Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity

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How the LTAD Model Falls Short of Addressing the Needs of Immigrants

Over the last few weeks, I had  been working on my paper, which asks this question: How does Canada’s Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model, central to Canadian sport policy, fall short in addressing the needs of immigrants?

As some may know, the two figures below describe Canada’s current version of the LTAD model. This, briefly, is the multi-stage framework that provides a pathway through which Sport Canada recommends an athlete should be developed from infancy to adulthood, beginning with initial stages concerned with developing fundamental physical literacy, middle “Excellence” stages concerned with developing sport-specific skills to focus more on high performance, and the final “Active for Life” stage concerning itself with having participants engage in physical activity for life.

Current Version of LTAD Frameworks, Kin 6300 (Fall 2017)

The Challenge with Immigrant Integration & LTAD

LTAD was initially designed as a “cradle-to-grave pathway to serve all Canadians” (Grove et al. 2016, p. 11). However, a “one size fits all” approach just does not work for everyone, especially considering the socio-cultural factors that influence Canadian sport in certain directions (Thibault & Harvey, 2015). In particular,  the unique needs of immigrants present 3 specific challenges to LTAD:

  • First, immigrants find Canadian sport too structured, to a point where it can be “difficult [for them] to access” (ICC, 2014, p. 6). Indeed, the rise of technology and a cultural shift towards risk-aversion has meant unstructured, informal sport- like pick-up games popular in other countries- are on the decline in Canada. An overly structured system also makes sport more expensive and difficult to navigate.
  • Second, many immigrants come to Canada with different sports/ physical literacy skills than their native-born peers, making it difficult for newcomers to enter the LTAD pathway. Current LTAD often neglects the many athletes who may be entering sport or developing physical literacy at an older age, or who develop at an advanced pace, and late-entry pathways must be incorporated in the model.
  • Third, we reflect on the competitive focus of Canadian sport and LTAD model’s history, which can alienate many immigrants for whom sport is valued not for its competitive elements, but for giving the opportunity “to be healthy, fit and have fun” (ICC, 2014, p. 20). Indeed, there is a 9-to-1 resource allocation mismatch in funds given by government to competitive vs. community sport (Donnelly, 2012).

Out Proposal: Developing a New, Immigrant-Specific LTAD Framework

In the paper, I provide eight recommendations for LTAD, but they essentially come down to this: Just as Sport Canada has done in developing new LTAD models and pathways to address the needs of Aboriginal and disabled populations, a new immigrant-specific LTAD model should be developed. One preliminary proposal that I provide is below:

DRAFT Proposal for an Immigrant-Specific LTAD Model, Kin 6300 (Fall 2017)

In the above model, the most notable differences from traditional LTAD is the addition of an “Awareness” stage (similar to one designed for athletes with disability), that focuses on the unique challenge of communicating sport options to newcomers. As well, to address how newcomers come to Canada with different physical activity skills, a supplemental “Skill Equalization” stage is proposed, where immigrants’ skills are evaluated and plans are then developed to ensure they can “catch up” to peers if needed, or advance to higher stages of LTAD. Beyond this, other recommendations are also summarized in the box for “Other Considerations to Ensure Effective Implementation.”

Bottom-Line: The LTAD model relies on implicit socio-cultural assumptions about values in Canadian sport, which do not always align with the needs of immigrants. or other groups. Consequently, a new immigrant-centered LTAD approach is suggested, although our proposal is at best a preliminary model in need of more refinement/ research.

References Cited

Canadian Sport for Life. (2016). Long-Term Athlete Development 2.1. Retrieved from the CS4L website: [NOTE: This is the main policy document that is critiqued in this paper.]

Donnelly, P. (2012, July 23). Turning Canada’s Olympic Success into Increased Participation in Sport. The Star. Retrieved from:

Grove, J. et al. (2016). Durable by Design: Active for Life. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Sport for Life Foundation. Retrieved from:

Institute of Canadian Citizenship (ICC) (2014). Playing Together: New Citizens, Sports & Belonging . Retrieved from the website if the Institute of Canadian Citizenship: 20Full%20Report.pdf.

Thibault, L. & Harvey, J. (2013). Sport Policy in Canada. Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press. [NOTE: This is a fantastic book providing a detailed history and sociological critique of Canadian sport policy and is also accessible in e-book format online at:]

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Case Study for Kin 6300: How do we Get Syrian Refugees More Involved in Fredericton Rec?

This upcoming Tuesday, Alex (Ries) & I will be doing a workshop on the integration of immigrants in sport and recreation, especially from the lens of John Crompton’s re-positioning theory (check link), which gives strategies for organizations to solve recreation problems. As the first case study, this is a fictional situation below, where Fredericton’s municipal recreation is trying to attract Syrian refugees. The case study incorporates elements of our real-world experiences with research and news stories.  Second years as well, feel free to share your preliminary thoughts! In addition to references, our suggested background readings are also linked below.

For our second case study, time permitting, we will explore the issue of immigrant integration and re-positioning from the sports management perspective, more specifically looking at this article here, namely Joanne Lee-Young’s “Canucks in Canada” about how the Vancouver Canucks are trying to attract Chinese fans & residents to their games. No worries if you don’t get through it! There is a 2-minute video in the link which we will show before class, and we will also give a little background before we go.


You are the head of a recreation center in Fredericton, and are faced with a challenge of making recreation more accessible and attractive to the many new Syrian refugees who have moved to the city. Indeed, Fredericton has seen more than 500 refugees from Syria move to its neighborhoods in the last year, more than any other city in Canada per capita (South, 2017).

For the most part, Syrian families seem to be integrating well, but there have also been challenges. For instance, a Global News story reported educators at the local Fredericton High School were “overwhelmed” by new refugee students, due to (Bissett, 2016). In fact, just the other day, a camp leader reported a young 7-year-old Syrian boy talking casually about using machine guns (real-life experience; also see Bissett, 2016). Another participant of the same age had social anxiety, exacerbated by an inability to understand his coaches, resulting in him often hiding in a corner during his soccer program (real-life experience). Translators were also hard to find or budget for, resulting in several staff not knowing how to engage new participants (Bissett, 2016).

That said, for every negative story experience a refugee participant had in your recreation programs, there seemed to be ten more positive. One participant won a national award for volunteering, and was now assistant coaching the program she first played in as a participant when coming to Canada two years ago (adapted from Surette, 2017). Another participant reported that the recreation programs created “connection” and “belonging,” allowing him to make many new friends across cultures (YMCA, 2016). Yet another reported hockey to be her favorite sport, despite only trying it in the past year (although, on the whole, you have noticed that refugee participation in Winter sports has been minimal). Indeed, there is lots of evidence that recreation bridges gaps to help immigrant families integrate better into their new communities (Institute for Canadian Citizenship, 2014). As well, many organizations like Fredericton’s Multicultural Association and the YMCA have been leaders helping new refugee families settle in Fredericton (YMCA, 2016).

Still, advocates for refugee groups have noted cost, transport, overly structured programs and a lack of information were big barriers to refugees participating in recreation programs (ICC, 2014, p. 5-6). To help alleviate some of these concerns, the Fredericton government has provided free recreation passes for one year to refugees and has also made bus passes free for off-peak periods (Fraser, 2016; Keefe, 2016). That said, communication and language barriers have still proven a challenge, deterring many parents from signing up their children. You also notice that some children who previously attended programs when free stop attending after the first free year.

As well, when looking at registration rates, you notice a significantly larger number of male refugee participants are participating in sports programs than females, even more than average. One 14-year-old girl in a soccer program for example reported, “We like sports because we’re forbidden from them… There are other girls who’d like to play but their families won’t let them” (This quote is from a real Syrian refugee at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, but is used here to illustrate specific issues around the participation of female immigrants in sport; from Whitman, 2014).


Given the above, the challenge of how to better “sell” recreation options will be considerable. Fortunately, however, you have learned about re-positioning and theoretical concepts from Kin 6300, which can help you navigate these difficult waters! Given this, some questions to ponder:

  • How do you best “sell” recreation options to new Syrian refugees (especially grls)? As well, how do you adapt recreation offerings to make options more attractive? In particular, consider using re-positioning strategies help navigate your analysis: Would you use real, associative, competitive or psychological positing here?
  • How can you ensure different strategies that are implemented are sustainable in the long-term? How do you implement these strategies with limited budgets?
  • There are many issues around immigrant recreation that you brought up in the case. How are these similar/ different to other recreations trends we have discussed in class (e.g. with concerns about structure, inclusion or female participation)?

Immigrants in Recreation



Bissett, K. (July 2016). Sudden influx of Syrian refugees overwhelmed N.B. high school: documents. Global News. Retrieved from:

Keefe, J. (January 2016). Syrian Refugees in Fredericton Presented with Bus Passes, Teddy Bears. Global News. Retrieved from:

Smith, G. (July 2014) Playing Together: New Citizens, Sports & Belonging. Institute of Canadian Citizenship. Retrieved from:

South, A. (January 2017). Fredericton welcomed more Syrians per capita than other Canadian cities: multicultural association. Global News. Retrieved from:

Whitman, E. Syrian Refugees Find Normalcy in Football. Al-Jazeera. Retrieved from:

YMCA Canada. (2016). Building Communities for Syrian Refugees. YMCA. Retrieved from:            YMCA_SyrianSpecialReport_2016_ENG-final.pdf.


Suggested Background Readings:

Bissett, K. (July 2016). Influx of Syrian Refugees Overwhelmed N.B. School. MacLean’s. Retrieved from:

CityNews. (April 2017). Canada 150: Immigrant Parents on their First Brush with Hockey. Retrieved from:

Crompton, J. (April 2009). Strategies for Implementing Re-Positioning of Recreation Services. Managing Leisure, 14. Retrieved from:

(2nd Case Study for Analysis, Time-Permitting) Lee-Young, J. Canucks in China: Team Reaches Out to Old and New Fans at Home and Across China. Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from:

Pace, Natasha. (February 2017). Winter by the Sea. Global News. Retrieved from:

Smith, G. (July 2014) Playing Together: New Citizens, Sports & Belonging. Institute of Canadian Citizenship. Retrieved from:

Craig, L. (January 2009). Where are the Minorities?. CBC Sports. Retrieved from:

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An Alternative Model for Partnership: The Collective Impact Model

We had a great class discussion last Tuesday about Milena Parent & Jean Harvey’s management model for community-based sports partnerships. In particular, a highlight for me was hearing about the real-life experiences, challenges & opportunities that  classmates had working in partnerships: Truly, it seems, working with partners can be simultaneously some of the most rewarding experiences one can have in sport/ recreation, and yet also the most frustrating!

For me, the topic of partnership is so interesting, as it represents (arguably) one of the best ways to make a broad impact in a wider community. As John Kania and Mark Kramer write in “Collective Impact,” “large scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination” (2011, p. 36). In other words, organizations that work with partners have a much greater potential to make a long-lasting impact on organizations than working alone. Indeed, for this reason, Parent & Harvey note partnerships have increasingly become commonplace in sport management (2011).

Yet, partners often come from different places, with different agendas and ways of working. In my experience and as seen from our class discussion, “getting on the same page” can be quite the challenge. Thus, what Parent & Harvey (2009) do is quite innovative in creating a Partnership Model for community sport where “no [such] clear model” had previously existed (p. 24). As of their writing in 2009, they were certainly pioneers in the field, but for this blog post, I will explore an alternative partnership model that has been developed since their article.


A Reminder of Parent & Harvey’s Model

As we discussed Parent & Harvey’s Partnership Model model in class in some detail, I will not go through it too much, although have shown it below as comparison (2009, p. 27):

Partnership Model, KIN 6300 (Fall 2017)

A Different Partnership Model: Collective Impact

Writing in 2011  in the “community development” field, Kania & Kramer developed another model which has created much buzz: The Collective Impact model, cited over 1,000 times according to Google Scholar. This is also actively used in many organizations as a guiding framework with which to work with others. Indeed, in my own work/ volunteer experience working with Halifax Recreation and the community, non-profit sports organization, Halifax PLAYS, the Collective Impact model was frequently used to set standards whenever working with other partners.

How does the model work? First, Kania & Kramer make a strong case for why organizations should shift from an “isolated impact” framework which competes with other social causes (e.g. for funding) to a “collective” framework which works with others in the community to maximize one’s impact. As one example, the authors acclaim the contributions of Strive, a program in Cincinnati which “brought together local leaders to tackle the student achievement crisis [in that area] and improve education throughout greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky” (2011, p. 36). Although initially made of disparate organizations with varying goals, an approach similar to the one they describe in the collective impact model allowed these different groups to effectively work together to find tremendous success in their joint goals.

The second contribution the authors make is to lay out, similar to Parent & Harvey, the ideal five conditions for collective impact, which are nicely summarized in the graphic below (published in the Collective Impact Forum website, 2014; developed form Kania & Kramer, 2011, and also discussed in Hanleybrown et al., 2012):

Collective Impact Model, KIN 6300 (Fall 2017)


Similarities & Differences of the Two Models

In truth, there are many similarities between the models: For instance, both frameworks talk about the importance of shared goal-setting/ getting on the same page, and give importance to the need for consistent evaluation: Here, Kania & Kramer’s “Shared Measurement” is very similar to Parent & Harvey’s “Evaluation” components. Similarly, the two models agree on the importance of communication and having “mutually reinforcing activities,” although Parent & Harvey’s Partnership Model is more detailed in how they break things down. As well, with both models, there is also emphasis on how different parts of the models all feed back into each other.

That said, there are some key differences between the models: First, the Collective Impact model is simplified, likely as its audience is largely non-profits or other organizations, whereas the Partnership Model is designed as a way to consolidate research on partnerships, hence tailored to a more academic audience. As well, the two models have some differences in how they recommend structuring partnerships: The Partnership Model notes the importance of “structure,” “power balance, “leadership” and clear roles (Parent & Harvey, 2009, p. 27), but the Collective Impact framework goes even further. Here, a very specific way is prescribed for most effective partnerships, namely establishing a “Backbone Organization” which could be a partner itself or another created party which is directly responsible for the ultimate management and coordination of the partnership.


Why I Like Collective Impact & How It’s Been of Use

While I think the Partnership Model is great, the Collective Impact framework is one that I have used before, and that is “tried and tested” for me. Indeed, in one notable case, I recall a partnership in Halifax that involved several organizations with a goal to improve physical activity levels at a school in North End Halifax, a poorer part of the town: Here, the local school board, Halifax Recreation (the municipality, Halifax PLAYS (where I served as president), Sport NS, & 12+ other sport organizations all came together to introduce youth in the North End to new sports.

However, at first, the partnership had challenges, as each partner was looking for something different: the school board wanted its gyms used more by the community, Halifax Rec was looking to implement more programming, Halifax PLAYS pitched the idea and looked at the project as a way to diversify the population it served, with Sport NS’s organizations were more interested in increasing overall participation in their particular sports. As well, there were no clear standards of measurement at the start and an unclear leadership structure, although everyone was contributing. That first year, although there were many successes, outcomes were not as promising as hoped.

With such initial challenges, we (Halifax PLAYS) suggested the Collective Impact framework as a way to structure the partnership. With this, a much clearer structure was set for the partnership, as seen by our “getting on the same page” the next year:

  • Common Agenda: After some debate, organizations agreed to a shared goal of increasing the number of affordable sports options for the North End.
  • Shared Measurement: Registration rates/ trends for individual programs would be carefully analyzed, with retention/ long-term participation helping judge success
  • Mutually Reinforcing Activities: The school board gives space, Halifax PLAYS provides contacts and advertising, sport organizations come and visit, Sport NS serves as a key liaison, and HRM Rec manages registrations & staff.
  • Continuous Communication: We are always talking to each other & keeping everyone updated. This was especially important at the start and continues today.
  • Backbone Support: HRM Rec takes over the role as the key organizer, managing registrations, having key responsibilities for measurement, arranging staffing support, scheduling the various sport organizations that come visit & much more. The recreation coordinator of a local center is identified as the key contact point.

The result? Although there are still challenges, the partnership in its second year has proven more successful, with a much clearer direction. HRM Rec’s explicit assignment as the Backbone Organization has been most key, and has arguably created the biggest difference in the partnership: Simply, from a leadership standpoint, the first year had unclear roles, with folks unsure of who to go to in a time of crisis. With HRM taking more explicit leadership the second year, there is much clearer responsibility. Hence, the Collective Impact framework has helped greatly to strengthen our partnership. Since then, I have also used this framework for other projects, and found it very useful.

At the end of the day, whichever frameworks you might prefer, I think some kind of structure is important in partnerships, to establish a firm sense of how partners should work together: With so many different goals & ideas from different organizations, it can be easy to get lost without that structure. As we all develop partnerships of your own in future work, I hope you will also consider using these, or other, frameworks!


A Last Note: Acknowledging Christina’s Recommendation of Another Framework

As a final note, although I have not looked into it as much, want to also relay another book  recommended by Christina which looks at partnership frameworks. I have not looked at this in as much depth, but the book explores 21 different collaboration success factors, and is Collaboration: What Makes it Work (2001) by Paul W. Mattessich.

Thank you for passing this on, Christina, & am hoping to check it out!

Colloboration Front Cover, KIN 6300 (Fall 2017)



Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work Webinar Presentation. (2013). In Collective Impact Forum. Retrieved from:

Hanleybrown, F., Kania, J. & Kramer, M. (Winter 2012). Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work. Stanford Social Innovation Review, p. 1-8. Retrieved from:

Kania, J. & Kramer, M. (Winter 2011). Collective Impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review, p. 36-41. Retrieved from:

Mattessich, P.W. (2001). Colloboration: What Makes it Work. Saint Paul, MN: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.

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Structured vs. Unstructured Play: Analysis of Emily Deruy’s “Learning to Play”

UPDATE: Have added a reference list to the post, and some pictures that were in the initial word version but which may not have gone through earlier. Sorry it’s taken a while to get everything in here. Have been enjoying looking through the other posts :).

Summary of the Article

            My article for the midterm was “Learning Through Play” by Emily Deruy (2016), and was a very interesting one on recess times and play. In brief, this article looks at recess in American schools, and especially how to make play during recess times more effective for school districts.

More specifically, the article cites a worrying statistic where 40% of school districts had “reduced or cut down recess” after implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind act which emphasized scores on standardized tests (Deruy, 2016). Indeed, for many schools, recess and its associated play was seen as a “source of a disproportionate number of discipline issues and a headache for administrators” (Deruy, 2016). Yet, there is strong research which indicates that “play is one of the most important ways in which children learn” with multiple benefits, including improving “children’s physical health and social and emotional learning” (Deruy, 2016; Playworks, 2017).

Here, in an attempt to resolve concerns with play, while also recognizing its importance to children, Deruy looks at a particular initiative to make recess more effective at American schools: the Playworks project developed by Jill Vialet, which in 2016 had been active in 1,200 schools (2016). Through Playworks, a certain amount of structure and “adult direction” is introduced to play during recess times, and the goal is to allow for children to “play safely and meaningfully” (Deruy, 2016 quoting Vialet). To quote their website, instead of assuming that “play should happen organically” (Deruy, 2016), Playworks attempts to intentionally “create play environments that help kids be their best” (Playworks, 2017). How so? The organization sends or trains coaches who then “[teach] kids games and facilitate positive interactions between students” (Deruy, 2016). Teachers also play a more active role in the Playworks framework, no longer just sitting on the sidelines, but actively starting games, going around the playground, mediating conflicts and encouraging participation (Deruy, 2016). Importantly, the approach also emphasizes not using play as a means of punishment.

The results? The program seems to have found success on many measures, and is well-liked by schools. Indeed, the article reports that “conflicts have decreased, cooperation is up, and students are more likely to focus and participate in classroom activities” (Deruy, 2016). Yet, Playworks has also received criticism for being too structured, although Vialet feels that the structured vs. unstructured debate creates a “false dichotomy” (Deruy, 2016). Indeed, proponents have argued the addition of some structure has actually promoted more opportunities for kids “directing their own play” and developing games for themselves, creating a good balance of what children need (Deruy, 2016).



Many Questions to Raise and One to Explore

            As you read the article, there are many questions that are raised that are worth considering, although some, listed below, we will not have time to explore:

  • What kind of effect do policies like No Child Left Behind have that promote test scores as a standard for measuring educational efficacy? As we see in the article, the policy has not just an effect on academic achievement, but also on play, physical activity and recreation, that is worth exploring. More broadly, how does an academic-focused culture help/ hurt recreation?
  • Reflecting back on the partnership readings (Parent & Harvey, 2010), the Playworks initiative looks to be a project that has connected many partners including the public, private and non-profit sectors. However, as discussed in class and also in the Parent & Harvey (2010) reading, evaluation is an important aspect of successful partnerships. So, my question: How might we measure success of the Playwork initiative? What factors (rates of disciplinary action, physical activity levels, social inclusion) should we focus on when evaluating this/ other play initiatives?
  • What are appropriate ways to punish bad behavior? The article for instance mentions that neither physical activity (e.g. doing laps) or taking away recess time should not be used to punish bad behavior (Deruy, 2016). Yet, working in recreation management, this is probably the most frequent question front-line leaders ask: What is the most effective and ethical way to punish a child? On the flip side what are effective reward systems that could be employed?
  • Also, more generally, what are the benefits of play? This is a broad question with a lot of research support, but looking into what literature says about specific benefits of play, especially around physical activity would be an interesting exercise!

While all the above are important questions worth consideration, and by themselves worthy of developing a very detailed analysis, there is one question I will focus on for the purposes of this blog post: What is the ideal balance we should promote between structured and unstructured play?

Learning Through Play


Some History on my Own Internal Conflict About Play

            The article really was a fascinating read, especially as it explored the tension that is often seen between structured versus unstructured play. Indeed, reflecting on my personal history, I have been an advocate and player on both sides of the equation at different times: For instance, between 2015 and 2016, I had managed a school site for an afterschool program (Excel) with the Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB) which had a mandate to promote structured play. Indeed, not unlike the article, unstructured play was seen by management there as causing too many disciplinary issues and not being conducive to reaching physical activity goals. Indeed, my particular site was often praised by Excel management for how structured it was: Quite literally, from 3:15 PM to 6 PM, every minute of every day was planned out, and even “free time” was very controlled.

Yet, on the flipside, even though much of my professional work has been on the “structured” side,” my “heart” has increasingly leaned towards unstructured play. Perhaps, this is reflective of my childhood: Growing up in Saudi Arabia, I had never been part of a sports program, but played sports constantly in an unstructured fashion. I had never really “fit in” at school, but still looked forward to recess as a break from a structured day. Indeed, closer to home, I have been involved in Halifax as a Board Member of an organization called “Adventure Play” (link in references) which explicitly promotes unstructured, risky play and a move away from the over-scheduling which I excelled in when I worked professionally with the school board or many other recreation programs.

So, where do I sit in the end on the structured versus unstructured debate? Probably somewhere in the middle, although I am honestly still figuring it out. This article however really got me thinking, and I will next look at what I liked and did not like about some of the approaches from Playworks it describes, culminating in a re-evaluation of where I might fit in the spectrum.

Where I Agreed with the Playworks Approach

            On a general note, I do think the Playworks approach has a lot going for it. Indeed, I have been a recess/ lunch monitor in the past, and can share the frustration expressed in the Deruy article that many adults monitoring recesses tend to be disengaged and sitting on the sidelines, as opposed to taking an active role playing with kids or creating positive experiences (2017). Indeed, in my professional life, I have also been a High Five trainer (a quality standard used for recreation in many Canadian institutions), where I actively teach guidelines about how adults should guide play. Here, this can also be related to the reading in class from Barcelona and Young, which emphasizes the need for training of sport coaches (2010). Similarly, “staff training for recess” is also cited as a key recommendation in the Minnesota Department of Education’s article on the matter (Alholm et al., 2013; also see the guidelines recommend by SHAPE America, 2017). As such, I would agree that some level of staff training should be required for those monitoring recess times.

As well, another area of agreement is the focus on peer to peer learning that is described in the article. Indeed, while at Excel, one of my proudest achievements was to implement a version of the Canadian-wide “Playground Active Leaders” or PALS program, where older elementary school students were taught skills to allow them to lead activities for younger kids as volunteers (See the Leisure Information Network, 2017 for a summary of this program).  Indeed, research shows that such youth leadership opportunities has a huge effect in boosting self-esteem and community engagement in youth, and also creates greater enjoyment for the children being led (Jones et. al, 2009).

As a third point of agreement, I also appreciated the emphasis that the article made on children who are sometimes “left behind” (Deruy, 2016). Indeed, the bullying organization, Prevnet, cites research that indicates bullying is “more prevalent in the playground” than the classroom, with the lack of supervision during playground time one reason for this (Craig et al., 2007). To this regard, the Playworks approach seems to have had success, with kids more willing to play.

Some Points of Disagreement

            Perhaps my biggest “beef” with the Playworks approach was its focus on conflict, or the lack thereof, as a key measure for how play should be judged. Indeed, when at Excel, I recall debating with my management that the number of “Incident” or “Accident” reports should not be seen as a measure of how well a program is doing: Here, I argued that conflict is an inevitable part of play and should not require frequent mediation by adults, and also that injuries are naturally going to occur in active play and should not be something to fear. For instance, in promoting unstructured play, Josephine Connolly-Shoonen of the Heart Links Project argues that children must have opportunities to “cooperate, share and solve problems” themselves and to work out “conflicts of everyday life” (2017). Similarly, in “An Investigation of Unstructured Play in Nature and its Effect on Children’s Self-Efficacy,” Starling (2011) argues that resolving conflict is a part of children’s self-efficacy and is something to promote. As well, Karen Stephens argues that “some bickering and conflict in childhood helps kids discover positive ways of resolving disagreements” (2007, p. 1). To this end, the Playworks approach of giving “tools” for children to resolve conflicts is supported by me, but having adults actively “mediating” conflicts (except in case of extreme circumstances) is something I would discourage: Children need space to disagree (Deruy, 2016). As such, measuring the success of programs by the amount of conflict prevented is not recommended.

Another area of disagreement is whether recess is the place to have an initiative like Playworks, or whether this would be incorporated better at other parts of the day: In other words, I worry about sacrificing more unstructured, free time during recess with the Playworks approach, and would prefer if the kind of semi-structured play they recommend was instead taught at in the school day. Indeed, I reflect on my own experiences as a child where I needed that time to “unwind” and worry that creating more structure into recess will not be as effective, even if the teachings given to kids from the Playworks approach is very valuable. Indeed, after much consideration of different sides of the issue, Hyndman suggests that one should “explore school playground interventions that promote ‘unstructured’ active play during school breaks” (Hyndman, p. 65). As an example of unstructured interventions, research has also shown that “greening” or adding more natural elements in schools can have an effect on both promoting unstructured play but also achieving some of the same goals that Playworks espouses to, such as reducing conflict, social inclusion of others and increased physical activity (NSW Government, 2015). Similarly, playing with loose parts has also been shown to have similarly positive effects while promoting unstructured play (Maxwell et al., 2008).

Where I End Up

            After all this, where would I end up in the structured versus unstructured spectrum? Truthfully, I am still uncertain, although think the Playworks approach is one that deserves more research, with more scientifically validated evaluations also recommended to see its effectiveness (related to one of my initial questions). In the end, I believe a balance does need to be struck in between structure and unstructured play: For instance, I think it does greatly benefit to teach kids different strategies around inclusion in games and conflict resolution. However, I do worry that teaching kids what games to play can limit creativity, and think an approach where teachers only step in during conflict emergencies is a better approach than one where they step in during other times. As well, I see value in the training the program provides, but wonder whether this should this done during recess? From my perspective, I feel such teaching should happen during the school day, where recess I believe should remain a place for kids to have that “free play time.” Your thoughts?




Alholm, Lisa et al. (2013) Recess Moves: A Tooolkit for Quality Recess!. Minnesota Department of Education. Retrieved from:

Brendon, H. (January 02, 2015). Where to Next for School Playground Interventions to Encourage Active Play? An Exploration of Structured and Unstructured School Playground Strategies. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention, 8 1), p. 56-67.

Maxwell, Lorraine E., Mari R. Mitchell, and Gary W. Evans (2008). Effects of Play Equipment and Loose Parts on Preschool Children’s Outdoor Play Behavior: An Observational Study and Design Intervention. Children, Youth and Environments 18 (2), p. 36-63. Retrieved from:

Connolly-Schoonen, Josephine (2017). Thinking Outside the Sandbox: the Importance of Unstructured Play in Children. The Heart Links Project. Retrieved from:

Craig, W.M., Pepler, D.J., & Atlas, R. (2000). Observations of Bullying in the Playground and in the Classroom. School Psychology International, 21(1), 22-36.

Maxwell, Lorraine E., Mari R. Mitchell, and Gary W. Evans (2008). Effects of Play Equipment and Loose Parts on Preschool Children’s Outdoor Play Behavior: An Observational Study and Design Intervention. Children, Youth and Environments 18 (2), p. 36-63. Retrieved from:

NSW Government Family & Community Services (2015). Play and Leisure Practice Guide for Occupational Therapists who Support People with Disability. Retrieved from:

Playground Activity Leaders in Schools (P.A.L.S.) (2017). Leisure Information Network. Retrieved From:

Society of Health and Physical Educators (2017). Strategies for Recess in Schools. Retrieved from:

Starling, Paul E. (2011) An Investigation of Unstructured Play in Nature and its Effect on Children’s Self-Efficacy. University of Pennsylvania Scholarly Commons. Retrieved from:

Stephens, Karen (2007). Teaching Children to Resolve Conflict Respectfully. Parenting Exchange. Retrieved from:

The Community of Youth Workers Union (2006). The Benefits of Play and Playwork. Retrieved from:

What We Do (2017). Playworks. Retrieved from:

Disclosure: Internal sources are not cited here. Also, in full disclosure, time limited my ability to read all of the above in as much detail as might be preferred, with most articles skimmed. However, some of the articles were ones familiar to me in past research on play, and every effort was made to ensure my representation of any article was as accurate as possible. Also, some organizations/ former employers had been referred to in passing during the article, and links are here: Adventure Play, Excel and High FIVE.