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Friday, March 29, 2019

reSPORT: Finding Creative Ways to Broaden the Playing Field

Throughout the sport world, competitive athletes have one common goal: they’re constantly trying to get better.

Shave a second off a personal best. Develop a quicker first step. Knock down that jump shot more consistently. No matter what the arena, from a local rink to the Olympic spotlight, every dedicated athlete and coach knows there’s always room to improve.

Good sport leaders and administrators feel that same restlessness when it comes to the big picture of sport delivery: if we’re doing decently today, we could be doing even better tomorrow.

That’s the philosophy behind reSPORT, a collaborative effort across Nova Scotia’s sport and recreation sector to find creative ways to make sure all Nova Scotians have equitable access to sport. 

“I’m really impressed by the leadership of Sport Nova Scotia that they’re looking at gaps in sport,” says Meg Cuming, regional manager of community sport and recreation in the Annapolis Valley with the provincial government, and a member of the reSPORT team. “We’re doing pretty well in sport. Nova Scotia is probably punching above its weight, so we could just keep going at that level, but there’s a recognition that people are being excluded… reSPORT has the potential to create new ways of working together at the community level, and to scale that up.”

Born out of two years of community consultations and one-on-one interviews, culminating with a sport summit that brought 275 sport leaders together last June, reSPORT has a focus of “transforming sport for all.”

The project has a core team of 35 members, drawn mostly from community sport leaders across the province, with support from Sport Nova Scotia, the Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic, and provincial and municipal governments.

Those consultations and conversations identified some of the barriers that keep people away from sport, including cost, transportation, and accessibility issues—whether that's a facility ill-equipped to accommodate someone with a physical disability, or a language gap for a newcomer who wants to play but struggles to communicate with teammates and coaches.

“We have a number of population groups that don't always have the opportunity to participate in sport at any level, whether it's the community or elite level,” says Crystal Watson, executive director of Recreation Nova Scotia and a member of the reSPORT strategy team. “I'm hoping reSPORT will allow us to confront those particular issues in a creative way.”

Some of those novel solutions are already happening (see sidebar). One of the reSPORT team's goals is to uncover those prototypes and find ways to support and grow them, says Carolyn Townsend, lead for reSPORT and director of communications and strategic partnerships with Sport Nova Scotia.

“We know that quality sport initiatives happen in pockets all around the province where people have come together to do things differently,” she says. “The goal is to identify those wherever they're happening and help fuel them in whatever way possible. And then, to the extent they work really well, how can we scale that for a broader impact?”

Members of the reSPORT team stress that one of the keys to addressing gaps and finding creative solutions is getting everyone with a stake in sport to work more closely together.

A family might have children involved in a municipal recreation program, a local swim club, and a school soccer team, for example. Those are all separate entities that don't always talk to each other—but those borders don't matter to families who simply want quality experiences.

“If we're going going to have a broader impact and open up sport to more people, we need to work together better,” Townsend says.

It's early in the reSPORT process, but bringing people together regularly from different areas of sport and recreation is already having an impact, Cuming says.

“Through this initiative, there's much more collaboration happening at a strategic level,” she says. “People are being given the freedom to think differently and try things.”

Team members stress that reSPORT isn't about quick fixes; it's going to be a long process and no one knows what the end result will look like yet. But they're hopeful it will mean more people participating in sport in ways that meet their needs.

“It's always the start of something good when folks realize that, 'You know what, things aren't fair and they need to change,'” Watson says. “We recognize it's not going to happen overnight, but to have this opportunity is really exciting.”

Look for a reSPORT website and more opportunities for community participation in the coming months.


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