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SIRC is pleased to be working together with Sport Canada to share current research on topics informing policy and promoting quality sport programming. This week we are sharing highlights of a recent article examining COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT IN DEVELOPING ATHLETES.

The influence of community on athletic development: an integrated case study.

Balish, S., & Côté, J. (2014). Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise & Health, 6(1), 98-120.

SIRC Highlights from the research

In this exploratory study, the authors used a case study of a Canadian community (Lockeport, Nova Scotia) that has a history of producing successful athletes and teams, to examine the interaction between the influence of community level processes and individual athletic development. Interviews were conducted with a diverse cross-section of residents who represented a variety of roles within sport in the community: athletes, coaches, parents, community leaders, teacher, etc. Content analysis was performed on the interviews and the following community themes were identified:

Theme One – Developmental Experiences: Direct individual level experiences influencing athletic development.


  1. Youth-led play and practice – Many opportunities for outdoor recreational activities and local community gym time were identified. Unorganized “pick-up” games occurred before and after school among mixed-age peers. Coaches/teachers provided access to the indoor facility, but the activities were led by older youth with younger athletes invited to join. “Athletes, coaches and parents emphasised ‘opening the gym’ as a vital component for athletic development.”
  2. Adult-led training – Athletes participated in organized basketball, soccer and baseball starting at age 8-10. Both male and female teams were seasonal, non-overlapping, and structured by adults with formal practices and competitions with surrounding communities. Due to the relatively low number of youth in the community “call-ups” between elementary and junior high school, and junior and senior high school to promote athlete development were common. Summer basketball and soccer camps with coaches from outside the community were also a feature.
  3. Adult-led competition – Coaches actively sought out talented competition from other communities starting at 8-10 years of age, which athletes and coaches emphasized as being important to enable the athletes to compete with these higher quality opponents at later ages.

Theme Two – Community Influences: Indirect influences of the physical and social structure of the community on athletic development.


  1. Built environment – As a small community, the majority of youth live within walking distance of the outdoor recreational areas which serves as a popular hangout. The only gym is located within the high school and is used for community sport and cultural events as well. While not all study participants agreed on the quality of the spaces, they did agree that all were highly accessible and “major contributors to the identity of the community”.
  2. Social relations – Being a small community with a number of large families, there is a strong community sense of family kinship. Due to the lack of turnover in the community, athletes often played with the same teammates throughout their school years and the coach-athlete relationships were bolstered by these close-knit ties. Coaches were often referred to as “like members of the family”. There was also significant sporting history within families creating sporting legacies.
  3. Coaching – Identified five main actions coaches performed:
  • Would advance with their teams as the athletes aged rather than coach a static age group
  • Made deliberate attempts to increase access to recreational spaces (fields & gym) for practice and play with an emphasis on fundamental skills rather than technical skills
  • Regularly scheduled games against higher-skilled competition
  • Brought in expert coaches from outside the community
  • Created large community gatherings based around sporting events.

Theme Three – Socio-cultural Influences: Sport-related cultural norms and social processes.


  1. Sporting traditions – The community as a whole was present and intensely engaged in local sporting events, which the athletes and coaches thrived upon. Emphasis on community sporting traditions (events) to celebrate successes.
  2. Role modelling – Consensus that this was vital within the community with a strong tradition of mixed-age pickup games and scrimmages, with older athletes being respected and leaders in the practices. Strong report back of younger athletes seeing older athletes engaged in self-directed training as a way of improving individual skill.
  3. Community pride – Phrases such as community feeling, community spirit, sense of community, community pride, and community as family showed the importance of this factor. Being a member of the community was an integral part of the athletic identity, supported and purposefully cultivated by coaches, family and other community members. Respect for older athletes and coaches was also cultivated. The community would often chip in to help the sport teams providing transportations, paying fees for those unable to or volunteering.
  4. Community rivalry – In combination with community pride is an intense rivalry with other community, one neighboring community in particular. It was part of the community identity and was seen as invigorating and enjoyable.

In conclusion, according to the authors, athletic development cannot be fully understood at the individual level, but must integrate and broaden to include the larger systems (social and physical) within which athletes develop.

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