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When kids specialize early in one sport or activity, it doesn’t guarantee they will be successful athletes in the long term (Malina 2010). To the contrary, research has revealed that they tend to get injured more frequently, burnout, and quit (Jayanthi et al. 2013, Jayanthi et al. 2015, Fraser-Thomas et al. 2005). This is why many coaches and health professionals are now saying that we should promote multi-sport programming for kids, and the recent Play More Sports campaign focuses on this message.

The challenge is to make multi-sport programming happen. Given that community sport associations, recreation departments, schools, and health agencies tend to operate in separate silos, it can be difficult to bring together the different players needed to create and coordinate the kind of boundary-breaking programming that multi-sport represents. Generating consumer demand can also be difficult. Before organizations can justify the cost and effort of creating the programs, they need to convince parents of the value of multi-sport in the first place. Again, for many people, multi-sport represents a paradigm shift, and some parents may not understand its importance.

New multi-sport programs in Canada

Despite these challenges, community-scale multi-sport programming is starting to happen in Canada. Recently, a few communities have launched innovative collaborations between local sport associations, recreation departments, and government to deliver large-scale multi-sport experiences for kids with one simple registration. The results have been both encouraging and instructive.

In Nova Scotia, Antigonish Multisport is now entering its fourth year. It brings together 10 community sport organizations and two municipal recreation departments to provide introductory experiences in basketball, badminton, hockey, swimming, taekwondo, baseball, softball, gymnastics, athletics, and soccer to children ages 5-6 years for $325 per child. Cochrane, Alberta has followed up with a similar initiative that delivers soccer, badminton, swimming, wrestling, dance, gymnastics, learn to skate, hockey, ringette, and rugby to kids ages 6-7 years over 10 months for $500 each.

Lessons learned in program development

In the process of building and delivering these programs, organizers have learned a few important lessons. The following represent some of those lessons, together with additional recommendations for promising practices in multi-sport programming.

1. Create a strong working committee to develop your programming.

Both Antigonish and Cochrane found success by creating a strong cross-sectoral working committee from the outset. Start by bringing together leaders from different sport, recreation, education, and health groups in your community who are sympathetic to multi-sport. Begin the dialogue and start building a strategy for collaboration on multi-sport programming. Take stock of each group’s resources, logistical requirements, and what they can bring to the table.

2. Educate the community and create demand.

As noted above, many people still don’t understand the importance and value of multi-sport. Create a communications campaign to build understanding and appreciation for multi-sport programming among all of your community stakeholders, so you can both establish buy-in from programmers and generate demand among customers.

3. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use existing resources.

As you put together the program components and curricula for different sports, use existing quality resources. Most national sport organizations (NSOs) in Canada have developed excellent materials to guide you in appropriate training practices and competition formats for kids of different ages. Use them and save yourself a world of headaches.

4. Make programming accessible, inclusive, and affordable.

To make your programming accessible, be prepared to serve a wide variety of individual needs. Your program clients may represent different levels of income, diverse cultural practices, and a range of skills and abilities. Give careful consideration to reducing registration costs, minimizing equipment required from registrants, accommodating different abilities in your curricula, and addressing potential cultural barriers to participation in sport and activity. Also look closely at scheduling to offer program sessions at practical times for the children and families who are your customers.

5. Plan for program sustainability.   

The best programming integrates plans for year-over-year funding, as well as ongoing recruitment and training of staff. Develop a comprehensive budget that addresses all the costs likely to be incurred in operating your programming annually, monitor the budget throughout the year, and make refinements as necessary for subsequent years. Leverage community partnerships between schools, sport associations, recreation departments, and municipal government to share costs of staffing, equipment, facilities, and training, either through direct financial contributions or gifts in kind. Local businesses are another good source for potential sponsorships to further reduce costs. Finally, anticipate recruitment and training of coaches and instructors on an ongoing basis so you are not caught shorthanded when there is staff turnover.
These are some of the major steps to creating effective community-level multi-sport programming. Building and operating multi-sport programming poses significant challenges, but early pilot programs in Antigonish and Cochrane have shown that it can be done. By creating strong working committees and addressing the major issues outlined above, more communities in Canada can start to look at delivering early multi-sport experiences to kids. In the process, they will be helping to lay the foundation for new generations of active, healthy kids.

This is the second in a three-part blog series on the value of a multi-sport approach in youth sport and activity programming (click here for the first). SIRC readers can look forward to learning more about insights on implementing multi-sport programming from sport leaders in January 2019.

About the Author(s)

Jim Grove is a senior contributing editor at Active for Life and a consulting editor to national sport organizations on physical literacy and Long-Term Athlete Development. He has 20 years experience coaching youth soccer along with NCCP certification as a youth soccer coach.


Fraser-Thomas, Jessica, Jean Côté and Janice Deakin (2005). Youth sport programs: an avenue to foster positive youth development. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 19–40.

Jayanthi, Neeru et al. (2013).  Specialization in Young Athletes: Evidence-Based Recommendations. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Volume: 5 issue: 3, page(s): 251-257.

Jayanthi, Neeru et al. (2015). Sports-specialized intensive training and the risk of injury in young athletes: a clinical case-control study. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(4):794-801.

Malina, R.M. (2010). Early sport specialization: roots, effectiveness, risks. Current Sports Medicine Reports, Vol. 9, No. 6, pp. 364-371.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.