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The Sport Information Resource Centre

Encouraging youth to try multiple sports increases their odds of staying active into adulthood and doesn’t interfere with their chances of reaching high levels of performance. But trying multiple sports means that youth will eventually drop out of at least some of these sports, and existing sport participation models rarely (if ever) discuss sport withdrawal or dropout. Is it time to rethink out long-term sport participation models?

Physical and health education teachers and coaches are experts at helping kids learn new skills. By patiently walking students through each learning step, they build the blocks of learners’ physical literacy. However, sport and recreation experiences aren’t built on physical skills alone. Instead, the experiences are wrapped in life lessons, personal growth and a few hard knocks. At the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), we designed a new True Sport resource with those teachable moments in mind. This resource provides educators with a series of activities that focus on developing physical and ethical literacy, side by side.

True Sport logo

Called The True Sport Experience – Volume 1: FUNdamentals, the new resource is endorsed by Physical and Health Education (PHE) Canada for educators, coaches and recreational leaders of children, aged 6 to 9. It presents a series of energetic and fun activities, featuring at least 1 of the 7 True Sport Principles, for use in classrooms and on playgrounds or community sports fields. Using this resource, teachers can help their students discover the values at the heart of sport.

The 7 True Sport Principles are: Go for it, Play fair, Keep it fun, Stay healthy, Respect others, Include everyone, and Give back. The principles promote the kind of sport experiences that most Canadians already believe in and practise. That is, sport that’s fair, promotes excellence, fosters inclusion and is fun.

Why ethical literacy?

In short, The True Sport Experience is a blueprint intended to create positive sport and recreation experiences. It marries physical literacy activities with ethical literacy learning objectives.

Children riding bikes outside

Many of us are familiar with physical literacy, described as “the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life” (International Physical Literacy Association, 2020). But, ethical literacy may be a new concept. At the CCES, we define ethical literacy as “the ability to collect and evaluate information, reflect on one’s own moral values, identify the potential outcomes of various options and their impacts, make reasoned decisions about which options align with one’s values, act consistently with one’s values, explain one’s decisions, and take responsibility for one’s actions.”

That sounds like a concept for adults, but the activities in The True Sport Experience are developmentally appropriate for kids in the FUNdamentals stage of Sport for Life’s Long-term development (LTD) in sport and physical activity. Kids will explore, apply and evaluate how their personal values influence their ethical decision-making, in real time, through structured and unstructured play environments.

For example, the Heart Healthy Bingo activity mixes tasks like doing 20 jumping jacks and telling a peer the reason it’s important to drink enough water. Such tasks should get kids talking about how to stay healthy in both mind and body. In the “Include Everyone” chapter, the Musical Hoops activity reinforces the idea that inclusive games can increase health and enjoyment for all. In that activity, you remove hoops from the game, but the players stay. No one is left out of the game and instead the players team up inside the remaining hoops!

A Minds On pre-game discussion helps educators set the stage for each activity. Minds On also includes a set of post-game questions to guide educators through ways to draw out learnings from the participants.

Children learning the alphabet while doing interesting tasks

What’s more, when physical literacy and ethical literacy are developed at the same time, kids gain additional life skills. For example, they strengthen their executive functions, a family of mental processes. Executive functions enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions or rules, see things from a different perspective, respond to novel or unpredictable circumstances, and juggle multiple tasks successfully (Diamond, 2013).

In addition to the resource’s activities, there’s a summary of physical literacy, ethical literacy and LTD in sport and physical activity. Specific connections are made to each within the activities, which align with current Canadian physical and health education curriculums. Every activity includes discussion prompts, assessment tools and special considerations, where applicable.

Gaining the industry’s quality stamp of approval

PHE Canada’s endorsement of The True Sport Experience is an instantly recognizable stamp within the physical and health education sector, certifying and communicating quality. PHE Canada’s endorsement process involved consultation with an advisory team of experienced educators and sector experts from across Canada. That team recognized the resource for its support of quality physical and health education programming and the promotion of healthy learning environments for students.


“I truly believe everyone deserves and should expect a positive sporting experience,” says Grant McManes, a retired educator, True Sport Champion, and a PHE Canada board representative for Manitoba-Nunavut. “Through this resource, educators, coaches and others may set the stage for introducing the True Sport Principles in a fun and interactive way to children as they’re beginning to explore sport. This will allow them to both understand the principles and embody them throughout their daily and sporting experiences.”

Portrait of happy physical education teacher during class at school gym.Educators play an important role in the development of physical and ethical literacy of Canadian children. Physical literacy is a cornerstone of physical education and sport development, but ethical literacy is often an afterthought. Lessons in The True Sport Experience bring ethical literacy development to an equal footing with physical skill development.

By using The True Sport Experience in the classroom, community and beyond, educators can unlock the potential for a lifetime of positive sport and recreation experiences. Their students will be more likely to value physical activity and to seek out and nurture similar experiences throughout their lives. In turn, they could help form a generation of Canadians who recognize that good sport can make a significant difference.

About True Sport

The True Sport Principles define Canada’s commitment to values-based sport. True Sport is an initiative of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport. It gives people, communities and organizations the means to leverage the many benefits of good sport from a platform of shared values and principles. Learn more at

Under the age of 12, Soccer Canada’s Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) model is built around small-sided games. A large body of research has demonstrated the benefits of this approach for players’ skills and confidence. However, little was known about the affects for goalies – until now. A new study has shown that goalies have more opportunities to perform both offensive and defensive actions in 5-a-side soccer, which contributes to their engagement and development on the field.

One of the biggest stories coming out of the 2018 Winter Olympics was the success of the Norwegian Team, who topped the overall medal count with 39 medals (7.33 medals/million population), compared to Canada’s third-place standing with 29 medals (0.81 medals/million population). In team rooms and in the media, everyone was asking “How did such a small country produce such a dominating performance at these Olympics?

While there are many reasons underlying Norway’s success, an interview with Tore Øvrebø, Director of Elite Sport for the Olympiatoppen, an organization of scientists, trainers and nutritionists who work with Olympic athletes across Norway’s sports federations, drew attention to significant differences in the way sport and physical activity is delivered in Norway compared to other Olympic countries. He describes an ethos of “participation” and focus on developmental outcomes.

Sport should be a human development program…They should learn social skills. Learn to take instructions, and think by themselves. Learn to know what the rules are. Learn why we are doing these things together. So there is a value system going through the [activity] that is actually about developing people. That’s the main goal of sport, to develop people.

In contrast, an ethos of “winning at all costs” has infiltrated youth sport in Canada, degrading the quality of the sport experience resulting in reduced participation (Brenner, 2016) and increased injury (Jayanthi et al., 2013). Building psychological, cognitive, social and emotional skills are largely ignored, yet these are essential ingredients for successful high performance athletes, particularly for our developing athletes (Bailey, 2012). Factors differentiating “super champions” from others include commitment, reaction to challenge, reflection and reward and the role of coaches and significant others (Collins et al., 2016).

This article aims to ignite reflection and dialogue about the ways we develop our younger athletes, particularly in the first three stages of Canada’s Long-Term Athlete Development Pathway (Active Start, FUNdamentals and Learn to Train). It is during these stages that sport can play a role in developing athletes’ executive functions and social and emotional learning skills – the foundations for “human development.” Quality sport can provide outstanding learning environments and opportunities for our young athletes to but this requires deliberate planning and delivery. In the spirit of continuous improvement, this article also aims to cultivate conversations and relationships across the broader sport ecosystem, especially with schools, who make extraordinary contributions toward the development of our youth.

Executive functions – the basic building blocks for success

Success in school and in one’s career requires “creativity, flexibility, self-control and discipline” (Diamond 2016). Underlying these attributes are executive functions (EFs) – a family of mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions or rules, see things from a different perspective, respond to novel or unpredictable circumstances and juggle multiple tasks successfully (Diamond 2013).

The parts of the brain that develop these EFs are often referred to an air traffic control system.  Busy airports have a duty to safely manage arrivals and departures for many airplanes using many runways, all at the same time. Similarly, our brain needs to operate like an air traffic control tower, seeing and managing distractions, establishing priorities for tasks, setting and achieving goals, while controlling impulsive words and actions (Centre on the Developing Child, Harvard University).

These functions are highly interrelated, and the successful application of EFs in real world situations requires them to properly orchestrate their operations with each other.  It is generally agreed that there are 3 core functions:

How are executive functions developed?

Children are not born with these skills. The figure below shows the results of tests measuring different forms of executive function skills. They begin to develop shortly after birth, with a window of dramatic development between the ages of three to five. Development continues throughout adolescence into early adulthood (CDC, Harvard University).

Parents, guardians and other caring adults are collectively responsible for providing “growth-promoting environments” to enable children to practice and develop these skills where they live, learn and play.

Adults can facilitate the development of a child’s executive function skills by establishing routines, modeling social behavior, and creating and maintaining supportive, reliable relationships. It is also important for children to exercise their developing skills through activities that foster creative play and social connection, teach them how to cope with stress, involve vigorous exercise, and over time, provide opportunities for directing their own actions with decreasing adult supervision. (CDC, Harvard University)

Developing executive functions through sport and physical activity

Diamond (2015) reviews the effects of physical exercise on EFs and identifies preferred types of activity that promote positive impact. These include cognitively-engaging exercise, activities requiring bimanual coordination and eye-hand coordination (e.g. social circus), and activities that require frequently crossing the midline and/or rhythmic movement, such as dance or drumming, particularly when moving with others. Our knowledge about the mechanisms that underlie improved executive functions is growing and includes both structural and functional changes to specific regions of the brain (Cotman et al 2007).  While our understanding advances, Diamond (2015) further postulates that executive functions are improved by activities promoting physical fitness, but also those that “(a) train and challenge diverse motor and EF skills, (b) bring joy, pride, and self-confidence, and (c) provide a sense of social belonging (e.g., group or team membership).”

Social and emotional learning – building on the foundation of EFs

Establishing a foundation of EFs permits the subsequent development of social and emotional learning skills (Diamond 2013). These include self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness (see the table below).

“Social and emotional learning is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Are program interventions effective?

Since the mid 1990’s, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has been using research, practice and policy to make evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of education from preschool through high school. These programs have been tested in both the out-of-school and in-school settings.

When implemented as a system-wide approach, research has found statistically significant improvements in cognitive abilities, social cohesion and emotional agility (Durlak et al 2011).  Recent studies have demonstrated lasting positive effects around smart decision-making, forming healthy relationships, and goal setting while learning to apply those skills in other areas of their lives (Taylor et al., 2017).

For sustained impact, CASEL identifies three interconnected strategies that need to be tackled:

  1. Build student competencies and skills through an intentional approach. This should include free standing lessons designed to enhance student social and emotional competence, and the use of teaching practices that promote SEL, such as cooperative learning and project-based learning.
  2. Design an environment where all students thrive. We know that the environment in which students learn influences their social and emotional development, growth and success. Creating a sense of belonging within safe places accompanied by strong teacher-student relationships are necessary.
  3. Use organizational strategies to create a climate and culture conducive to SEL, and that develops and supports teacher capacity for advancing SEL.
Developing EFs and SEL through Sport

While much of the work on EFs and SEL has been led by the education sector, we could easily substitute “athlete” for “student” and “coach” for “teacher” and explore the possibilities for community recreation program and sport clubs.

Most coaches would agree that athletes demonstrating self-management, self-respect, respect of others, an emphasis on effort, decision-making and goal setting would be favourable attributes from a competitive sport perspective. Programs that cultivate these values would find their athletes enjoying sport and would likely remain in sport longer. Coaches are essential facilitators in bringing these attributes to life in sport and can provide clear connections to other aspects of the athlete’s life. “The coach must genuinely value the principles of respecting the players, empowering them to have a voice and also emphasizing respect of others and the ability to work independently and put forward effort regardless of who is watching” (Balague & Fink, 2016). Effective implementation of this approach requires: “prioritizing the athlete over wins and losses, emphasizing relationships, taking a holistic approach to developing athletes, and understanding that the model is a ‘way of being’, and not just a set of techniques to be followed” (Balague & Fink, 2016).

There are many different ways that this approach can be integrated into the sport environment; one recommended process is described below:

  1. A pre-season discussion with athletes about the kind of culture the team wishes to create. Some questions to help guide this discussion include “What are the things that define us?” or “How do we want to be seen by others?”  This can also include season goals for individuals as well as the entire team.
  2. Allow the team to create their own means by which they gather and decide on consequences for players that do not meet the agreed upon standards.
  3. An awareness talk begins each training session to identify the personal and group goals that target the SEL components. For example, the focus might be on Relationship Skills – during the awareness talk, ask the athletes to describe what this looks like in both sport and non-sport situations.  This helps to establish ownership and accountability for the practice session.
  4. At the end of each training session, there is a rapid check in with players to reflect on their contributions and how this might look in other parts of their life. Using the Relationship Skills from point #3, athletes can identify how they managed these skills during the training session, what did they do or say to promote relationship building or what might they do differently next time.
  5. While coaches will facilitate the above, they need to honour and respect the athlete voices by supporting their choices. For example, during training, the coach must integrate athlete ideas from the opening awareness talk.
The future has promise

Our youth sport system must find ways to keep children and adolescents engaged in sport.  By making sport a more inclusive and appealing choice, more youth will be attracted and retained.  Many coaches recognize the importance of an athlete’s social and emotional skillset yet they are uncertain about how to develop, train and progress these skills in their training environments. Implementation of most new ideas is challenging yet can begin with dialogues and learning more about this approach.  Recent work by Jean Côté in the area of transformational leadership (Turnnidge, 2017) provides exciting opportunities to explore ways in which coaches can be supported to provide quality sport experiences for their athletes.  A focus on developing EFs and SEL skill through their early sporting years may lead to a more developmentally appropriate environment for children and deepen the capability and expertise of our Canadian athlete pool.

Recommended Resources


Check out this 6-minute video from Edutopia for an overview of the “5 keys to social and emotional learning success” – as you watch the video, think of the ways that this approach in your sport environment might make it a better place for your athletes, their parents and coaches.

Education-based websites

Centre on the Developing Child (Harvard University;

Coalition for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL;

“Stage-appropriate officiating” creates a team approach to the delivery of quality youth sport whereby officials “guide and remind” athletes during the FUNdamentals and early Learn to Train stages; “warn then enforce” during late Learn to Train; and enforce traditional rules in the Train to Train stage. Stage-appropriate officiating could also help retain officials by tapping into their love of the game, increasing perceived organizational support, and decreasing official abuse.

The Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Framework was developed by Sport For Life to address several problems and gaps affecting low participation and excellence in Canadian sport, such as lack of fun, burn-out, poor skill development, and failure to reach optimal performance. Now applied by countries worldwide, LTAD provides guidelines for the “when” and “what” of skill development, aiming to increase the physical activity of all and to help those on the high-performance track attain sporting success.

Awareness and First Involvement

Awareness describes the understanding of the opportunities available, regardless of ability or background, to participate in sport and physical activity. First involvement is the first experience that individuals have with sport. It is essential that it be a positive one to encourage future engagement and participation.

Following an introduction to sport, coaches, parents and athletes should match skills and activities to the physical, emotional, cognitive, and mental characteristics of the appropriate stage of development. Although each stage has intended age ranges, each sport has different peak ages, and people develop and mature at their own rate. The ranges serve as a very general outline, mainly for context.

Active Start: 0-6 years

  • Physical activity needs to be fun and part of everyday life
  • Develop fundamental movement skills and build neural connections through active play
  • Games and activities should be non-competitive, fun, and comfortable

FUNdamentals: Males 6-9 years, Females 6-8 years

  • Emphasize the development of general physical capabilities, fundamental movement skills and the ABCS of athleticism: Agility, Balance, Coordination, Speed by engaging in multiple sports
  • Fundamental movement skills are the foundation for sporting success and long-term participation
  • Develop skills, confidence, and enjoyment of sport through fun, inclusive experiences in a variety of sport
  • Include some instruction in addition to structured and unstructured play
  • Focus on developing competence and confidence
  • 180 minutes of activity per day, with at least 60 minutes of those as vigorous physical activity

Learn to Train: Males 9-12 years, Females 8-11

  • Opportunities are inclusive and skill-based and must remain fun
  • Participate and compete in multiple sports, positions, activities, and environments, with the focus on skill development and retention
  • Train strength using body weight exercises, medicine balls and Swiss balls, and uphill wheeling for athletes in wheelchairs
  • Train for speed
  • Avoid specialization in late specialization sports
  • Training and competition should follow a 70:30 ratio
  • Keep participating in unstructured free play
  • Coaches should provide a chance to compete for everyone, not just the best players
  • 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day

Train to Train: Males 12-16 years, Females 11-15 years

  • Major growth spurt begins
  • Develop commitment and capabilities as competition transitions from local to provincial
  • Train stamina and aerobic capacity after peak height velocity (PHV)/puberty
  • Maintain or improve flexibility as the musculoskeletal system grows
  • Begin training mental-preparation skills
  • Learn and understand the rules and values of sport and the consequences of effort and actions
  • Equipment needs to suit the size and ability of athletes, and introduce sport-specific equipment to athletes with a disability
  • Specialize in one sport near the end of this stage
  • Training and competition should follow a 60:40 ratio
  • Coaches should develop regular, periodized plans for training and competition

Train to Compete: Males 16-23(+/-) years, Females 15-21(+/-) years

  • Training is almost full-time, high-intensity, and event or position-specific
  • Competition is at a national level, transitioning to international
  • Specialize in one sport, though event specialization may not occur until the end of the stage
  • Develop mental fitness and schedule time for regular recovery

Train to Win: Males 19(+/-) year, Females 18(+/-) years

  • Athletes competing at world class levels with a focus on maximizing performance
  • Personalize training and competition plans to the individual and use multiple periodization to schedule peaks for major competitions
  • Schedule preventative breaks to minimize injury and avoid burnout

Active for Life: Males and females of any age

  • People who participate in physical activity and non-organized sport (Active for Life) and those who compete in organized sport like rec leagues and masters (Competitive for Life)
  • Continue involvement as a coach, official, instructor, or volunteer
  • 150 minutes or more of moderate-vigorous physical activity per week

Each Canadian sport organization has LTAD guidelines available online for coaches and others and provide sport-specific recommendations and training examples and are highly worth looking at.

Long-Term Athlete Development Information for Parents. Coaching Association of Canada.
Long-Term Athlete Development Stages. Sport for Life.

About the Author: Lily is a fourth-year student in the kinesiology program at Western University. With a background in synchronized swimming, she continues to be actively involved in the sport as a coach and varsity athlete.

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 THE SKILLS TAUGHT BY VOLLEYBALL COACHES AND THEIR RELATION TO LONG-TERM ATHLETE DEVELOPMENT.

Skills trained by coaches of Canadian male volleyball teams: A comparison with long-term athlete development guidelines. Chevrier J, Roy M, Turcotte S, Culver DM, and Cybulski S. (2016). International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 11(3), 410-421.

SIRC Highlights from the research

Long term athlete development (LTAD) models have been developed at the national level and in Quebec in order to address appropriate training and competition philosophies for developing young athletes. Coaches are trained in this model throughout their coaching certification. Volleyball Canada (VC) has, according to the mandate by Sport Canada, developed an LTAD model that addresses issues identified by an LTAD expert committee created by Volleyball Canada in their initial examination of the LTAD model. Volleyball Quebec (VBQ) has written their own version of an LTAD model that responds to the mandate of their provincial government while still adapting the Volleyball Canada model. Volleyball Canada has applied targeted sport-specific training and competition guidelines within their LTAD model. In order to examine how coaches apply LTAD model guidelines within their coaching practices, three stages of the LTAD plan that most closely align with Volleyball Quebec stages ‘Train to Train’ (T2T)=high school (12-16 years), ‘Learn to Compete’ (L2C)=college (17-19 years), and ‘Train to Compete’ (T2C)=university (20+ years), were targeted to be studied. The purpose of this study was to “examine if volleyball coaches applied LTAD guidelines in practice during season, following the instruction they received during the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) [training]. More specifically, the objectives of this study were (a) to describe the skills trained by athletes in three different LTAD stages and (b) to compare the percentage of time allotted by the coaches in training sessions to each of the skill categories when they attempt to base their practice design on the VBQ and VC LTAD model guidelines”. Using a multiple case study, 4 coaches of male athletes at the high school, college or university level in Quebec were studied through semi-structured interviews and observation.

Study observations:

Feasibility for coaches to apply VBQ/VC LTAD guidelines:

Capacity of the current sport system to apply LTAD models

While results of this studied cannot be generalized due to the small sample size and narrow geographical location, they may be transferrable. The author suggest learnings from this study can be used to further develop research in the subject area such as LTAD coach education effectiveness, competition scheduling (school-based) and its relation to LTAD guidelines, as well as comparison to other sports and/or other provinces.

Canada’s Long Term Athlete Development Model offers an important conceptual framework to chart athlete development along the continuum of sport participation from playground to podium. Yet among athletes with a disability, each of whom enters and engages within the sport system in a unique way, it can be difficult to delineate a common pathway.

Individuals with disabilities come at sport from distinct angles. Those who acquire a disability later in life may have already acquired sport experience as able-bodied participants, or they may be completely new to sport. Alternatively, athletes born with a disability may gain early exposure to sport or conversely, be sheltered from participation and enter the sport system as older athletes without the physical literacy typically acquired by younger able-bodied participants. Moreover, disabilities, and even degrees of disability can differ greatly from one to another, so that the stages of development experienced by an aspiring wheelchair basketball player may diverge from the path followed by a boccia player, a visually impaired swimmer, or a blind goalball player. For these reasons, it’s problematic to create a framework encompassing sport development among athletes with disabilities taken as a whole.

The development of two additional early LTAD stages, Awareness and First Involvement, have been instrumental in helping to communicate sport opportunities to individuals with disabilities and their support networks, and as a way of ensuring a positive first experience among these athletes. However, to the extent that implementing these stages may open doors of participation, it’s important to remember that this is only a first step. Without a subsequent transition into individualized programming and a system-wide approach nurturing the unique attributes of athletes with disabilities over time, more of these prospective athletes may unfortunately slip through the cracks.

Undoubtedly, LTAD has helped frame our understanding of the crucial stages of athlete development essential to high performance success and lifelong sport participation. This is certainly true for many athletes with disabilities also, but could more be done to strengthen LTAD pathways among this group? Some suggestions which may help to animate LTAD among athletes with disabilities include:

LTAD has informed our approach to sport development here in Canada and influenced sport delivery models around the world. Although the diverse experiences and needs of athletes with disabilities make it difficult to create a model which is broadly applicable, individualized planning and a system-wide examination of how best to support these athletes along their own development continuum may help to customize LTAD for athletes of all abilities.

Works Consulted

LTAD Stages. Canadian Sport for Life. Accessed online, March 11, 2016.

Legg, David. Special Report: CS4L for Athletes with a Disability. Prepared for Canadian Sport for Life, 2011. Accessed online, January 8, 2016.

No Accidental Champions: LTAD for Athletes with Disabilities (2nd Edition). Canadian Sport for Life, 2011. Accessed online, February 25, 2016.

About the Author

Jason has proudly represented Canada at 4 Paralympic Games, winning 5 medals in middle distance track events against other blind runners. He has been a member of the national Para Athletics team since 1998, and away from the track, has sought to promote inclusive physical activity so that more people with disabilities might catch the physical activity bug. Along with his guide runner, Josh Karanja, Jason hopes to represent Canada at the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics in 2016.