This high school’s new model for sports gives all kids playing time

Gone are the days when a kid could get eliminated from a sports team in Ottawa, Ontario.

Well, not quite.

But the teachers at one school — Russell High School — are making the effort to switch their approach to sports, one team at a time.

Instead of cutting young athletes who aren’t quite as strong or skilled as others, Russell High School is changing its sport programs to include any kid who wants to play any school sport. If they show up and they’re interested, they can be part of the team.

Development has become the focus at Russell High, not winning, much like the sport programs at St. Patrick’s Elementary in Victoria.

First up? Volleyball. This year, more than 40 of the school’s Grades 7 and 8 students have signed up to play — a major increase compared to previous years.

“Traditionally, there would be two practices. They’d cut the team back to 10 kids, and the other kids would be told to go away,” says physical education teacher Gord Zubyck, who teaches grades 9 to 12.

“But now any kid that wants to play can play.”

The change started about four years ago, when Zubyck and another teacher attended the Sport for Life conference in Gatineau, Que.

“For my first 10 years of teaching, I was a coach first and a teacher second,” says Zubyck, who also helps plan extracurricular programming for grades 7 to 12.

What he learned at the conference, though, was that people working in Canada’s schools have a rare opportunity to work with every child in the country. “We can ensure kids stay active and learn the skills they need to learn,” he suggests.

Instead of coaching, Zubyck has refocused on teaching, helping students develop physical literacy skills and encouraging them to be active for life.

The development program at Russell High — modeled after a similar one at a cluster of nearby schools — allows teachers to focus on presenting kids with new skills to learn. They get time to practice those skills and play games.

And there are layers of training, including more competition, for ones that want it.

With that in mind, the organized sports teams aren’t the only aspect of the school that has changed this year. The school’s gym is now open for all kids during the secondary lunch and intermediate afternoon recess, and the fitness room is open during the secondary lunch Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. “This provides them with an opportunity for free play,” Zubyck tells us.

Even costs have come down for players, Zubyck observes. Instead of arranging transportation for 10 kids to attend games at other schools, they now have 30 or more students each time. “There are enough kids to actually pay for a bus now,” he says with a laugh. “We can just do so much more.”

The biggest issue so far? “Convincing other schools to buy into the model completely,” Zubyck says. “We haven’t gotten some partner schools to commit yet to the entire idea.”

But when it comes to Russell High parents and students, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, notes Zubyck, who has pages of emails from parents and kids who have loved the switch.

“Just to see the smiles on their faces when they’re playing — it’s really cool,” adds Zubyck, who hopes to see the model expand.

“The development model is effective. It helps keep kids active.”

5 responses to “This high school’s new model for sports gives all kids playing time

  1. This is exactly how all publicly ‘paid’ school systems should work when it comes to sports. It should be about inclusion and development first and foremost since that is what the education system exists for. Our taxes go to education for this reason… NOT to provide facilities for a select few who have the eye on nothing more than a banner/trophy at the end of the year. Within these ‘schools’ confines: teachers/coaches/instructors do not have the right to dismiss children or discourage them because ‘they’ want to ‘win’. These ‘tryouts’ totally go against EVERYTHING ‘education’ stands for. Cutting kids from their school teams does nothing more than drive home a message to children that they are not good enough and therefore they should avoid the humiliation of trying again. Ultimately, this format is just an insidious form of mental abuse.

  2. I’m so very happy to hear about this change in the system. At some point, elementary school became the streaming ground for elite player development in team sports like volleyball, basketball and soccer; if students didn’t attend the development camps and get picked for the A or B team then there were no other options and this lead to no chance of playing in high school. Ideally we ought to strive for all interested students being able to play and develop life long skills in team sports. As we all know, winning isn’t everything. Congratulations to all those who spearheaded this new system!!

  3. What an amazing opportunity you are giving kids. So glad to hear you were given the support to implement this type of “teaching”. Good players are not always the most skilled kids.

  4. My son goes to this school, in grade 7 and has been on every team so far this year, he loves it!! I believe he tries harder because he wants to be a good team player, rather than worrying about being cut!

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