In Vancouver, the 2010 Winter Olympics have created a legacy that will impact the development of children’s physical activity and sport for years to come.
Since the closing ceremonies waved farewell to speed skaters and others who used the Richmond Oval, the facility has invented a new role for itself in the community. Apart from being a state-of-the-art centre for community recreation, multisport programming, and high performance athlete training, it’s now a leader for kids’ physical literacy.
We recently spoke with Jordan Mottl, program manager of community sport at the Oval, to learn more about their innovative programs.
The Richmond Oval has invested a lot of time, thought and energy into creating their physical literacy programs. What are your goals?
The main goal of all of our programs is to make people active for life, and we see kids’ early physical literacy as a key component. We all know the benefits of physical activity. They’re numerous and well published. So if we can give kids physical literacy and the confidence to continue being physically active, then we have really done something important.
We want to start them on that cycle of self confidence that comes with being physically literate and active. We want to help them to get active not just within our programs, but also outside on a Sunday afternoon with their little brother or the kids in the neighbourhood. We want to make physical literacy fun so they want to come back, and they want to get out there and do unstructured play with their friends in their back yard or at the park.
Everything we do is based on the work that has been done through Canadian Sport for Life, which is the framework of how we do things.
Can you give us a quick overview of the programs you offer for kids at different ages?
We split up the kids into age groups of 3 to 5 years, 5 to 6 years, 6 to 9 years, and 9 to 12 years. For the 3-5 year olds, we generally subscribe to a guided discovery approach where we put the children into an environment where they can practice their gross motor skills. We put them in activities where they can start exploring how to move a ball with their feet, or how to roll down a ramp or wedge, and generally just put challenges in front of them and let them solve those challenges themselves. There are not a lot of drills, and there are not a lot of rules. We try to keep it very simple, and we call it guided discovery. It’s just putting them in that environment to explore motor skills.
With the next age group, we start to structure more around the traditional development of physical literacy. With the 6 to 9 age group, we always have the fundamental skills warm up. Whether that’s a relay, or something like Octopus or British Bulldog, it’s that guided discovery approach again, just to get them working within physical literacy.
Then the second half is instruction on a specific fundamental movement skill, and we finish up with a game to practice it. So although we are all about having fun and playing games, we do believe in repetition. That’s why we do some specific instruction and then a game to back it up with lots of repetitions. It could be anything. It could be a form of Dodge Ball that we play, or it could be Capture the Flag, but we pair it up with the fundamental skill to reinforce it.
Finally, with ages 9 to 12, we bring in more sport-specific skills. So it’s more or less 50 percent fundamental movement skills, and then we start pairing them with fundamental sport skills such as shooting a basketball. With the combination of fundamental sport skills and fundamental movement skills, we aim to make that child physically literate by the time they are finished our 9 to 12-year-old programs.
We know that physical literacy provides the foundation for high performance athletes. What about those kids who aren’t necessarily interested in “serious” sport? How do your physical literacy programs help them?
There are those parents who are interested in getting the best start for their children as high-performance athletes, and then there is the other half who just want their kids to have fun and be active for life.
In Canada, one of the problems we see is a high drop off in sport participation at around age 12 and 13 when a lot of sports start getting serious. With physical literacy, we want to make sure that those who are not hyper competitive get the right tools so they can continue to be active.
That’s the cutoff where if you don’t make the rep team, or if you don’t like a demanding coach, you have no other options. So we want to make sure those kids are physically literate enough to keep participating in PE class, and maybe join a house league, so they continue to be active. Those kids who aren’t physically literate and haven’t specialized have no options. A lot of times, we find physical literacy is the missing link.
What about the high performance athletes? How does general physical literacy help them in the long term?
We run into similar problems when the high performance athletes are finished with their careers. Let’s say they were on the national team, or they played for their college for four or five years, and they specialized in one sport. There is some really good research on depression among high performance athletes after they are done with their eligibility, or after they’re done in that competitive stream. A lot of times those athletes don’t want to continue in their specialized sport. So if they were a high performance hockey player, they’re not really interested in a recreational league.
But if they’re not physically literate, and if they’ve never participated in any other sports, all of a sudden that part of their life is simply cut out. It’s becoming a significant social problem with high performance athletes finishing their careers and not having anything to fall back on.
We want that hockey player or that volleyball player to have the skills to be successful in slow pitch, to capitalize on that social aspect of sport and the active for life part of sport. That transition from high performance into being active for life can be a difficult one for those who don’t have physical literacy.
What plans does the Oval have for the future?
We’re really excited about our new climbing wall, and we try to get every one of our multi-sport programs at least one session there. It’s great for developing body awareness, learning how to move, and just general strength and mobility. It’s a great tool for physical literacy.
The other thing we’re really excited about in the short term is working with provincial sport organizations to advance the training of our instructors. We’re really committed to making sure our instructors are at the forefront of physical literacy expertise.
We recently had a session where Tennis BC came to talk with our staff about progressive tennis. Now our instructors have the background to understand progressive tennis, but they also see how this is really just striking, and this is part of physical literacy. We are also having talks with Golf BC and Curling BC, so we’re really excited to have those people contribute to the professional development of our instructors.
In the long term, we’re looking at starting a program in the fall of 2013 called Learn to Move, which focuses more specifically on the fundamental movement skills and partnering with some of our local sport organizations. These are groups that are working hard to implement Canadian Sport for Life and Long-Term Athlete Development. We help them with the physical literacy portion of their soccer program, or the physical literacy portion of their baseball program. So they deliver on the sport-specific stuff that they do so well, and we do what we do very well, which is physical literacy.
We see a lot of local sport organizations embracing early specialization, but the really progressive clubs see general physical literacy as an opportunity to create better athletes. The soccer player who is a better athlete is going to be a better soccer player. If the kid is playing the same sport all year, they’re going to get to age 15 and say, you know what, this isn’t fun anymore, and we risk losing them altogether.
The key point is to make sure kids develop their physically literacy from an early age, so they can be those versatile athletes who can participate in many sports, and not just a single sport. This is how we support them becoming active for life.