Recreation and Sport Studies

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


How Specialization is Hurting the Future of Sport

We have seen the recent trend in many nations to increase funding in elite level sports in which they have a competitive advantage while cutting back in sports in which don’t see much success.  The idea of “inspiring a nation through world-class success” (British Ministry of Sport) is very far-fetched and seems like a way governments can justify the ways they invest in sport.

This potential for glory seems to be the main catalyst for parents to invest in their children’s athletic careers as well and usually results in focusing on one sport at an early age and putting all available resources into that sport.  The way countries and individuals are investing limited resources into sport, there has to be a growing concern that many sports in certain regions will essentially “die” at the expense of achieving success in other sports.

For example, if you aspiring to be an elite level pentathlete in Canada, there is no question that you have a much tougher hill to climb than someone who has the desire to become an elite-level hockey player.  The impact that the allotment of funding has on society may be very detrimental.  As Havaris and Danychuk (2007) point out, it seems as though there needs to be more clarity of the priorities and goals of national sporting bodies, such as Sport Canada.  Are their goals to win more Olympic medals? Or are they to increase development and participation across the country and across all sports?


The gap between sports seems to be widening, which in my opinion is decreasing the overall participation of youth across all sports.   When I was growing up, my friends and I all played numerous sports, and it wasn’t until I graduated high school that I was forced to ‘specialize’—and that wasn’t that long ago.   Now, kids are having to choose one sport at an increasingly younger age if they want to be able to compete amongst their peers.  When faced with this decision, someone is much more likely to choose a sport in which there are resources and programs nearby to support them.  This increase in specialization is seen across all regions and you can look at the distribution of medals across different sports in the Olympic Games to see this trend.  As Houlihan & Zheng (2013) indicate, countries like Canada are not going to invest money into a sport, such as table tennis, only to be embarrassed at the Olympics by a perennial powerhouse like China.  If we are dedicating all of our resources into a very limited number of sports, what happens to the individuals who are interested in the sports that do not receive any funding or resources?  Either they are forced to choose another sport or they don’t participate at all.

sport specialization

Effects of sport specialization

This focus and strive for elite level success is having a trickle-down effect and pushing kids and parents to choose one sport at a young and younger age and to train year around for that one sport.  There is a growing belief that the more money a family invests in their child, the more successful they will become.  We are seeing an increasing investment in sport specific training as parents and athletes are trying to find an edge in an ultra-competitive youth sporting scene.  The cost of youth sport is spiraling out of control and unless you come from a family that has the ability to invest thousands of dollars into your training, it is becoming increasingly difficult to compete.  It is too expensive to play multiple sports now, which is another reason participation rates are falling.  This early specialization can lead to burnout, social isolation, and injury among other things (Malina, 2010) and in the end there is no evidence that early specialization increases the chances for youth to make it to an elite level (Baker, Cobey & Fraser-Thomas, 2009).

This trend toward sport specialization at a national level and at an individual level may have a great impact on the industry of sport.  The increase in funding in certain sports and decrease in others will in the long term impact the growth of these sports.  The sports receiving the majority of the resources will continue to be successful at the elite level and attract coaches and players to grow those sports.  The sports that do not receive the resources will continue to decline as less and less youth are participating and coaches become harder and harder to find.  If the trend to invest in the most successful sports continues, over time we will see many sports continue to decline and eventually die out in particular regions because of the lack of resources and facilities.  This will only foster the belief that early sport specialisation is necessary and may discourage a large number of youth from participating in sport altogether.  As Green and Houlihan (2009) indicate, national sport policies are structured so that “excellence” is the only outcome.  National sport funding policies across the world must be reassessed if we want all sports to be developed rather than only a select few.

Specializing in sport is occurring at an increasingly younger age

Specializing in sport is occurring at an increasingly younger age

Leave a comment

Did your vote affect Canadian Elite sport? A look at the funding and Administration of Sport in Canada into 2016-

The primary issues in the readings entitled “How Canada Funds amateur athletes” and “Canadian high-performance sport faces uncertain future” are clear and evident even without reading a word from the article.  Funding is the Canadian system is similar to the British system in the sense that the sports and athletes that have had, and are projected to have the most success will be granted a higher piece of the proverbial pie than athletes in less successful or relatively subordinate sports.

It is my opinion that the real issue in the reading on how Canada funds amateur athletes should be the definition the reader gives to “success” as it relates to Sport Canada and our Olympic funding.  Stinson asks the question whether our current sport funding model accomplishes the larger goal of a more active society, and to that I ask Stinson why it is the problem of our Elite Sport organizations to make our society more active?  Is it clearly stated that the purpose of high level sport in to activate a nation of lazy and underachieving people?  I question that statement that the more active society bit is the larger goal of any elite sport organization.  I have no problem paying my tax dollars to see our Canadian athletes have success on the podium, I draw great strength and patriotism from seeing our athletes do well, but I think it is silly to expect us to become some fit and healthy nation by piggybacking on elite athlete’s successes.

A key issue is that in the face of so many drastic changes in the past months, where is steady ground for athletes sports managers and what can be expected moving forward?  We know the support that Harper and the conservative government gave to Olympic athletes, but are yet unsure where the new Liberal majority finds value and how the change in government may re-allocate funds, possibly away from high-performance sport.  The issue is uncertainty, and the by-product is a sport system is limbo; waiting for policies to be made that may affect an athlete’s hopes and dreams and years of hard work.

Both of these articles are super important to us a sport and recreation professionals because in one way or another we will all look to make improvements and innovate in our specific fields and that inevitably requires funding.  It may not be funding directly from the government or elite sports organizations, but to have an understanding of the landscape of the industry and what the issues are is very pertinent.  When we are dealing with public funds it is so important to be transparent and lay all the issues on the table.  The Canadian society has the right to know what the implications of the new government are and how that may or may not affect athletes on the podium in upcoming games.  As a student interested in identification and development of elite talent these articles provide me with a base of knowledge to build upon and form my own opinions and conclusions.  I want to know that Canada as a government and as a society are behind my efforts to develop strong Canadian talent and find value in our international successes, so without critical articles like these I am left without a sense of the Canadian heartbeat on the issues.

It is my strong, and somewhat stubborn, opinion that we need to keep investing in our athletes, and I would hope that the new government will continue to do so.  In my view sport and rec management is too complicated an issue for people in the media to jump all over based solely on the dollars figures associated with it.  We know that so many people get so much more out of sport than just entertainment, as Foster and Hyatt (2008) touched on in ‘Inventing Team Tradition.’ Sports has the powerful influence of bringing people together in a real way and creating life long bonds.  I know I have found common ground with people I for any other reason would never associate with based on our shared love for sport, especially elite Canadian national sport.

Even though I find myself wanting to defend the Elite sports side of things and say that we should never re-allocate money away from elite sport, it can be critically argued that without grassroots sport and investments in development, hundreds of potential participants and possible elite athletes would never be exposed to sport, or maybe the sport they are best suited to excel in.  As an example of the broader focus, from the in class article on Sport Funding Accountability Frameworks (SFAF) by Havaris and Danylchuk (2007) we learn that previously the government has allocated over 70% of funds to elite sport, there has been a shift towards a 60/40 split between high performance and sport development.  I find this to be a healthy and stable union of the two and hope to see Sport Canada maintain our level of excellence while increasing our participation number and seeing more kids enter the stream towards high level competition.

To think critically about these issues with which the vast majority of us have no real pertinent knowledge or experience is burdensome at best.  It is easy to draw firm conclusions based on pre-conceived assumption and even harder to accept data when is goes against what we thought to be true.  I am guilty of this.  I have found myself very against the “inclusion” and “participation” models of sport and rec solely because of my competitive upbringing and general bias towards what I feel is most important.  But as I take time to criticize my criticisms of “participation” initiatives and the funding thereof, I find it easier to step back and see what will benefit the greater good and bring us as a society benefit, as much as it pains “the competitor” in me.


Leave a comment

The Rise of Elite Canadian Athletes

Canada has been on the steady increase of producing elite athletes excelling at the professional level or at the international stage of competition. We determined there are three main reasons why Canada has seen an increase in elite athletes.

The first reason has been the adoption and continual development of the LTAD program. The LTAD program helps guide athletes and coaches the things athletes need to be doing at certain ages and stages. The implementation of a LTAD program has helped athletes to develop properly throughout the stages and not be rushed into uncomfortable situations that can lead to athlete burnout or failure. Building off the LTAD model we feel Own the podium and government funding towards elite athletes has been extremely helpful towards athletes getting over the barrier of not only making it to the big leagues or the Olympics but also producing results.

The second reason we determined that has aided in the rise of elite Canadian athletes is a result of better coaching. The coaching association of Canada (CAC) mission is to improve the effectiveness of Canadian coaches across all levels of the sporting system (Coaching Association of Canada, 2015). The national coaching certificate program (NCCP) is an umbrella of the CAC and annually trains 50,000 coaches a year and 900,000 since its inception (Danylchuck, K. & Misener, K. 2009). Better coaching has helped athletes along their athlete pathway, as coaches are influential figures in the social, physical, psychological and emotional development of athletes (Parkins-Forget, J. 2011).

The third reason we feel has been influential to the rise of elite Canadian athletes has been a result of role models, especially Canadian role models. We talked about Steve Nash and how he has been a role model for current NBA Canadian’s Andrew Wiggins, Nik Stauskas and Tristan Thompson. We also talked about Milos Raonic and Eugine Bouchard and the impact they currently are having on tennis Canada. Both Raonic and Bouchard have put Canada back on the map as a powerhouse in Tennis and as a result there has been a spike in registration in Canadians participating in tennis.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

The Relatively Older Advantage

KIN 6300 Seminars: The Relative Age Effect

Our age is one of the few defining factors today’s society uses to interpret our status and measure our future potential. Typically this is done by using age brackets or by looking at annual age groups. We (I say this meaning Generation Y) have mostly grown up in a society where status, education, friendships and sport are divided by age, where society tries to collectively group together youth that are the same ages for developmental purposes.


But what if I told you, that this creates advantages and disadvantages for these youth? What if I told you that grouping kids within the same annual age, still doesn’t even the playing field in development.

 You might ask:

What are you talking about? They are the same age; of course it’s even.images1

My response:

Within a given year there are 12 months, in which a kid born in January has 11 months of development and maturity under them then a kid who was born in December. And the most miraculous part is they are the same annual age.

Furthermore, our current social, education and sport systems have had to deal with the problem of how to group children for equal and safe competition.

Continue reading


Training or torture? A look at China’s youth gymnastics training

In the pursuit of Olympic glory, athletes around the globe immerse themselves into a world of intense training, exceptionally high expectations, and immense pressure. In the case of young Chinese gymnasts, the pressures, expectations and intense training sessions are imposed upon them from as early as five years old. The results stemming from this type of system have many negative outcomes and few results are positive.

Through our various RSS classes relating to physical and mental well-being, we have identified several issues and negative outcomes of the Chinese training regimes.


These include but are not limited to:

  • Lack of education
  • Questionable diet
  • Intense training – questionable training techniques
  • Very little time to be a child – play
  • Lack of body maturation
  • Forced into training schools
  • Exceptionally high expectations – realistic?

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Give me the money, government! Elite sport or mass participation?

Andrew Connors, Nick Boudreau and Joshua Ogden

Should government support elite level athletes or should the money be directed to mass participation? Why does the government fund mass participation and elite sport? Where should the government appropriate funds? Currently, 90% of government funding goes to elite sport and 10% to mass participation. It is this groups belief that the funding should be split closer to 50% for elite and 50% for mass participation.

It is important to understand the “sport pyramid”. The top of the pyramid is elite sport, the middle is competitive sport and the wide base at the bottom is mass participation.


Continue reading