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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 reviewing a research study on SPORT ACADEMY TREND IN ALBERTA, CANADA.

Sport Academies: A Growing Phenomenon in Canadian Schools. Balderson, D. (2015). Physical and Health Education, 80(4), 27-29.

SIRC Highlights from the research

The formation of sport schools and sport academies has been on the rise in Canada to meet the needs of a growing number of student-athletes looking to work on sport skill development in coordination with an academic curriculum. At the time of this study all provinces and one territory in Canada lay claim to some sort of school sports academy. The province of Quebec has been a leader in terms of establishing their publicly funded “sport-étude” program in a coordinated effort across multiple schools in their school system. The purpose of this article was to review a study performed to examine data in regards to sport schools and academies in the province of Alberta to better understand how the system is at work in that province. The author collected data through website consultation, phone calls and online surveys. The data was analyzed and through a grounded theory approach information was tabulated and theories developed.


  • Data collected identified 93 schools offering a sports academy with 120 different programs, involving approximately 2,000 students.
  • Almost 50% of schools were rural
  • 45% were secondary schools, 30% junior high or middle schools, and 25% combined secondary-middle schools
  • most academy programs partner with an established public school or group of schools
  • the others are private with a joint academic and athletic focus from creation

Sport Programs:

  • 25 of the schools supported elite level teams for their athletes (drawing athletes from Alberta, across Canada and international)
    • tuition fees: $15-30K/academic year (room, board & sport-related travel included)
    • highly competitive schedules with athletes’ goals to pursue scholarships at post-secondary institutions
  • 68 academies did not offer elite team, but focus on skill development and support local community teams
    • tuition: $500-$1,500/academic year (facility rental, uniforms or equipment)
  • hockey is the most popular program (67 hockey sport academy programs)
    • may be related to the desire to secure ice-time
    • may be related to Hockey Canada’s curricular and resource support for developing hockey programs
  • soccer is the second most popular (offered in 19 Alberta sport academies)
  • sports other than hockey were not closely associated with provincial or national organizations (soccer, baseball, figure skating, dance, golf and lacrosse)

Motivation for schools to start a sport academy:

  • potential for increased enrollment
  • attractiveness in the competition for students, retention of students and engagement (meet grade requirement to stay enrolled)
  • teacher engagement
  • common element in the development of sport academies is the development of programs around an individual with sport-specific expertise
  • common element of access to sport-specific facilities

Reasons for student attendance:

  • stepping stone to play at post-secondary institution
  • seeking an edge in their athletic development
  • seeking better coaching
  • better competition
  • flexible academic schedule

Future trends identified:

  • trend towards school-based sport academies in Alberta will continue
  • educational policy and curriculum design support choice and flexibility for students
  • sport academies vary in their program design and offerings, they are not all the same and do not approach athlete development with the same philosophy
  • academies are primarily started at the grassroots level
  • suggestion that provincial organizations such as departments of education, provincial school athletic associations, and PSOs develop stronger relationships with academies to increase the quality and coordination of programs
  • Teacher educators in the current system have to incorporate business, recruiting and financial tasks which could be alleviated by a coordinated system
  • Pre-service teachers are interested in training in academies which has implications for teacher education programs, phys ed programming, and sport development programing

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.