In September 2015, the town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia launched Antigonish Multisport—an innovative program that introduces early elementary kids to ten sports in one location over nine months with only one registration. Today the program continues to thrive, and what’s more, it has spread across the entire province.
With support from Sport Nova Scotia, Antigonish’ model program for introducing kids to early sport skills has now grown to eleven locations across the province. Sport Nova Scotia has produced a short video where parents and others sing high praise for the multisport initiative.
“It was pretty clear from the outset that this isn’t about your child being divided into teams and playing three-on-three basketball,” says mother Nicole Baden-Clay. “It’s all about learning how to throw the ball, learning how to catch the ball, learning how to skate, learning how to swim.”
In Antigonish, the multisport program serves a maximum of 60 children at the kindergarten and grade one levels from September to May. Kids attend two activity sessions per week for 45 minutes, with two groups of 30 children participating at a time. By the end of the program, participants have been introduced to basketball, badminton, tennis, hockey, swimming, taekwondo, baseball, softball, gymnastics, soccer, and track and field, and their parents have paid only $325.
The newer multisport programs in other parts of Nova Scotia vary slightly from the Antigonish model according to local needs and resources, but all of them more or less follow the same approach.
Stephanie Spencer, the Sport Nova Scotia regional consultant who has led much of the development of multisport programming across the province, says there is a clear purpose to promoting multisport experiences in the early years.
“Our vision is to grow children through sport by providing opportunities to develop the skills and confidence to enjoy the positive benefits of a quality first experience,” says Spencer. Kids are exposed to multiple opportunities for skill development at an early age, while ensuring that the environment is positive and fun so they can develop a lifelong love of physical activity and sport.
“The children grow and look forward to the next step,” says Nicole Baden-Clay. “They don’t have time to get bored, either. They’re in something for three or four weeks, and then they have a new experience. At those young ages, they love those transitions and the fun.”
Spencer makes it clear that multisport programming is not about fast-tracking kids to the professional leagues.
“In the end, it doesn’t really matter if they are basketball players, soccer players, hockey players, or badminton players,” says Spencer. “The idea is that they’re healthy, happy, and active for life.”
Many other communities and sport groups have grown curious about the multisport program in Antigonish, and they have asked how they can create similar programming.
“Since we launched our pilot program four years ago, we’ve been contacted by and shared information with over 60 sport communities across the country,” says Spencer.
Several important factors make the multisport programs popular with kids and parents.
“For parents, we want to make the program as accessible as possible in terms of registration and fees,” says Spencer. “For example, in our Antigonish program, the program itself doesn’t run until the fall, but registration is run in the spring at the end of the school year to ensure our communication hits as many people as possible.
“For our participants, we really try to avoid scheduling conflicts with other same-age sport opportunities. We don’t want to make a kid miss out on one sport development opportunity because we did a poor job of scheduling.”
All of this is pleasing to parents who are otherwise forced to try to coordinate multiple activities at many locations throughout the year at steadily accumulating costs. Multisport programming saves them the logistical and financial headaches.
At a time when the costs of many youth sport programs are spiralling upwards, the Antigonish model is providing more for less. It represents a promising practice that many other Canadian communities may want to emulate.