Five Recommendations to Authentically Engage Newcomers in SportFebruary 2, 2021
Events of 2020 provided a catalyst for sport administrators and community leaders to more directly consider how to create inclusive sport and physical activity opportunities for underrepresented communities (e.g., ethno-racial minorities, LGBTQ2S communities, persons with disabilities). One community receiving increasing attention is newcomers to Canada. Research shows that individuals who have recently immigrated to Canada turn to sport and physical activity for many reasons, including expanding one’s social network, improving health and wellness, and integrating into Canadian society (Barrick et al., 2021; Curtin et al., 2016; Rich et al., 2015). As sport and physical activity stakeholders work towards building back better from COVID-19, we need to think critically about how to address known participation barriers faced by newcomers (e.g., cost, transportation, language barriers, lack of knowledge about Canadian sport and physical activity, bureaucratic registration processes) to make sport more representative of Canada’s rich ethno-racial diversity.
In March 2017, I co-founded an intersectoral community partnership with WinSport, the Centre for Newcomers (CFN), and the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA). The WinSport Welcomes Newcomers Initiative (WWNI) was designed to provide programming to introduce newcomers in Calgary to iconic Canadian winter sports—ice skating, ice hockey, and downhill skiing. Over the past three winters, we have refined our partnership approach, enhanced programs and services, and engaged more than 400 newcomer children, youth, and adults in winter sports.
The following recommendations provide sport administrators with tangibles strategies to increase their capacity to create welcoming sport experiences for newcomers.
1. Recognize your limitations
It is critical to identify your strengths and weaknesses (as an individual or organization) and surround yourselves with collaborators who possess expertise in your weak areas. From day one of planning the WWNI, we (myself and my WinSport collaborators) recognized that our strengths were in research and winter sport programming; and that we lacked rapport and connections with the local newcomer communities in Calgary. This led us to invite representatives from CFN and CIWA to join the partnership, which proved integral to the success of the project. The strength of the WWNI partnership lay in our collective belief in the value of sport and the trust afforded to each partner to contribute what they do best to the process (e.g., WinSport administrators running high-quality sport programs and settlement services administrators recruiting and supporting newcomer participants).
2. Context matters/know your community
Communities, sport organizations, facilities, and sports differ from one another in a myriad of ways. At a local level, two neighbourhoods that share a border may be very different demographically, ethno-racially, and/or socio-economically. Thus, it is essential to understand the composition of the population you want to engage to best involve them. After learning from our CFN and CIWA partners that Calgary possesses great diversity in terms of immigrant source countries and backgrounds, we decided to recruit newcomer program participants regardless of background to best reflect the immigration realities of Calgary, rather than focusing on a particular community (e.g., Syrian refugees). This type of research and insight can be gathered by tapping into local expertise, or by reviewing your municipal, provincial/territorial, and federal census reports for general demographic data.
3. Go right to the source
Building on the last recommendation, it is essential that community champions and/or groups from the community you are intending to work with are included as active contributors from the beginning. This ensures you are not speaking for particular communities with whom you do not share similar lived experiences (e.g., sport administrators who are Canadian citizens determining what is best for immigrant children). Involving relevant community members is also key to building individual and community buy-in for your initiative. Involving settlement practitioners from CFN and CIWA—many of whom belong to the same ethno-racial communities as the newcomer program participants—throughout the program planning, delivery, and evaluation phases helped establish trust and rapport with newcomer community members, thereby contributing to program success. Insights from newcomer participants were also gathered through formal (i.e., interviews and focus groups) and informal (i.e., casual conversations before, during, and after programs) approaches. These insights proved invaluable in identifying and addressing programming challenges (e.g., improving program attendance by providing transportation between WinSport and where program participants live), thereby strengthening the WWNI’s overall effectiveness.
4. Critically reflect on your values and beliefs
It is also important to turn your focus inwards, both individually and collectively, when embarking on newcomer inclusion efforts. For instance, critically examine whether your organization, facility, and/or sport are truly welcoming. Would a newcomer feel welcome entering your space and participating in your programming? Identifying and addressing unwelcoming aspects (e.g., lack of representation in programming and administration, inaccessible advertising materials, no introductory programming) is an essential step to create welcoming, inclusive spaces for everyone. This is another example where directly engaging with representatives from the relevant community is important. Conversations about how WinSport could make internal changes to be more welcoming to newcomers, and by extension all Calgarians, led WinSport administrators to begin exploring broadening dietary options across the facility and translating advertising materials into prominent languages besides English. Additional areas to consider include: ensuring your staff and volunteers reflect the diversity of your local community (e.g., gender, age, language, and ethno-racial backgrounds); refining organizational policies and procedures that promote and protect the inclusive, welcoming environment you are striving for; and providing diversity and inclusion training and on-going support to staff and volunteers.
5. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate!
Newcomer inclusion initiatives within community sport are complex. Therefore, receiving diverse forms of feedback throughout the project (not just the end) will help ensure you are progressing towards achieving your objectives. A mix of quantitative (numbers) and qualitative (words) feedback tracking participant experiences during the program, program registration numbers, retention rates, and future sport participation intentions will give you a rich picture of what you are doing well, what needs to be changed, and what future possibilities lie ahead. Popular data collection tools include surveys, interviews, and focus groups, all of which can be completed in person, virtually, or by phone.
Continual evaluation is one thing that WWNI collaborators have identified as needing improvement. While the partnership team met at the end of each year to debrief the program, a lack of capacity prevented us from integrating more informal, periodic evaluations during the program. As evaluation is an essential component of intersectoral partnerships (Parent & Harvey, 2009), scheduling intermittent (e.g., quarterly) and final evaluations from the outset of your initiative is recommended.
The above recommendations should be treated as guidelines for authentically engaging with newcomers to Canada. There are many great organizations working in this space (e.g., Winnipeg Newcomer Sport Academy, Calgary’s Soccer Without Boundaries, Commonwealth Sport Canada’s Sport for Newcomers’ Initiative) – I encourage you to reach out, network, and learn from one another to amplify your impact.
Given our growing understanding of how COVID-19 is causing disproportionate suffering among Canada’s vulnerable communities (e.g., Findlay et al., 2020; Moore et al., 2020), the federal government’s pledge to increase immigration targets to historic levels (Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada, 2020), and our collective reckoning with #BlackLivesMatter and anti-Black racism, expanding the involvement of newcomers as participants and leaders represents a necessary action in making sport and physical activity in Canada truly representative of our population. How will you contribute to positive change in this area?
About the Author(s)
Simon Barrick is a Lecturer at Cape Breton University in the Department of Experiential Studies in Community and Sport and a PhD Candidate at the University of Calgary in the Faculty of Kinesiology. Simon’s research, teaching, and community service interests involve critically interrogating equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts within Canadian sport and leisure settings. Simon is an avid curler and runner, and has extensive consulting experience across community, provincial, and national organizational contexts.
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