Creating a Values-Based Sport System in CanadaJanuary 22, 2019
Across playing fields, courts and ice rinks in Canada, demands for improvements in the quality of the sport experience are growing. While sport has long been celebrated for its role in developing the character of our nation, stories shared in the media or by word of mouth are calling into question the type of environment that has been created. Win at all costs attitudes, doping, poor governance, abusive fans, high youth drop-out rates, discrimination, violence and harassment have many stakeholders looking for solutions to help focus on the positive outcomes available through sport. Since 2000, a values-based approach to sport has been advocated for and implemented by a number of Canadian groups including Collaborative Community Coaching (C3)™, True Sport , and the Sport Law & Strategy Group. Although progress has been made, a values-based approach has yet to take a firm hold in Canadian sport – until now.
A National Gathering
In October 2018, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), in collaboration with the Public Policy Forum, hosted the Values Proposition Symposium: Building a Stronger Canada through Values-Based Sport. The event saw coaches and leaders from all levels of Canadian sport come together in Ottawa to talk about ways to advance this growing social movement. There was a sense of optimism and enthusiasm for the potential of a values-based approach to support the kind of high quality sport experiences that Canadians, especially children and youth, deserve.
But what is “values-based sport”, and what does it look like in practice? From conversations at the Symposium and during five regional roundtable sessions leading up to the gathering, it is clear that there is some confusion and ambiguity in the field and that a common language and set of principles would further our collective efforts. The purpose of this article is to move towards a shared understanding of values-based sport across Canada’s sport sector. It also offers practical first steps to give coaches and leaders the confidence and knowledge to start placing positive values at the core of their programs, or build upon their current practices.
What is values-based sport?
In short, values-based sport is an approach that helps to establish an optimal environment that encourages the growth and development of athletes through sport. By fostering the development of good character, sport and physical activity skills, and a sense of community and belonging, values-based sport can help to develop good athletes and good people.
Dictionary definitions of the word “value” help to develop our understanding, and include “a person’s principles or standards of behaviour”, “a judgement of what is important in life”, “that which is desirable” and a “quality having intrinsic worth”. Synonyms include ethics, morals, standards, and code of behaviour.
As sport is a social environment, the phrase “social values” is also relevant here, and can be described as “certain patterns of human interaction that must be in place if people are to grow and develop in groups”. Examples include “a basic respect for individuals as persons, equal rights and opportunities for all group members, and an embracing of differences (e.g., gender, race, ability levels)” (Musson, 1997).
Within a values-based approach to sport, some specific values frequently discussed include:
- Fun and play
- Safety (physical and emotional)
- Doing one’s best
- Fair play
The integration of values into Canadian sport settings is intended to support a number of outcomes relating to the ultimate goal of meeting the basic human and developmental needs of athletes and participants. These outcomes include:
- Getting and staying involved in sport and physical activity
- Making friends
- Character development
- Healthy competition
- Motivation to continue learning and developing skills
- Striving for excellence
Creating Values-Based Sport Environments “By Design”
If a positive impact on the challenges facing sport is to be achieved, the realization of values-based sport must move beyond tokenism and fair play codes by placing values at the centre of the sport experience. Creating sport experiences “by design” involves coaches and athletes clarifying their values and “purpose” in relation to the sport activity (Musson, 1999). When values such as having fun, doing one’s best, fair play, and inclusion are central to the sport experience, the purpose of why athletes are playing sport can be kept clear. Being intentional in their planning can help coaches ensure that the agreed upon values are reflected in practices, competition and other activities (e.g. travelling to and from sport events). Values thus provide a “map and compass” to guide coaches’ planning and actions as they strive toward creating high quality sport experiences.
Getting Started – Creating a Values-Based Agreement
A good starting point for an organization or team is to develop a values-based agreement. Determining the values of a group is an essential step in providing the map, compass and clarity of purpose for athletes, coaches and leaders. As a starting point, organizations may wish to use their stated organizational values or begin with the True Sport Agreement. However, facilitating a conversation to identify values important to the group will help ensure a strong sense of inclusion and ownership.
Here are a few tips for creating an agreement:
- Facilitate a brainstorming session starting with two questions – “How do you want to be treated?” and “How do you think others want to be treated?”
- Based on athletes’ responses, identify a list of values that underpin these desired interactions.
- Ensure there is input from all team members.
- Through discussion, refine the list to a core group of 5-10 values that are agreed upon by all members.
- Integrate these values into an agreement to be signed by all members of the team (athletes, coaches and other support staff/volunteers).
For a step-by-step process, click here.
Activating the Agreement on the Field
Once an agreement has been created, it’s important to make values come to life to ensure that they are observable and understandable by all involved. By revisiting the agreement regularly during practices and games, athletes and coaches can keep values “top of mind”.
Here are some ideas:
- Make it tangible – Take a team picture with the agreement to share with all team members, or write the values on a relevant sport-related item (e.g. soccer ball, swim kick-board) and keep this item visible and refer to it at practices and games.
- Be intentional – Focus on a different value each practice, game or week. This helps players and coaches integrate the values into regular interactions and decisions.
- Debrief – Integrate regular debrief sessions that promote dialogue among coaches and players and reinforce learning by highlighting the teachable moments that arise.
- Cultivate Reflective Practice – With practice, coaches will develop observational skills to “catch athletes doing it right” to highlight examples of putting the values into practice.
Communities of Character
A values-based approach to sport supports the development of “communities of character” where athletes, coaches, officials, parents and other stakeholders work together in an environment built on shared values including mutual respect, fairness, play, acceptance of diversity and inclusion (Musson, 1999). A sport setting promoting character development creates a welcoming, safe, athlete-centred environment where coaches and athletes recognize that every individual in the group has something unique and valuable to contribute (Musson,1999). These efforts change the sport environment from what is often an adversarial one, where coaches rarely communicate, to a more collaborative situation where coaches “help each other support their athletes” and learn together in a more positive setting.
Practices to support the creation of “communities of character” include:
- Coaches meeting regularly to develop strategies and share ideas that maximize opportunities for every participant to build on their strengths and abilities.
- Stage-appropriate officiating that engages officials in supporting athlete skill and knowledge development through practices such as “guide and remind” and “warn then enforce” (Jurbala, 2018).
- The engagement of parents from the beginning of the season to ensure their buy-in and support for the values, in their own behaviour and how they support their athlete off the field.
Looking to the Future
Sport, by its nature, has elements of play and seriousness, having fun and doing one’s best to win. These elements can co-exist, however they must be skillfully blended together to create a healthy learning environment for all. In too many situations, the serious nature of sport along with a narrow focus on winning has served to overshadow the playful, fun side of sport. Questions are being asked – “Are sports inclusive and providing regular play opportunities for young athletes?” and “Are participants consistently having their needs met through sport?” Implementing a values-based approach into our sport system can address these questions and help solve the challenges sport is facing. Coaches will know they’re on the right track when athletes are smiling and laughing regularly, have a sense of play in their environment, and are motivated to stay involved and continue to improve.
It is time for sport leaders to “tip the scales” in favour of an experience that consistently includes positive values, particularly for children and youth. Values-based sport in Canada will happen on a consistent basis only if work continues collectively to ensure that the design and purposes of sport are well thought-out and clear to everyone involved. We are at a crossroads and if we are diligent in addressing these issues now, positive change can occur.
True Sport is guided by a set of seven principles that when intentionally embedded into sport at any level will result in a values-based sport experience that will instill character in our children, strengthen our communities and increase our opportunities for personal excellence.
Beedy, J. P., Zierck, T. (2000) Lessons From the Field: Taking a Proactive Approach to Developing Character Through Sports, Community Youth Development (CYD) Journal, 2, no.3.
Bell-Laroche, D. (2015). Coaching by Values. Sport Law & Strategy Group blog.
Rosa, B. A. (2015, May) “Ethics in Sport – Guidelines For Coaches”, Ethics in Sport National Plan, Portugal, Luso -Illyrian Institute for Human Development (iLIDH), 1st Edition.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Values education through sport – innovative education for development.
About the Author(s)
Alison Jones is a co-creator of Collaborative Community Coaching (C3)™, and has worked for more than 35 years contributing to the management of recreation and community development projects with national, provincial and community stakeholders. Alison has a BSc. in Recreology (University of Ottawa) and a Recreation Facility and Program diploma (Algonquin College).
Michael McLenaghen is a co-creator of Collaborative Community Coaching (C3)™, and is currently completing a learning resource for values-based sport and recreation. A former teacher and Director of Community and Social Services for Collingwood Neighbourhood House in East Vancouver, BC, since 1998 he has facilitated educational workshops for children, youth, coaches and leaders in sport, education and recreation across Canada. Michael was a member of Canada’s Olympic and World Cup soccer Teams, and has coached several sports including soccer, lacrosse, basketball and volleyball for all age and ability levels.
Beedy, J.P. (1997), Sports PLUS: Developing youth sports programs that teach positive values, Hamilton, MA, Project Adventure Publication.
Jurbala, P. (2018), “Can we better Retain Sport Officials by Asking Them to Do More? The Opportunity of Stage-appropriate Officiating”, Sport Information Resource Centre, July11, 2018.
Musson, S. (1997), Leading by design: A guide to school age care for 9-12 year olds, Vancouver, BC, Karyo Communications.
Musson, S. (1999), School-Age care, theory and practice, 2nd Edition, Addison Wesley, Longman Ltd.