, despite a recent increase in research focused on sport and physical activity policies, programs and practices (Blamey & Mutrie, 2004; Faulkner et al., 2006), there have been no notable improvements in population-level sport and physical activity participation, according to surveillance data.  

It’s undoubtably complex to effectively translate knowledge that stems from academic research findings and apply it to the real world of sport and physical activity participation. A disconnect between researchers and knowledge-users could be a factor that’s hindering the translation of such research into practice. In particular, it’s possible that sport and physical activity researchers pursue studies that aren’t valuable to knowledge-users, such as sport administrators, coaches, public health professionals or education specialists. Or, if they do, it’s possible that their results don’t find their way to those working to promote sport and physical activity participation.  

Essentially that’s a gap between the research (on sport and physical activity) and the needs of those who can best apply or act on those research findings. To bridge that gap, we recently conducted a study aimed at identifying top research priorities of sport and physical activity among knowledge-users from various sectors across Canada. In this article, we’ll describe best practices and frameworks for effective knowledge translation (which guided our study). We also cover how we conducted our research and what we found to be the top research priorities of sport and physical activity knowledge-users in Canada. 

Bridging the research-to-practice gap

Basketball coach with clipboard and marker explain with scheme the strategy of the game to a player.

Several studies previously reported that many people who work to promote sport and physical activity participation don’t feel well informed by current research (Coutts, 2017; Dale et al., 2016; Fullagar et al., 2019; Zenko & Ekkekakis, 2015). Similarly, sport and physical activity researchers felt they had observed a gap between research findings and related policy and programming (Faulkner et al., 2006; Fullagar et al., 2019; Holt, Camiré, et al., 2018; Holt, Pankow, et al., 2018).  

As noted earlier, it’s thought this gap is partly driven by sport and physical activity researchers investigating issues that differ from the daily challenges experienced by stakeholders, practitioners and coaches (Fullagar et al., 2019). The gap may also exist because knowledge-users are unaware of research results that could help alleviate some of the challenges they’re facing (Holt, Pankow, et al., 2018).  

To overcome these 2 challenges, and to maximize the significance of their research, researchers can now follow guiding principles that lay the ground for what is known as integrative knowledge mobilization. To understand that term, the Knowledge to Action Framework is the most widely used set of principles to guide integrative knowledge mobilization. It essentially promotes a research process that involves a knowledge creation cycle and an action cycle (Graham et al., 2006). The 2 distinct, but related cycles include multiple phases that are iterative and can overlap.  

The knowledge to action cycle. This cycle has 2 stages. Stage one is the knowledge creation funnel. Stage two is the action cycle.
The Knowledge to Action Framework. Image retrieved from Graham et al. (2006)

The knowledge creation cycle involves the traditional research process, but ensures consistent tailoring of the knowledge created. Specifically, tailoring it to cater to the needs of knowledge-users by engaging them from the onset and keeping them involved throughout the research process. In contrast, the action cycle identifies the activities required for knowledge to be applied in practice. The individual phases within the action cycle dovetail with one another. Those phases evolve as they move from identifying an issue that needs attention to determining whether the issue represents a knowledge-practice gap that needs filling. The next phases then include adapting the knowledge for the local context, assessing barriers and facilitators associated with the uptake of knowledge and implementing it. Monitoring and assessing the impact and sustainability of the knowledge implemented are the final phases of the action cycle. Naturally, tailoring knowledge to the needs of knowledge-users means its crucial to co-involve researchers and stakeholders in all phases of both the knowledge creation and action cycles. 

Given that researchers have relatively focused areas of expertise, they may be intimidated to work collaboratively with knowledge-users. Researchers may consider it risky if they realize the most pressing issues requiring attention don’t align with their scope of competence. Since the involvement of knowledge-users is essential for the Knowledge to Action Framework, it would therefore be useful for researchers to have an already established understanding of priority issues generally identified by knowledge-users. With access to a repository of knowledge-users’ main challenges, researchers could identify issues for which their skillset is best suited.

Being able to readily pinpoint a pressing issue they’re ready to tackle, researchers could then rapidly move to the step of seeking knowledge-users to partner with for the various phases, from knowledge creation to action. By identifying knowledge-users’ priorities, researchers have the potential to accelerate knowledge creation and align limited research resources with the needs of those in a position to act on the findings. 

Listening to what the Canadian sport and physical activity community had to say 

We recently conducted a study aimed at identifying the top issues of sport and physical activity knowledge-users from various sectors across Canada (Bélanger et al., 2022). Many different ways exist to identify research priorities, so we used a hybrid model. To generate a shortlist of research priorities, we combined various approaches that promote: congregating expert opinions, purposefully sampling stakeholders from multiple sectors and using an iterative process to collect and analyze data (Cowan & Oliver, 2018; Kelly et al., 2014; Sivananthan & Chambers, 2013).  

For this national-level research program, we followed 3  consultation steps. Our consultations involved Canadian sport and physical activity knowledge-users. And in all cases, they were from multiple sectors (including health, education, sport, social development, governmental, and non-governmental). First, we brought together a group of sport and physical activity knowledge users for a 1 day workshop to identify a long list (68) of potential priority topics for Canadian researchers.  

Secondly, we held prioritization exercises, during which workshop participants took an online survey about the priority topics identified earlier. For the survey, they reported the extent to which they felt each topic was: relevant, difficult to address, and representative of an issue for which more knowledge is needed. From the survey scores, we identified issues perceived to be the easiest to address (that is, issues perceived to be very relevant and with a low difficulty score) and the most important (that is, issues perceived to be very relevant and with a high need of knowledge).  

Thirdly, we invited any Canadian sport and physical activity knowledge-user to take our next questionnaire, which was also delivered online. Participants were asked to rank the top  21 issues that met the threshold of ease and importance in our second step. In this final step, participants rated each issue with the same criteria of relevance, difficulty and perceived need for more knowledge. The average of scores obtained in this final step allowed a number of issues to stand out, ultimately highlighting knowledge-users’ top priorities for sport and physical activity research.  

Priorities for sport and physical activity research in Canada 

The multistep process of engaging stakeholders from various sectors led us to identify 8  research foci. In general, we found that Canadian stakeholders want more research on the financial barriers to participation, best communication strategies to promote participation, consequences of dropout, key characteristics of effective interventions, engagement of Indigenous populations, creation of positive and inclusive experiences, recruitment and retention of volunteers, and implementation of knowledge exchange strategies. More specifically, the top 8  issues stakeholders identified are described here, in no particular order: 

  1. Financial support for sport and physical activity. Several types of barriers can impede participation in sport and physical activity. Because of the inequity created by financial barriers for sport and physical activity participation, several government and community-driven financial aid programs aim to enable participation regardless of ability to pay. Notwithstanding, stakeholders identified financial support as a priority. They want communication gaps addressed to ensure that individuals who would need financial support know about the available programs and have access to them.  
  1. A mega phone against a yellow backgroundCommunications for optimal sport and physical activity promotion. Stakeholders consider it a priority to find better ways of clearly communicating the importance of sport and physical activity participation. Targeted communication approaches may be more effective than wide-reaching strategies for promoting physical activity. So recognizing that, investigations relating to this topic could help identify targeted communication approaches to favour reaching different sub-groups.  
  1. Consequences of dropping out from sport and physical activity. Despite having a good understanding of the positive impacts of sport and physical activity, participants reported that it’s a priority to correct the current lack of information on the influence of dropping out from such activities. In particular, stakeholders called for more information on the moderate-term to long-term consequences of dropping out. Consequences could include mental and physical health, future participation, other behaviours and general development.  
  1. Characteristics of best interventions for sport and physical activity participation. This priority highlights that researchers must better communicate what’s already known with respect to most effective approaches to promote engagement of various population-groups when it comes to sport and physical activity. It’s also a priority to identify the best ways to keep individuals in sport and physical activity (retention) once they’ve initiated participation. For several sub-groups, this represents a need to better share what the scientific literature identifies as effective interventions. For other groups, it means disclosing gaps in knowledge and seeking evidence of effective approaches to sustain participation over time. 
  1. Physical activity and sport participation among Indigenous populations. Another priority emerged to address low levels of physical activity and sport participation. In this case, specifically to address this priority among Indigenous populations. However, the current study didn’t include enough representation of Indigenous people to provide a clear direction. The emergence of this topic among the priorities nevertheless highlights the need to further investigate research priorities related to sport and physical activity participation in collaboration with members, leaders and Elders of Indigenous communities. 
  1. Promotion of safe, inclusive and quality experiences in sport and physical activity. The need for researchers to identify ways to harness inclusiveness within organized sport and physical activity was also deemed a priority. In particular, participants wanted better knowledge on approaches to facilitate the development of a sport and physical activity system that respects and values diversity and inclusion. Through the study, stakeholders explained they’re seeking leadership from the research community to identify evidence-based strategies to avoid bullying in sports and promote safe, positive and inclusive experiences.  
  1. Volunteers supporting at a sporting eventSustaining volunteer engagement in sport and physical activity. Researchers can also contribute to helping sport and physical activity organizations find ways to address volunteer shortages. The sport and physical activity sector relies heavily on volunteer engagement for managing and delivering programs. Stakeholders from this sector consider it a research priority to better understand how to engage and retain volunteers. Researchers could help by identifying reasons for which individuals engage in volunteering and what contributes to them remaining involved over the long term.  
  1. Knowledge exchange between researchers and knowledge-users. The need to enhance the involvement and integration of knowledge-users into the research process was also identified. Although this gap may not need to be addressed through research questions, all sport and physical activity researchers should consider it as a sign at the outset. Their research processes must engage those who’ll have the power to adopt or apply their findings or those people most affected by their research.  

What can sport and physical activity knowledge-users expect from their involvement in research?

As recognized and integral members of a collaborative or co-involved research team, knowledge-users are encouraged to:  

Co-involvement may be new to both the researchers and to knowledge-users. Before knowledge-users can successfully contribute to research, let alone adopt research findings that improve their programs, researchers first need time to work out which priority research needs they’ll address and how to address them.  

Once the researchers are ready to tackle issues, they’ll need to seek knowledge-users to partner with them. When that happens, knowledge-users will have a say about the specific research objectives. So that way, the objectives are truly tailored to those knowledge-users’ needs.  

Final thoughts 

This study identified 8 high-ranking priorities for sport and physical activity research in Canada. These priorities provide much-needed guidance to sport and physical activity researchers, specifically those seeking to engage in research from the perspective of knowledge-users from various sectors. By acknowledging and implementing these findings, research will more accurately reflect the burning issues identified by multisectoral representatives in sport and physical activity promotion. This is particularly true if that’s done while adhering to best practices in terms of knowledge exchange. Canadian sport and physical activity participation will hopefully improve if collaborative research efforts address the priority topics identified by Canadian sport and physical activity stakeholders.  


Highlights


“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is a popular saying in leadership circles. However, knowing what to measure to inform change is a craft altogether.

To advance equity and inclusion in sport, the “who” of measurement is fundamentally as important as the “what.” Indeed, it’s important to understand the perspectives, realities and lived experiences of the people who experience sport as well as those who are pushed away, left on the sidelines, or chose to opt out. And that understanding has never been more important as sport organizations from coast to coast work to reinvent themselves to be safe, inclusive spaces for all.

This article draws on research findings from the Change the Game research project, by the MLSE Foundation with the University of Toronto. The project aims to clarify the value of embracing data practices concerning race and other identity factors for organizations working to achieve greater equity for youth in sport. At the same time, while calling attention to the systemic and many decision-making risks of not doing so.

Sport, society and social justice

A coach with BIPOC basketball players in a huddle on the sidelines of a basketball court

MLSE LaunchPad is a youth Sport for Development (SFD) facility in 1 of Canada’s most socioeconomically and culturally diverse neighbourhoods. The facility is located steps from a university that’s undergoing a renaming exercise, because its namesake was an architect of Canada’s Residential Schools system. Just steps away in another direction, a major thoroughfare’s street name is under review for its namesake having worked to delay abolishing slavery.

Social justice movements actively reflect communities’ and individuals’ lived experiences with institutions. A long overdue, social justice reckoning across society has been sparked, within and beyond sport. That spark comes in the cumulative aftermath of: George Floyd’s murder, the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves of residential school children, and the compounding effect of racist incident after incident.

Organizations across Canada have released many statements, hashtags, and commitments to change. These have come from professional sports to national sport organizations and from SFD programs to municipal, physical activity opportunities for youth. Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) roles and committees are commonplace. “Build Back Better” is a popular mantra on social media with implicit acknowledgement that the status quo is no longer acceptable if sport is really going to live up to the promise and potential of sport as a force for good, and for all.

Changing the game: For whom?

If this is truly a watershed moment, where it’s possible to reinvent sport equitably, then the issue before sport providers is how to operationalize such change. How do we dismantle systems of inequality and centre our sport sector around people it’s intended to serve? And crucially, what data exists to guide where to begin and how best to allocate increasingly limited resources? The unfortunate truth to the question of data sources is there isn’t much available. Although data on sport is routinely analyzed through the lenses of age and gender equity, there’s limited (if any) publicly accessible demographic data to support meaningful insights related to race, geography, household income and other intersecting aspects of marginalization.

These are some of the issues that MLSE Foundation explored when launching its Change the Game research program on access, engagement and equity in youth sport. MLSE Foundation collaborated on this research program with Simon Darnell, Ph.D., and the University of Toronto’s Centre for Sport Policy Studies. Amidst slogans and voices calling for change, the fundamental ethos guiding the Change the Game research team was a clear-eyed commitment to understanding the reality of who we’re aiming to change the game for and what practical and concrete success looks like to them.

Informally referred to behind the scenes as a “youth sport census,” nearly 7000 youth, and parents and guardians of youth, responded from across Ontario as a representatively diverse sample for the research program. The sample spanned race, gender, household income level, ability, geography, immigration status and other demographic variables. It became the largest demographic survey of youth sport access and engagement to date in Canada. The survey explored barriers to participation and ideas for building a better and more equitable sport system for the diversity of Ontario’s youth, in the words of youth. A publicly accessible, open-data portal contains a summary report, interactive results dashboard, and an anonymized data set. Stakeholders who are interested in mining the data, may download the data set for their own learning, planning, funding decisions and policymaking.

The rest of this article isn’t meant to repeat the overall findings. Instead, this article will showcase the value of embracing data practices concerning race and other demographic factors, in pursuit of advancing equity and inclusion goals for youth in sport. By making a case for how race and identity-based data can help drive meaningful action toward a more equitable future, let’s pay homage to the great long-form basketball analysts. To do so, we’ll take a deep dive into 2 specific questions from the original Change the Game study and the insights we can draw.

Understanding blind spots

A series of “I” statements formed a 4‑item, Likert-style questionnaire about youth experiences with racism and discrimination in sport. The questionnaire was aligned with MLSE LaunchPad’s MISSION measurement model for youth data collection. Respondents were asked to select whether they strongly disagreed, disagreed, agreed or strongly agreed with each statement.

For example, 1 of the statements read: I have experienced racism in sports. Overall, 10% of youth in the study agreed or strongly agreed to having directly experienced racism in sport. Although perhaps meaningful in a dialogue about equity, is 10% on a survey enough for a sport organization, funder or policymaker to meaningfully change course in their decision-making or strategic plan? Hard to say.

Consider now the same statement through the perspective of specific segments of youth in the study.

Figure 1: Survey statement, “I have experienced racism in sports” 10% of overall youth (entire sample of respondents) agreed or strongly agreed 28% of Indigenous youth respondents agreed or strongly agreed 33% of Black youth respondents agreed or strongly agreed 22% of overall BIPOC youth respondents agreed or strongly agreed
Figure 1. Survey statement, “I have experienced racism in sports.”

How does your interpretation of the data change with this additional perspective? If a sport organization is genuinely interested in addressing anti-Black racism or forging right relations with Indigenous communities, does this new story unfolding help to convey a different level of urgency for action?

This is the power of demographic data: enabling one to look in-depth to better understand vital stories and perspectives that are otherwise at risk of being neutralized by the majority.

Now let’s consider a different example.

The fallacy of averages

Against the backdrop of “Build Back Better” becoming an increasingly popular slogan or hashtag, youth were asked to shed light in practical terms on what that might look like in their reality. A total of 9 thematic areas (or factors) received greater than 10% of support among youth overall, as follows:

Figure 2: “Build Back Better” factors for youth in sports 40% to 60% of overall youth respondents supported the following factors would “Build Back Better” in their reality: •	More affordable equipment •	Coaches who help me improve •	More affordable sport opportunities 20% to <40% of overall youth respondents supported: •	More opportunities to improve at a sport •	More adaptive sport opportunities •	Access to a greater variety of sports •	Teammates accepting who I am Fewer than 20% of overall youth respondents supported: •	Coaches who look like me •	Organizations that respect my culture
Figure 2. “Build Back Better” factors for youth in sports.

To be clear, each of these 9 factors is an important and sound investment area to improve accessibility and experiences in sport, including the 3 factors that polled the highest. 

However, equity isn’t a first-past-the-post concept. In many respects, the opposite is true. To get real about advancing racial equity for youth in sport in an authentic way, one must align their data practices accordingly. Doing so can help by enabling a deeper awareness of the issues and perspectives of constituencies whose relative size may not be large enough to move the overall averages.

With that in mind, let’s explore 2 of the factors in more detail. “Coaches who look like me” and “Organizations that respect my culture” were each called out as important by less than 20% of youth in the overall sample. Do any interesting insights emerge when race-based and Indigenous-identity data lenses or filters are applied?

As it turns out, yes.

Having “coaches who look like me” was identified by approximately 10% of youth overall, the lowest among the 9 factors. However, a closer look affirms this item as having outsized importance to specific demographics within the sample, notably South Asian youth (more than 20%) and Black youth (more than 30%). When reflecting on this 9‑factor list of Build Back Better, how do these additional details inform your own decision-making or perspective on the most critical issues to prioritize addressing?

Exploring who selected “Organizations that respect my culture” through a race-based and Indigenous-identity lens is also interesting, for a different reason.

Figure 3: “Build Back Better” means organizations respect my culture Black 38% Middle Eastern 35% South Asian 34%  South East Asian 32% Mixed race 28% Indigenous 26% East Asian 24% Latinx 20% White 12%
Figure 3. “Build Back Better” means organizations respect my culture.

The distribution pattern is obvious, especially when compared to the Build Back Better table in Figure 3. More than 1 in 5 youth from all 8 of the unique BIPOC categories in this survey called for respect for their culture, even though that rated proportionally much lower in the overall sample of youth.

Decision-making risks

Neither of these examples discredits the importance of any of the other Build Back Better factors cited above. They’re all vital components of a healthy future for youth sport and need attention from providers, policymakers and funders. These examples are provided to reinforce the value of intentionally including demographics in an organization’s data collection plans. Those demographics can shed light more meaningfully on how different experiences and ideas can show up for different segments of the population. If instead of race, the variable of interest had been gender, household income, ability or other intersectional factors of identity, then the results displayed may have told a different story. The core purpose or value proposition is for an organization’s EDI strategy and decision-making process to be informed by the people they intend to serve.

Applying demographic data collection in your organization

Before you can improve an organization’s measurement and evaluation plans, you require some baseline competencies in data management, including privacy, ethics and analysis. Those competencies can help you apply some of the methods and tactics to integrate intersectional demographic lenses to your organization’s plans. Here are tips an organization can consider when getting started. They’re grounded in 4 pillars of transparency, trust, trying it out and talking it out.

  1. Transparency

If you’re collecting demographic information from staff, coaches, athletes, families or other stakeholders essential to your organization’s success, it’s key to be open and honest with them. For example, openly share why you’re collecting identity-based information, how you’ll handle the information, who will see it, and what you’ll do with the insights you learn. Engaging your core constituencies in these ways can help demonstrate respect, enable meaningful and informed consent to share data, and encourage active partnership on a shared journey to shape a more equitable future.

  1. Trust

Male High School Basketball Team Having Team Talk With Coach

Trust often makes all the difference between complete and incomplete information on a survey or profile page. Whether a respondent has a trusting relationship with the sport organization or its staff will often determine whether that respondent fills out all the fields on their registration or profile forms. Without that trust, they may only complete the required fields. It’s the difference between responding fulsomely to a multiple-choice question on a survey versus just selecting the “prefer not to answer” option. Individual respondents (data contributors) must believe the organization has their back and will use their data to make meaningful improvements. Sometimes this can take time, and it’s OK to be patient.

For example, at the MLSE LaunchPad SFD facility, this is a pattern seen when new members sign up for the first time. Youth, parents and guardians often fill out the minimum required information to get started on attending programs. Then, what and how much they’re willing to share changes over time. Their feedback and sharing practices grow after having built a trusting relationship with staff and the organization. When new members have gained an understanding of how data contributes to understanding and improvements, then that also contributes to enhanced sharing.

  1. Try (it out)

To echo Courtney Szto, Ph.D., of Queen’s University at the 2021 Anti Racism in Hockey Incubator: Do something! Too many ideas for change get left on the sidelines. Trying to do right typically trumps inaction, even if a concept is imprecise or not fully formed. Even if it’s a small step forward, take a shot. If you don’t achieve your intended outcome, learn from it, regroup, change your approach and try again. Progress can take unusual paths, but there’s tremendous value in letting stakeholders see that you’re actively trying to make a difference.

  1. Talk (it out)

Data practices don’t come naturally to everyone. If you’re considering a new idea, direction or practice, we encourage you to reach out to someone in the field to help critically assess your approach. If you’re a sport or SFD organization interested in having a sounding board on what an intersectional approach to demographic data collection could look like in your setting, then reach out to a member of the MLSE LaunchPad Research and Evaluation Team.

In closing, sport providers, funders and policymakers want to prioritize meaningful action toward equity, their toolkit to shape the future of sport should include embracing intersectional data collection practices, including race and other equity-related demographic factors. However, keep in mind that there’s potential risk if sport leaders are relying on data featuring top line averages and rankings without an intersectional approach. The data informing their decisions carries a heightened risk of being influenced by the majority and increases the likelihood of actions that perpetuate the very systems they’re supposedly seeking to reshape.

Recommended resources

Centre for Sport Policy Studies, University of Toronto

Indigeniety, Diaspora, Equity and Anti-racism in Sport (IDEAS) Research Lab

The First Nations principles of ownership, control, access, and possession – more commonly known as OCAP®

We All Count toolkit

About MLSE LaunchPad

MLSE LaunchPad is a 42000 square foot Sport For Development facility in downtown Toronto built and supported by the MLSE Foundation to advance positive developmental outcomes for youth, aged 6 to 29, who face barriers.

Photo credit: Conestoga College Condors Athletics


Highlights


Anyone involved in sport knows that confidence is key. Whether coach, athlete or participant, the importance (and fragility) of confidence can’t be overlooked.

The vital and tenuous nature of confidence means steps must be taken to safeguard the confidence of racialized women coaches, who are sometimes the “only” in their organization. They’re facing isolation and otherness that can hinder their confidence and wellbeing.

Mentorships are shown to enhance confidence in racialized athletes (Brandon, 2012) and women coaches (Allen & Reid, 2019). Yet, no current research details the benefits for Black women coaches in Canada. This article builds on previous research (Joseph & McKenzie, 2022; Joseph, McKenzie, & Brown, 2021; Joseph, Razack, & McKenzie, 2021) examining barriers faced by and resilience of racialized coaches in Canada.

Here we share findings on the importance of building knowledge and nurturing confidence for sport coaches who identify as Black women. We also offer best practices for optimizing bringing in (racialized) women coaches across sport and retaining them.

Race, gender and confidence in coaching

Sport coaches aim to build confidence in their athletes. Coaches need self-confidence to optimize the support they can provide. To this end, confidence is among the most influential, extensively studied psychological concepts (Machida et al., 2017).

Confidence has been shown to be associated with many positive attributes and outcomes, including goal orientation (Vosloo et al., 2009), lower cognitive and physiological anxiety (Cresswell & Hodge, 2004), and ultimately, optimized performance (Moritz et al., 2000). Improving confidence has been identified as a pivotal component of sport performance for athletes, however, coaches must also have self-confidence.

Head Coach Tara Mrakic, Vanier College Women’s Flag Football. Photo credit: Vanier College Athletics.

Because coach self-confidence and performance are important parts of athlete self-confidence and performance, programs that support coaches can be critical to the success of an entire sport organization. Coach confidence can be built through social support and environmental comfort. This can be harder to achieve for Black women coaches, given racism and sexism in sport (Fielding‐Lloyd & Mean, 2011; Joseph, Razack, & McKenzie, 2021).

In the U.S., gendered racism has been found to influence the access, opportunities, retention, promotion and overall experiences of racialized women, specifically in sport leadership roles (Cunningham et al., 2021; Nesseler et al., 2021). This body of research emphasizes it’s important to provide more opportunities for racialized women to coach, so they can learn from others who share their experiences. And also so that they can influence more women to enter and stay in coaching.

There’s scarce research on the intersections of race, gender and confidence in Canadian coaching. What little research has been done shows that coaching leadership is predominantly white and male in Ontario University Athletics (OUA) (Joseph, Razack, & McKenzie, 2021). For example, only 22% of OUA coaches who responded to a survey identified as racialized (Joseph, Razack, & McKenzie, 2021, p. 8). Another study of university athletics across Canada showed only 17% of head coaches and 22% of assistant coaches identified as women (Donnelly, Norman, & Kidd, 2013).

The major takeaway is that more work is needed to make Canadian sport coaching more equitable and diverse, from grassroots to high performance. Mentorship programs can be a buffer against cultural norms and social inequities affecting the confidence of underrepresented sport stakeholders, such as women and people of color.

Research with the Black Female Coaches Mentorship Program

Mentorship is designed to enhance the recruitment, retention and promotion of coaches across sport by advancing coach skill, comfort and confidence. In 2020, the Black Female Coaches Mentorship Program (BFCMP) began as a way to address the gap in mentorship for Black women coaches in Canada. We aimed to further understand Black women coaches’ experiences through research with the BFCMP.

As part of this research, we observed 3 mentorship sessions and conducted semi-structured, 1‑on‑1 interviews with 15 of 27 inaugural mentors and mentees. One of our objectives was to determine what role mentorships play in building confidence among Black women coaches.

As the only woman coach or only racialized coach in their organization, most participants in the BFCMP described feeling alone and unable to connect deeply with other coaches in their organization. However, there are dozens of Black women sport coaches who share their experiences across many sports organizations in all provinces. And there’s significant potential for the coaches to learn from each other. They just needed an opportunity to meet.

Coaches joined the BFCMP wanting to network with other people of their racial background and gender. An unexpected outcome for many participants was the range of knowledge they acquired by interacting with other coaches. Even seasoned mentors learned from mentees. Knowledge about self-care, navigating racism and sexism, and understanding how sport systems operate was imperative to improving their coaching.

Another essential area of learning was in building confidence. Because of the discrimination they had previously faced, some coaches doubted their skills, abilities, decisions and even self-worth. By seeing others in similar situations who have succeeded, the coaches in BFCMP could shift their lens from diffidence to confidence.

Below, the 3 main themes of our findings (friendship, learning and speaking up) point to the importance of building knowledge and confidence in Black women’s communities.

Theme 1: Friendship

Many BFCMP participants have few sport coaches in their communities who look like them. Mentors and mentees expressed learning through the experiences of other Black women was the biggest boost to their confidence. The learnings ranged from coaching best practices and communication techniques to styling hair and sharing home-cooked recipes.

“[The] best part was connecting with women [who] look like me, learning best practices, and celebrating everyone’s accomplishments.”

– Tiffany, mentor

Mentee Nika echoed a similar sentiment: “That was super cool, learning about other people’s experiences. … I realize that a lot of things that I have been feeling, everybody [in that] group has felt. … On the calls, I would see some girls in bonnets. I would see some girls in braids, twists. … We talk about ‘How do I make fufu?’ … It was great vibes. Then we had [a mentor] talking about what it’s like having two kids and being a successful coach.”

Participants felt they really got to know other women through the power of storytelling. For example, mentor Jolene and mentee Ella both thrived because the program was one of the first opportunities they’d had to connect with other Black women coaches to support their learning. They emphasized the interpersonal support gained through individual and group mentorship. For example:

“I loved meeting with my mentees because we got to really talk …  really dive into understanding who they are, not only as a coach but as a person, … giving them the objective view of what situations [they] are going through and giving them a different scope to look through. I loved going through that with my mentees and they’ve taught me a lot in return.”

– Jolene, mentor

Ella noted, “The best part of the program for me was the conversation and mentorship I had with my mentor in particular. … [Monthly sessions] provided an opportunity to reconnect with the other mentees and see how they were doing.” Knowing the mentees “as a person” with a regular “opportunity to reconnect” was critical to the program’s success.

By reflecting, connecting and offering advice, mentors and mentees can impart knowledge to each other. Mentor-only sessions were part of the training for the mentorship program. But Ariel reveals that mentees would have appreciated “a better opportunity to connect with other mentees to socialize on our own on a zoom call and ask each other questions and get to know each other our own way.”

The importance of spaces to connect can’t be understated. Combating loneliness is a key way to build confidence. Learning about others allowed for learning about the self.

Action items for coach educators and sport administrators:

  • Promote means for Head and Assistant Coaches and aspiring coaches to talk and socialize
  • Connect coaches internationally with a mentor who shares some of their experiences
  • Create mentee-only sessions as well as mentor-only sessions to encourage individuals to connect with one another

Theme 2: Learning

Participants in the BFCMP discussed the ways their confidence soared through learning. Many anticipated they would expand their knowledge of coaching tactics and techniques through the program. Instead, they were surprised to learn a wide range of self-directed soft-skills, important components of professional development (PD).

“Because my mentee was actually in my sport, I thought, OK, it’s going to be technically focused … and it wasn’t at all… There’s so much beyond that’s self-development, self-perspective, self-confidence.”

Lisa, mentor

The skill Jolene taught and reinforced with her mentees was positive self-talk: “I taught them to make sure they’re reflecting on their self-talk because, as Black women, we often have self-deprecating thoughts. And that made me check myself. How often do I check-in with … how I think about myself or how I talk to myself?”

It can be difficult to navigate barriers related to becoming a certified coach. The process can also be costly and confusing.  Sarah believed Black women coaches can be discouraged by the complex National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) process. However, she suggests mentorship as a way to gain comfort and confidence. “[I needed] a little bit more understanding of the NCCP process and how you get your levels, and I know that other women were more comfortable with it because … they’ve probably done the coaching stuff. … I worked with a [mentor] so I could feel more comfortable with it.”

When rules and practices are confusing for some outsiders, systemic discrimination can follow. Hauck (2020) found that the NCCP is inherently racist as inequitable policies including expensive training, on-site education and complicated websites disadvantage some excellent Indigenous coaches who are unaware of how the system operates. Mentorship is a way to help overcome barriers to coaching entry presented by lack of certification. Mentors and mentees noted both formal PD sessions and informal PD conversations were a valued part of the program that increased coach learning and understanding. 

“[BFCMP] changed me tremendously through the wonderful conversations I had with the mentees and mentors as it gave more understanding and comprehension about myself, the world and perception of the world towards Black women in sport. Through their mentorship, they assured me with great words of wisdom on how to tackle the negative perceptions and how to leverage my identity as a Black woman in sport to get through the doors of opportunity.”

Ella, mentee

Participants of mentorship programs clearly benefit from a wide range of knowledge about self, about processes, and about navigating racism and sexism in sport. All are important aspects of coaching and self-confidence.

Action items for coach educators and sport administrators:

  • Invite coaches for training on formal and informal aspects of the work, openly acknowledging that race and gender factor into the field of coaching
  • Include psychological concepts like ‘self-talk’ in training as an essential coaching skill

Theme 3: Speaking up and public speaking

Participants supported each other by providing strategies to improve their experiences and their representation as knowledgeable experts. Mentee Nika discussed how Black women can become siloed within society

“[We talked about] creating more spaces for minority groups to speak out, not just on topics about Black Lives Matter. There’s so much knowledge that [we] have that I feel we are kind of boxed in … You’re only reaching out to me for this [anti-racism work]. It’s not for the other things that I have knowledge on … In a sense, [mentorship built] up my self-worth … I’ve learned to stay true to myself, stand in my own shoes, and speak up for myself more too.”

– Nika, mentee

Nika believes that if more Black women coaches are invited to share their knowledge, that will elevate how they’re seen in the broader sport community. For Black women coaches, being heard and seen in public means that they can be role models for others. When Black women are the only ones in their organization, and are doubting themselves, they may see their inclusion as tokenism. When they’re confident, they see their inclusion as merited and an opportunity for the next generation of coaches to imagine their own potential and future inclusion. This aligns with what mentor Jolene stated:

“I’ve been turning the idea of tokenism into a chance for me to open up as a representation, a reflection of those who maybe need me in that space to know that they too can take up this space and be confident in it … Playing at the national level and coaching at the provincial level gives those kids who look up to me a chance to think that hey, I belong here too. See it, believe it, achieve it.”

Jolene, mentor

Nora mentions the advantage the program provided her in speaking truth to the experiences of Black women coaches because she finally understood her situation wasn’t unique. Now, she has a network of people to use as a sounding board: “I [was] stressed out like, ‘OK, how do I do this? I wonder if people understand this?’ … When dealing with a man, ‘Is [he] gonna take it the wrong way because of my race or because I’m a female?’ I was always second guessing myself. But now I have the confidence to … bounce this idea off of someone else, or ask a coach or another female [who] might have gone through the same thing and get her point of view. I feel more comfortable attacking these situations and it’s giving me more confidence. Now I speak out against stuff. [I’m] more vocal about my passions and the things that I believe in.”

Through the program, coaches built their confidence in speaking up and speaking out about their shared experiences. They came to understand the benefits of being seen and heard.

Action items for coach educators and sport administrators:

  • Encourage honest sharing about experiences of racism and sexism, and strategies for change
  • Provide opportunities for Black women coaches to speak publicly about a range of topics

Practical takeaways for putting research into action

  1. Safer spaces: Create safer spaces that promote belonging and community, particularly among racialized women, given the isolation and otherness to which they’re susceptible and to which they’re subjected. Opportunities for knowledge exchange can prevent the loss of great talent and can stimulate peak performance and retention.
  2. Sponsorship: Provide opportunities for professional development and coach licensing, assisting coaches in overcoming the financial and systemic challenges of becoming a certified coach. Information sessions and discussions about how to navigate certification processes are essential, especially if the aim is to promote equity and inclusivity.
  3. Platform for dialogue: Provide a platform for racialized women coaches to speak up and speak out on various topics inside and outside of sport. Black women coaches are capable of being subject matter experts on conversations outside of anti-racism or sexism. Holding space to engage in many topics benefits the confidence of women coaches, both personally and professionally, and demonstrates that organizations value their voices.

Mentorship programs offer Black women coaches a one-stop shop: a safe space, sponsorship, and a platform to dialogue and deliberate. These factors all greatly contribute to enhancing coach confidence. And, making them available through mentorship is a win for all stakeholders involved.

Conclusion

“What it’s done for me? It’s just I, I can’t put it in words. It’s amazing, an amazing program.”

– Nora, mentee

The Black woman mentor “goes beyond the institutional goal of solely promoting cognitive growth and focuses on the socioemotional well-being … understanding the marginalization and invisibility that Black [women] face” (Greene, 2020, p. 2). Through mentorship, the development of relationships among Black women can nurture self-confidence to better position them to navigate society. If sport is to be more equitable, feminist and anti-racist, then increasing opportunities for building confidence and relationships must be a focal point.

Based on their lived experience, women participants understood the profound effects of racism and sexism in sport. Through their conversations, the participants gained knowledge of how to address trauma and pain through self-care and self-confidence, how to conceptualize their goals and ambitions, and how to resist systems of domination. Having obtained that combined knowledge, they can help close the gap between anti-racism and feminist theory on one hand, and lived practices, speech habits, and ways of occupying space in sport coaching on the other.

Mentorship offers a methodology to develop the confidence of Black women coaches, fostering professional and personal growth through formal and informal means. Race-specific and gender-specific mentorship programs protect and promote the confidence of racialized women coaches, cultivating optimal performance in both athletes and coaches.


Highlights


Over the past few years, the racism and discrimination brought to light throughout society and within the sport sector have forced a necessary reflection on policies and practices. While the concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion were seeded in government policy many decades ago, the context has evolved significantly. Today, these terms have new meaning, in light of events in broader society and our responses to them. There’s a renewed urgency for sport stakeholders to adopt new policies and programs to bring about cultural change that can ensure the future of sport includes all Canadians.

In this article, we discuss how sport policies and programs in Canada have evolved and how they contributed to the development of safe and inclusive sport for all Canadians.

The past: Policy development

As early as 1971, the Government of Canada adopted an official multiculturalism policy to recognize the contribution of cultural diversity to the Canadian social fabric. The policy’s goal was to promote inclusive citizenship. In the next decades, the focus shifted to language of social exclusion and supporting specific groups who were identified as particularly vulnerable to economic and social marginalization, such as recent immigrants, “visible minorities,” religious minorities, sexual minorities, “urban Aboriginal peoples,” and individuals with disabilities. (Note: Certain terms above are drawn from that policy. Over time, the terms have evolved to reflect ongoing updates to appropriate, inclusive language.)

By the time the first Canadian Sport Policy was endorsed by federal-provincial/territorial governments in 2002, “social inclusion” and “equity” and other similar concepts were regularly included in policies, and shortly thereafter in legislation, in the Physical Activity and Sport Act (2003).

Through extensive collaboration and consultation, and over 2 years of work, the first Canadian Sport Policy reflected the interests and concerns of 14 government jurisdictions, the Canadian sport community and countless other sport stakeholders in Canada. That policy introduced the guiding principle that “sport is based on equity and access” as in:

Sport is welcoming and inclusive, offering an opportunity to participate without regard to age, gender, race, language, sexual orientation, disability, geography, or economic circumstances.

CSP 2002, p. 13

While consultations didn’t target specific groups, there was a noted effort to pay “specific attention to the issues of inclusion and equity” throughout the consultation and policy development process. That process welcomed and sought to involve everyone who didn’t currently consider themselves a part of the sport community or system, but who had the potential and desire to contribute.

The first Canadian Sport Policy reflected a new approach to shared leadership and collaboration to enhance participation, excellence, capacity and interaction in sport. The accompanying action plan prioritized the increased “participation of women, persons with a disability, Aboriginal peoples, and visible minorities.” The commitment from all governments for a common vision was an important step in aligning and committing to advancing sport equity in Canada.

A decade later, the renewal of the Canadian Sport Policy took a stronger approach. The Canadian Sport Policy 2012 (CSP 2012) expanded upon and embedded “inclusion and accessibility” in the policy’s values and principles:

“Sport delivery is accessible and equitable and reflects the full breadth of interests, motivations, objectives, abilities, and the diversity of Canadian society.”

CSP 2012, p. 6

The consultation process introduced targeted questions relating to under-represented populations and participation in sport. Additionally, it included questions about the lived experience of participants as well as the availability of accessing sport programs and services in both official languages. The answers provided valuable insight into inclusive and accessible sport, and the ability and likelihood for participation.

Important findings were that most consultation participants felt efforts should be made to increase the participation of under-represented groups in sport. In particular, these groups included: Indigenous people, racialized people, women and girls, persons with a disability, children and youth, new Canadians, and people who were at an economic disadvantage. Consultation participants felt that increasing participation would be a positive effect on health, community-building and personal development. It would also reinforce the priority of accessible sport.

As a result, increasing diversity was identified as a Policy Objective and desired outcome in the CSP 2012:

“Opportunities provided for persons from traditionally underrepresented and/or marginalized populations to actively engage in all aspects of sport participation including leadership roles.”

CSP 2012, p. 9

Sport Canada policies evolved along a similar trajectory. In the decade following the launch of the first Canadian Sport Policy, Sport Canada introduced several new policies targeting the same areas of inclusion and access:

More recently, the Canadian High Performance Sport Strategy (2019) identified 3 visionary pillars, 1 of which was a high performance culture based on integrity, trust and inclusivity. That strategy identifies what’s now known as the Indigenous Long-Term Participant Development Pathway, as an inclusive tool for supporting Indigenous participants in sport and recreation.

The present: Policy implementation through programs

When policy meets program that’s when inclusive sport can happen. The Canadian Sport Policy is delivered through the collaboration, engagement and commitment of provincial and territorial governments that advance this work within their unique jurisdictions. Bilateral agreements between the federal government and all 13 provincial and territorial governments are in place to support policy in action. Inclusive sport participation is the overarching objective of the bilateral agreements. Specifically, they:

At the federal level, implementation of sport policy is delivered through Sport Canada’s 3 funding programs: the Hosting Program, the Athlete Assistance Program and the Sport Support Program.

AWG Dene GamesThe International Multisport Games for Aboriginal Peoples and Persons with a Disability (IMGAPPD) component of the Hosting Program is inclusive by design. It provides competitive opportunities for designated under-represented groups in Canada facing systemic barriers to sport participation. Specifically, IMGAPPD supports the hosting of 4 eligible events in Canada: the North American Indigenous Games, the Arctic Winter Games, the Special Olympics World Games and the Deaflympics.

The Athlete Assistance Program provides grants to eligible, high performance Canadian athletes, including women and girls, athletes with a disability, those with any number of intersecting identity factors. Sport Canada works with National Sport Organizations to identify objective and merit-based evaluation criteria for athletes.

Under the Sport Support Program, policy has historically been implemented to eligible and funded organizations through reference-level funding (formerly called core funding). National Sport Organizations, Multisport Service Organizations, and Canadian Sport Centres are allocated protected funding to promote equitable access to information for Canadians in both official languages with accompanying accountability measures. Organizations recognized as providing programming and services to athletes with a disability are also provided funding that is protected for this purpose.  

Historically, while Sport Canada’s approach to programming and funding has provided reasonable stability to support official languages and athletes with a disability, it was recognized as insufficient in terms of supporting inclusive sport. Over the past 5 years, Sport Canada has been considering funding differently, expanding programs, and making space for innovation. As a result, there has been a significant shift and investment in creating a more diverse, inclusive and equitable sport system in Canada to align with the goals of the CSP 2012.

Sport Canada is beginning to see meaningful impact on inclusion in sport across Canada. This is happening through project-based funding to support new organizations that are piloting programs or working in communities. There are also new protected funds being allocated to existing funding recipients.

Here are examples of this ongoing, inclusive work:

Beyond program funding, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage (Sport) held a general Sport Town Hall and a series of roundtable discussions on sport in fall 2020. They covered the following topics to advance Government of Canada priorities relating to diversity and inclusion:

Those discussions included women’s groups, LGBTQ2+ organizations, Indigenous organizations, as well as sport organizations. Sport Canada has continued the discussion by engaging with experts, including the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat and the LGBTQ2 Secretariat. Those engagements had to happen before embarking on a series of consultations to support the development of an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Sport for All Strategy. Lived experiences shared through consultations and data collected (for example, qualitative data from stakeholders, and disaggregated data) will ensure that evidence-based decision making is well supported in the future. Sport Canada will use collated evidence to evaluate how to update, adapt or improve its policies and programs to support the identified needs of Canadians. This marks an important shift in the way progress will be measured and in how funding and programs will be delivered. The shift aligns with the necessary move toward prioritizing safe, welcoming and inclusive sport.

The future: Where to next?

This is only the tip of the iceberg of the work that must be done. Sport Canada recognizes that the work can’t be done in isolation. After all, Canadian sport is a complex and dynamic network of intersecting systems that integrate context, geography, organizations, people, places and infrastructure. In December 2021, the Mandate Letter from the Prime Minister to all Ministers provided clear direction on the importance of incorporating the views of Canadians when considering our systems:

“We must continue to address the profound systemic inequities and disparities that remain present in the core fabric of our society, including our core institutions. To this effect, it is essential that Canadians in every region of the country see themselves reflected in our Government’s priorities and our work. As Minister, I expect you to include and collaborate with various communities, and actively seek out and incorporate in your work, the diverse views of Canadians. This includes women, Indigenous Peoples, Black and racialized Canadians, newcomers, faith-based communities, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ2 Canadians, and, in both official languages.”

This is a clear driver for all policy in Canada in the years to come. In the Mandate Letter specifically to the Minister of Sport and Minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, the Prime Minister provides an even more specific commitment. He outlines the importance of ensuring “a holistic and balanced strategic approach to sport development in Canada that supports the purpose and goals of the Canadian Sport Policy, including improved health and wellness for all Canadians through community sport, increased accessibility to sport programs, reduced barriers and the achievement of social and economic goals through the intentional use of sport.”

Work is underway toward the next iteration of the Canadian Sport Policy with consideration for incorporating the diverse views of Canadians. The inclusive nature of the engagements to be undertaken by the federal, provincial and territorial governments will help shape the future of the Canadian Sport Policy. The sport environment has changed since the development and publication of the first 2 policies. However, sport in Canada continues to require a policy for aligning the activities of the many organizations making up the sport system and for creating a shared vision for sport’s future. Fill out the Canadian Sport Policy Renewal Survey to have your say.

The intent of the Canadian Sport Policy is to continue to serve as the roadmap for progress to the desired state of Canadian sport. It’s informed by current evidence and by stakeholder consultations around various themes (including diversity, equity and inclusion).

The implementation is the challenge to policy makers, program deliverers and the Canadian sport community as a system. In acknowledging that diversity is defined differently in different contexts, we must also acknowledge that equity, diversity and inclusion are products of design. They’re necessary to see meaningful change, especially at the community level where the vast majority of Canadians participate in sport.

It’s no easy task to design inclusive programs. It requires intention and listening to the needs of those you wish to serve. It requires learning to have difficult and honest conversations. It requires flexibility and innovation. It requires willingness to try and fail forward. It means using individual power and privilege to create safe and accessible spaces for equity-deserving Canadians to engage in sport. All this must happen while also recognizing that sport policy in Canada is supported by limited resources, built on the backs of volunteers, and it requires sensitivity to the unique needs of each group.

It’s certain that the language of diversity, inclusion and equity will continue to evolve. As that happens, new terms and concepts will better describe intentions. What matters most is that the language doesn’t distract from the critical goal of effecting grassroots change to ensure all Canadians can access safe, quality sport and feel that they belong.


Highlights


When we think of legacies from major games, often we think of new facilities, increased engagement in sport and physical activity, or heightened feelings of national pride. As a key partner in the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games, Brock University took an additional approach, leveraging the Games to invest in research, build curricular connections, and enhance community engagement. SIRC’s Sydney Millar connected virtually with Julie Stevens, an Associate Professor of Sport Management and Special Advisor for the Canada Games to Brock President Gervan Fearon, to talk about what’s happening on campus and the expected legacies for the Niagara region and future Canada Games host communities.  

SIRC: What do the Canada Games represent to you, and why was the University originally interested in being involved with a bid to host the Games? 

Julie Stevens (JS): For me, the Canada Games are special. I have attended five Games as a researcher, observer, spectator, and most importantly, as an assistant coach with Team Alberta women’s hockey in Cornerbook, 1999. We won a Bronze medal in triple OT! The game was played in Deer Lake and it felt like everyone from the town was in the arena. The Canada Games stirs a strong sense of community within me—even though I wasn’t a local. I conducted research on the organizational capacity of Host Societies in Regina (2005) and Whitehorse (2007), which were two unique settings and communities. I learned a great deal about the passion and resourcefulness of volunteers who stage the Games. Brock University’s interest in the Games draws upon our commitment to the Niagara community, a key part of the institution’s mandate since it was formed in 1964. A community initiative like this reflects our institutional value centred on community engagement.  

SIRCTell me about the development of the Brock-Canada Games Academic Committee. 

Julie Stevens, Associate Professor of Sport Management at Brock University and Special Advisor for the Canada Games to Brock President Gervan Fearon

JS: “Experiential learning” at both Brock University and Niagara College was included in the bid package submitted to the Canada Games in 2016. However, it wasn’t until December 2017 that we really began to dig into what this could and should mean for Brock University and our community. Earlier that year, Gervan Fearon joined Brock as our President and Vice-Chancellor. He has a strong vision for the role of the university in supporting regional growth and development, and saw the Games as a catalyst for academic innovation. We hosted an event with two Board members of the Host Committee that was an open call to the Brock community. The result was the creation of the Brock-Canada Games Academic Committee as the group to guide our commitment to academic innovation through the Canada Games. The Academic Committee is truly a campus-wide collaboration involving faculty, staff and students from all seven Brock Faculties and many support units. We developed a strategic plan to maximize outcomes for the Brock community focused on three key areas—research, curriculum, and community engagement.  

SIRC: Let’s take a deep dive into the three key areas. Tell me first how the Games are being leveraged to support research. 

JS: It’s easy to see how the Games could be a great opportunity for sport-related researchers. However, the committee had a different vision—they wanted to support cross-disciplinary research and engage researchers across campus in examining the athletic, economic, political, social, and cultural impacts of hosting on the immediate community and surrounding area. Through the new Vice-President Research (VPR) Canada Games Grant Initiative, $143,000 in internal research funds has been allocated since 2020. The grants support innovative research or creative activities in any discipline and on any topic related to the Games, student research employment and professional development, and more generally the enhancement of research capacity within the university.  

SIRC: Tell me about some of the research projects that have been funded through the VPR Canada Games Grants. 

JS: As we’d hoped, there is a great diversity of projects, with representation across the university’s faculties, utilizing a wide range of methods, and exploring various aspects of the Games and sporting culture in the region (visit the Brock-Canada Games site for news about the 2020 and 2021 research projects). For example, from the Department of Kinesiology in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, Dr. Nicole Chimera is examining the incidence of injury and illness experienced by Canada Games athletes from 2009 to 2019. This project will increase understanding of injury and illness during the Games, informing future policies to reduce and manage sports injuries. From the School of Fine and Performing Arts, Dr. Amy Friend’s Movement Across the Waterways project explores the links between kayak and canoe-based watersports and the regional ecosystems, with a particular focus on the turtle – a local and endangered inhabitant of local waterways, and the official mascot of the 2022 Canada Summer Games. The project will create visual and aural material that will provide immersive perspectives of rowing and canoeing within the Niagara region. Another exciting project is the creation of the Niagara Games Narrative Digital Storytelling Repository—a long-term archive of all 2022 Canada Summer Games content that will be accessible to researchers, students, and members of the public for years to come. Led by staff at the Brock University Library and Digital Scholarship Lab, the Repository will capture everything from scholarly research to community activities, documenting the impact of the Games on the Niagara Region. To date, 22 projects have been funded through the VPR Canada Games Grants.  

SIRCThe second area of the strategic plan relates to teaching and learning and curricular connections to the Games. Tell me about it. 

JS: We want to ensure all students get a taste of the Games and become excited about opportunities related to the Games with ideas, getting involved, or attending events. The Canada Games are more than just the athletic performances—they are also about tourism, community development, event management, environmental responsibility, public well-being, and community ceremonies, offering a wide variety of curriculum connections and learning opportunities. There are three ways faculty members can choose to incorporate Canada Games content and activities into their courses – direct engagement, indirect engagement, and case studies.  

Brock University's indoor swimming facility.Direct engagement with Canada Games could involve the creation of a new course or the use of an assignment that meets academic learning outcomes and addresses a need of the Canada Games. For example, a fourth-year French course has integrated Canada Games-related terminology, including technical terms related to athletes, coaches, organizations, infrastructure and facilities, and hierarchies and relationships between individuals involved in the Games. Students will be well prepared for paid or volunteer positions with Translation Services during the Games. Indirect engagement with Canada Games could involve collaboration with a local community partner on a project related to the Canada Games. For example, interactive arts and science students are working with the Niagara 2022 Host Society to develop a technology-savvy medal reveal event. Finally, faculty members are also encouraged to use the Games as a case to complement and enhance academic content. For example, Math and science students are working through unique case study “anonymous” data sets shared by the Canada Games Council to develop statistics and information management skills. 

A new stream of Brock’s Teaching and Learning Innovation Grants, totalling $50K, was created to enhance student learning by offering faculty members one-time funding to develop innovative ways to incorporate Canada Games content and community projects into Brock courses. In the short-term, the initiatives will support faculty members to enhance courses and take advantage of the community-centred aspects of the Games. In the long-term, new teaching approaches will be developed that can be used in conjunction with other community events in the future.  

SIRC: I really appreciate how the investment in curriculum will have an impact on the mindset of faculty, encouraging them to embrace the Games and other community events to make course content more relevant and applied for Brock students. But the third component of the strategy, community engagement, takes that goal one step further. What’s the vision for this component? 

JS: At the core of our work around community engagement is the creation of a new student club called the Brock University Volunteer Association (BUVA). While the hosting of major events requires significant support from volunteers, we wanted to create an initiative that would maximize impact for students. Therefore, the BUVA was developed to build a community of like-minded students, deliver training and skill development to students, and of course, connect students with unique volunteer opportunities with the Games and other community organizations in our region. We recognize the potential of volunteering to contribute to the community and to build the skills, experiences, and networks of students, but we wanted to take the element of chance out of the equation through a formal student association. By encouraging peer-to-peer interaction and facilitating connections to diverse volunteer experiences, the BUVA helps ensure positive outcomes for the students and the organizations.  

SIRC: The BUVA was launched in 2019. What impact have you seen to date? 

JS: The BUVA has been a huge success and is a significant legacy program as part of our Student Life outreach. In 2019-2020, BUVA members participated in monthly training sessions delivered by Brock staff, faculty and alumni to better prepare them to be engaged volunteers; and contributed 385 volunteer hours to organizations and events across the Niagara Region (members commit to a minimum of 20 volunteer hours). In a satisfaction survey of BUVA members, 100% of student respondents said they would recommend BUVA to a friend or classmate. 

There are also other ways for students to gain volunteer experience. One example involves Brock students serving as Media Leads for the Games. The Host Society championed this initiative by supporting the application and selection process, and will provide ongoing leadership for the team. A total of 15 students are involved in this important planning volunteer role and will gain experience in media relations and promotion, as well as build teamwork and communication skills. 

SIRC: How else is Brock University contributing to the Games? 

Brock U Canada ames facility development site.

JS: Brock University also provided a parcel of land where Canada Games Park is being constructed. This new facility includes a sport and ability centre, arenas, gymnasiums and an outdoor facility with a track, athletic field, and beach volleyball courts. It will be the central site during the Games and will provide a valuable community resource after. In addition, Brock will be hosting a number of other athletic events in its facilities and will play a key role as a host for students and organizers during the Games. 

SIRCTell me about the impact of COVID-19 on the Games and Brock’s associated activities.  

JS: Prioritizing the health and safety of all athletes, coaches, staff, volunteers, spectators, and the broader Niagara community, the 2021 Canada Games were postponed in September 2020, and have since been rescheduled for August 6-21, 2022. As a partner for the Games, Brock University is supporting the Host Society in ensuring the excitement for the Games continues to build.

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the Brock community. Faculty and administrative staff have been particularly concerned with the mental health of students, and have developed a wide range of initiatives to support them. Members of the BUVA have really stepped up to support each other, complementing monthly training and skills development with a second monthly meeting to support social connections and reduce isolation. Volunteer opportunities were of course affected by public health restrictions, but the BUVA has been creative in supporting virtual opportunities, not only for the students, but to support community organizations that are adapting to this new reality in a variety of ways.  

SIRC: Tell me what impact you think will be realized through this initiative for the Brock community? 

JS: Key to the success of the Brock University-Canada Games Academic Committee is its alignment with the four key priorities of the university’s 2018-2025 strategic plan: 

  1. Offering a transformational and accessible academic and university experience; 
  2. Building research capacity across the University; 
  3. Enhancing the life and vitality of our local region and beyond; and 
  4. Fostering a culture of inclusivity, accessibility, reconciliation and decolonization. 

The Academic Committee is achieving measurable outcomes related to these priorities by enhancing student experiences and community engagement through course content and placements, and the BUVA; and supporting innovation in research, scholarly and creative activities through the investments in research and course development. The Academic Committee is an example of how the University is putting the strategic plan’s priorities into action to improve and enhance our programs, services and partnerships for the future. 

SIRC: And what do you imagine will be the legacy of the Brock-Canada Games Academic Committee for other Canada Games host communities? 

The Canada Games Council (CGC) has a well-developed transfer-of-knowledge program to support the sharing of new approaches and lessons learned between host committees. For the most part, this focuses on Games logistics, such as accreditations, facility management, sponsorship, volunteer management, etc. However, universities and colleges are common Games partners. I hope the partnership between Brock University and the Niagara 2022 Host Committee will raise the bar for future collaboration between host committees and academic institutions, and provide a model that can be scaled up or down based on capacity. The cross-campus and multidisciplinary approach we’ve used can absolutely be recreated on other campuses and we will share our model with the CGC so it might add to its transfer-of-knowledge program and resources.  

More broadly, I think it expands the focus of Canada Games legacies from facility and economic development to include academic scholarship and long-term relationships between academic institutions, regional organizations, and the student population who are tomorrow’s leaders. For those of us who believe in the value of sport in society, I think the model embodies the values of service, collaboration, and leadership, and ultimately contributes to the Canada Games’ vision to “strengthen the fabric of Canada through the power of sport.”  


Highlights


Teddy Katz, a former award-winning sports journalist and the founder of communications company, Think Redefined Inc., sat down with Canadian sport leaders for SIRC to hear some of the valuable lessons they learned hosting safe events during the pandemic. The crisis led to some of the biggest challenges in their history for these sport leaders, but it also led to some innovative new ways of thinking that will last long after the virus is in the past. 

Hockey Canada – A World Junior Hockey Championship like no other 

In the words of Dean McIntosh, Vice President of Hockey Canada, if you want to host a sport event during COVID-19, you have to prepare 10 different plans and expect to use the eleventh. 

Two years ago, Hockey Canada started planning to host the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship—a ritual for Canadians during the last week of December—in Red Deer and Edmonton, Alberta. Fans had scooped up nearly all the tickets when suddenly the pandemic, which forced many sports around the world to shut down in March 2020, threw everything into disarray.  Could Hockey Canada somehow deliver the championship to 130 million television viewers in Canada and around the world? With no fans in the stands, there was little chance of breaking even.  

“Until we had gold medals awarded on January 5th, I think we always felt there was a little bit of risk that we weren’t going make it through,” McIntosh says. 

In March 2020 and the month that followed, Hockey Canada cancelled most events including its domestic championships. But in early August, with the support of funding partners including its broadcasters, Hockey Canada decided it would move ahead with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Hockey Championship. The IIHF helped make it possible by agreeing to Hockey Canada’s unprecedented request to host the event again the following year (December 2021) in Red Deer and Edmonton, which ensured Hockey Canada could deliver the kind of event it had planned for 2020 plus guaranteed revenue going forward.  

McIntosh says that was critical. “I can tell you honestly, without that [agreement], that might have been something that would have prevented us from trying to deliver it this year.”  

The move to allow Canada to host the World Junior Hockey Championship two years in a row also benefitted the fans. When Hockey Canada offered fans a choice between refunding their tickets for this year or keeping them for next year, 80% chose to retain their seats despite the financial toll the pandemic has taken on many Canadian families.  

With the event set to move forward, Hockey Canada worked through the summer with federal, provincial, and local health authorities to ensure the proper COVID-19 protocols were in place to keep the players, community, and everybody else safe. It was a complicated process that involved many different groups, including Immigration Canada (with teams flying in from overseas). McIntosh and the team had weekly calls with the IIHF, Sport Canada, and Alberta Health.  They learned they needed to be flexible when it came to getting the final approval from the authorities to move ahead. 

“I can tell you very frankly that staff at the office of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, were probably very tired of seeing my number come up on their phones.” 

Before coming to Canada, each national team quarantined and needed everybody to test negative for COVID-19 a minimum of three times. Several players and staff from different federations tested positive and were unable to come. Three chartered flights from Europe brought the teams directly into Edmonton’s International Airport.  They needed to get special authorization to land there because at the time the airport wasn’t accepting international flights. Everyone went directly by motor coach to the bubble hotel and spent another five days in quarantine, eating meals in their rooms. Everyone had to wear a tracking bracelet to let organizers know if anyone broke quarantine, and the rules were put to the test immediately. A staff member from one team left the hotel for a couple of hours the night he arrived.  After investigating, Hockey Canada sent the person home the next day.  

“You need to set the tone early,” McIntosh says. “We had made commitments to Alberta Health, to the Public Health Agency of Canada, and to our corporate partners to deliver this event safely. If it was going to happen, we needed the support of everyone.” 

Another new element included compliance officers for every team. There was even an online portal where people could report non-compliance anonymously. And, of course, testing continued throughout the event—a total of 10,476 tests to be exact. 

“I’d wake up at six o’clock, and I’d get notes on the test results from the previous day,” McIntosh says. “On day one, when you see positive tests, your heart sinks and your mind starts to race.”  

In all, there were 12 positive cases of COVID-19 among players and staff who were in the hotel bubble over the course of the three weeks. After the first positive cases, organizers cancelled some of the exhibition games and increased the quarantine time for some. With carefully planned protocols in place, McIntosh says those plans allow organizations to make rational decisions in stressful times but also need to be constantly re-evaluated.  

“We went to our protocols. We had clear lines of communication on who was going to be told and what we needed to do as it related to positive tests.” 

Curling Canada – Seven events, one bubble 

Curling athletes competing.As somebody who has been involved in planning multi-sport events—including the Toronto 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games—Curling Canada’s CEO, Katherine Henderson, thought she had prepared for every possible scenario and potential crisis. But creating a mega bubble for a series of events to take place in Calgary between February and May 2021 was a new experience altogether. The first thing her team had to determine was if they could safely deliver key national and international events, including the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Tim Hortons Brier, the Home Hardware Canadian Mixed Doubles Championship, the BKT Tires and OK Tire World Men’s Championship, the Women’s Curling Championship presented by BKT Tires, and two Grand Slam of Curling events: The Players’ Championship and Champions Cup. 

“This is just one huge exercise in risk management… the health risks, financial risk, reputation risk, and compliance risk. It’s sort of risk management on steroids,” Henderson says. 

Considering the complexities and cost of orchestrating a safe event amid a global pandemic, not every sport is able to host a bubble event, says Henderson. “When we took a look at the fixed costs of setting up a situation that involves really strict health protocols with quarantines and lots of testing, I couldn’t see doing this for a single event… There’s a high barrier to entry.”   

But curling, like hockey, was fortunate to have sponsors and financial partners, including its broadcast partner, TSN and RDS, on board. Henderson says other important partners were the athletes, many with goals to compete at the World Championships and 2022 Olympic Games, as well as Curling Canada’s member associations. 

“The other part that’s really important here is we have kind of a moral duty to our member associations. Their business models depend very much on sending teams to national championships,” says Henderson. 

Hockey Canada was generous with its time and shared lessons. Curling Canada implemented many of the same COVID-19 protocols, and had their own red, blue, and green zones separating athletes, media (TSN), and officials, respectively.  

The bubble opened with the Scotties in February 2021. In the first few days, there was one false alarm: an athlete with food poisoning, which forced one game to be rescheduled. More recently, four positive COVID-19 tests among players – later deemed to be “false positives” – interrupted play at the 2021 BKT Tires and OK Tire World Men’s Curling Championship.  

“I look forward to the day where I’m just on the edge of my seat because I’m watching great shots, rather than worrying about COVID-19,” says Henderson. “This virus is really sneaky, you cannot let your guard down for one second. It wears on you.”  

Still, Henderson says it has been worth it. “We’ve had such a positive reception. I see it with athletes and staff, and even with how fans are reacting on social media. It gives you that little glimmer of normalcy.” Curling lovers even sent in photos to have their faces placed on cardboard cut-outs representing fans in the stands.  

According to Henderson, keeping fans engaged is crucial—because when the pandemic is over, Curling Canada wants the 1,000 clubs across Canada to be filled to the brim with their two million curlers. 

Gymnastics Canada – Virtual events become reality  

At the end of 2020, Canada’s top gymnasts were facing another round of COVID-19 restrictions as the second wave of the virus roared around the country. Some could not even access their home gyms. So, in December 2020, Gymnastics Canada had to find a creative way to select the senior team athletes who would compete on the World Cup circuit to prepare for the 2021 Olympics Games in Tokyo. And, like many of us, they turned to virtual events.  

Male gymnast beginning floor routine.The athletes recorded videos doing routines in their home gyms, and a few days later, judges scored them. Amanda Tambakopoulos, the Program Manager for Women’s Artistic Gymnastics at Gymnastics Canada, says the response was positive.

“We saw how important it was for the athletes to compete again and to be under that kind of positive pressure because it is very different than their regular training. Getting athletes in front of even virtual judges was really beneficial in terms of their preparation for Tokyo.”  

However, she admits it took some getting used to for everyone involved. Even the athletes, who were able to compete in their home gyms on familiar equipment with their coaches at their side, described feeling stressed, says Tambakopoulos. 

“It’s really strange. It requires so much work. We’re grateful to have everybody on board and showing so much adaptability and resilience in the face of everything going on this year.” 

Gymnastics Canada hosted three more Elite Canada virtual competitions for junior and senior high performance athletes from February through April 2021. This gave gymnasts across Canada opportunities to compete in the event of their choice when they felt safe and ready. Virtual competitions also reduced costs for Gymnastics Canada, eased travel demands for athletes, and reduced barriers to the recruitment of volunteer officials, whose competition duties could be worked around at-home work obligations. 

But to make these virtual competitions successful, Gymnastics Canada learned that education, for everyone involved, needed to be baked into the process. They held educational sessions for athletes and coaches on Zoom, using videos from the senior team virtual competition to demonstrate what worked well and not so well. They showed things like how best to set up the gym and where to place the camera for the best angles. The technology also needed to be adapted for the judges because the athletes are smaller on-screen than in person, making it harder to see some moves. They did a number of test sessions for the judges to help them get comfortable.  

Considering the benefits and lessons learned, virtual events are a competition option that Gymnastics Canada will consider for the future, says Tambakopoulos. 

“I think it’s really opened our eyes on how we can be even more adaptable and flexible with people’s realities. I think there’s going to be a lot of reflection going forward on how we can benefit from this virtual competition environment.” 

Equestrian Canada – How regional events and livestreams kept the sport active 

One of the busier national sport organizations during the past year was Equestrian Canada, with 124 Equestrian Canada sanctioned events run regionally around the country and more shows sanctioned by the provincial/territorial equestrian sport organizations, many of them streamed online in new ways. But according to James Hood, the High Performance Director for Equestrian Canada, that was only 25% of their usual competition schedule.  

Young female equestrian athlete competing.Cheval Quebec hosted the first Equestrian Canada regional event in June, just a few months after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. They worked with their local health authority to incorporate the latest COVID-19 protocols, which meant running the event with no spectators, keeping officials to a minimum, and tightening up the schedule to ensure no unnecessary bodies were milling about the competition area.

According to Hood, the sport made an early return because training and competition is mostly outdoors and the horses need to be kept in good physical and mental health (e.g., fed, exercised) as there are health and welfare considerations. “The other advantage we have is that social distancing is relatively easy to maintain—you’re on a 2,000-pound animal so it automatically forces you into two metre distancing,” says Hood.  

Despite the challenges of overseeing sanctioned competitions amid a global pandemic (and in the lead-up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, no less), Hood identified some notable silver linings. For example, there were important advancements in the use of technology born out of necessity. “We were much more paper based,” explains Hood. “The technology shift in scoring and transmission will be really good in the long term.”  

In addition, many show operators used cameras to livestream events so people could tune in online. They weren’t high-end broadcasts, but they were cost effective.  

“The competition organizers were thinking about how to make it safe for the moms and dads, grandparents, and aunts and uncles to watch without being in the stands,” says Hood.  

While Spruce Meadows and some of the sport’s more popular events have been livestreamed in the past, there was nothing done on this scale. Show operators and Equestrian Canada even worked with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to have some of the events shown on its streaming platform, which helped to increase the visibility of the sport on a national scale. 

“I think technology will continue to create those opportunities,” says Hood. “We need to be willing to adopt technology and look at those pieces to operate events going forward.”  

Swimming Canada – A hybrid Olympic and Paralympic Trials 

With 1000 participants and thousands more spectators expected to attend, Swimming Canada had the biggest Olympic and Paralympic Trials in its history scheduled for April 2020—until COVID-19 forced it to be postponed. After considering eight or nine different contingency plans, a scaled-down event in spring 2021 was announced to determine the athletes on its Olympic and Paralympic teams.  

Typical championships have a preliminary round where the fastest athletes qualify for the final. The final race for the medals usually takes place that same evening. In contrast, the 2021 trials will involve only one race per event with a limited number of the top athletes invited to participate. Swimming Canada has invited 280 athletes to compete in the five-day event.  

Jocelyn Jay, Senior Manager of Sports Development for Swimming Canada and a former national team swimmer, says one key criteria for the event is to minimize the amount of time swimmers are in the building and to keep them distanced as much as possible.  

Rear view of young swimmer with artificial leg sitting on poolside of indoor swimming pool“We’ve got 40 swimmers in a block of time. The swimmers come into the building, they do their pre pool activation, they warm-up, they race, they warm-down and they leave. Then the next group of swimmers come in. It’s kind of a conveyer belt. They are moving through the building, making sure there’s no crossing paths.”

Jay says Swimming Canada has factored in layers upon layers of risk mitigation measures in a 35-page safety plan, which will be shared with the swim clubs sending athletes to the trials. Unlike the bubbles that hockey and curling created to run their championship events, clubs will be responsible for ensuring members are following COVID-19 protocols for travel and accommodation.  

“The amount of time required for this one event with everything that needs to be considered is just as much work as running six or seven national events. It’s overwhelming because it’s constantly changing as restrictions fluctuate throughout the country,” says Jay.  

Swimming Canada recognizes the extra stress participants may experience wearing masks, following protocols, and competing in person for the first time in months.  That’s why another element in their plan will be regular check-ins with everyone, including athletes, coaches, and officials, once they are on site.  

For now, Jay tries to prioritize and not think too far ahead.  

“This event is at the end of May 2021. Who knows what the virus is going to look like at the end of May, with the variants and with vaccinations?”  

While the question of what the virus will look like at the end of May is still up in the air, the evolving COVID-19 situation in Ontario and other provinces has already forced Swimming Canada to make changes to the Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials, Presented by Bell. The Olympic Trials will now be held in Toronto at the end of June, and the Paralympic Trials have been cancelled as the new dates conflict with a World Para-swimming event in Berlin. Swimming Canada will create alternative competitive opportunities for athletes hoping to earn a spot at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Sail Canada – Making the most of an outdoor sport 

Although Sail Canada postponed its different regional and national championships last year, which typically offer athletes a chance to compete with high-level sailors in their regions, it was able to host a national invitational event with 10 days of racing at the end of August in Kingston, Ontario. The event allowed national team athletes preparing for the Tokyo Games to get in some much needed competitive racing.  

“We are fortunate in the sport of sailing,” says Katie Sweeting, High Performance Manager for Sail Canada. “We’re an outdoor sport that is naturally physically distant.”  

Sailing team competitionSweeting says they chose Kingston for their event because that is where the Sail Canada head office is located, many of the athletes were already there (reducing the need for travel), and it has ideal training conditions. Also, it was important that at the time of the event in August 2020, Kingston had no COVID-19 cases. Sweeting, who was in charge of COVID-19 protocols for the event, at first found it a daunting task but was able to work closely with the experts at the local health authority.  

“We didn’t want to be creating an event in a community where there were no cases and bringing cases to them,” Sweeting says. “No one wants to be the sport that runs an event that causes an outbreak.”  

The invitational event was limited to 40 of Canada’s top athletes. Protocols included the use of a fenced-off, restricted area for event participants at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, which is open to the public. Even though they were outside, masks were mandatory at all times when athletes were not competing. All boats were set two metres apart. If athletes were experiencing any symptoms, testing was required and the individual was not allowed back onsite until they had a negative test. A doctor was also onsite throughout the event.  

Sweeting says the biggest lesson she learned is to over-plan. On site porta-potty washrooms were professionally cleaned three times a day. Disposable masks were restocked several times during the event, even though participants were expected to provide their own. As the event wore on, Sail Canada learned that they needed to have someone on the ramp as the boats came in to hand out new masks to athletes, whose masks would get wet while racing as they would often stuff them in their lifejackets.  

“It is possible. That was a big learning lesson for us,” says Sweeting. “If you follow the right steps, consult with the experts and you do it properly, it can work out well.  

Knowing that building resilience is a key skill for athletes, Sail Canada has modelled that behaviour, says Sweeting.  

“It would have been a lot easier for us to just say, ‘No, we’re going cancel everything. It’s too risky or too much work.’ We were showing the athletes that we’re willing to be resilient and get creative. And I think they really valued that.” 

Event reinvention post COVID-19 

The different sport leaders spoke about what they learned not in spite of, but because of COVID-19. Their stories showcase the Canadian sport community’s resilience and dedication to athletes, coaches, officials, staff, volunteers, and fans alike. And perhaps most notably, the myriad pivots and plans these organizations have made to run safe events have led to innovative new ways of thinking that will be harnessed long after the pandemic.  

For example, the pandemic accelerated and forced all sports to embrace the use of technology. As a result, many found novel and cost effective ways to connect with stakeholders that may continue in the future. That same technology reduced the number of volunteers and hours required for them to be on site, which may alleviate the expected attrition of volunteers in the coming years. The use of technology also allowed some sports to bring in new sources of revenue: Curling Canada started new fantasy pools to engage with fans and Hockey Canada moved fundraising initiatives such as 50/50 draws online. Beyond technology, many sports uncovered new ways to collaborate with partners, including Hockey Canada. When they needed a sponsor for contact tracing, they approached Telus. That fit with the companies’ core values around connecting Canadians.  

COVID-19 has changed everything, says Hockey Canada’s Dean McIntosh. “How we plan events, what the priorities are, how we drive revenues, how we manage expenses, how we engage communities, I think it’s all changed. I do believe that we are going to see a reinvention.”