A University of Saskatchewan (USask) kinesiology postdoctoral fellow saw an opportunity to focus her research and funding to help provide opportunities to inner city youth by launching the Try-Sport League.
Dr. Kenzie Friesen (PhD), a post-doctoral fellow in USask’s College of Kinesiology, started the Try-Sport League to offer an opportunity—free of charge—for youth ages 8-11. The league name was chosen by Friesen to reflect that participants were able to try out multiple sports over the summer.
For the duration of six weeks, each participant was assigned to a team with a coach. The teams were able to chose a name, build team spirit, and foster camaraderie as they moved through each sport experience. Each one-hour session included a warm-up and practice portion, followed by a game against one of the other teams. The coach was provided with the equipment and T-shirts for each participant.
“I played a lot of sports growing up, but I realize how lucky I was to be able to do that,” said Friesen. “Sport is expensive, and nowadays there is this ‘early professionalization’ of youth sport, where young sports leagues require steep financial costs and unreasonably busy practice/game schedules. If the current sporting infrastructure norms were this way back when I was playing sport, I would not have been able to compete in nearly as many sports.”
Friesen explained that research shows the many physical, emotional, and social advantages to being able to sample multiple sports. Besides losing out on the benefits of sport sampling, the current sporting infrastructure makes it extremely difficult for kids from lower-income households to participate altogether, as they require too much time and too much money. This program was dedicated to those who are traditionally left out from sport or who do not have the resources or funds to participate.
Creating a league of this type requires financial and community support. As the lead, Friesen came up with the concept design, applied for and obtained the funding, and organized all activities. She applied for a grant through the Canadian Tire Jumpstart program and also credits the league’s partner charity, Westmount Community Association. All activities were held at Scott Park in the Westmount Community area.
“We offered the program in Saskatoon, but the hope is to incorporate it in more communities as we found it to be great, affordable, and a feasible way to have kids with less opportunities access multiple sports,” said Friesen.
Aside from having the community support for space, other partners stepped in to donate or sponsor equipment, such as SportChek, the Saskatoon 4H Club, Al Anderson’s Source for Sports, Saskatoon Parks, as well as friends and family.
A program of this type runs on support from donors and volunteers. Third-year kinesiology student Hannah Verity volunteered for this program because team sports were a huge part of her childhood. She wanted to pay forward all of the time and energy her coaches devoted to her development as a player.
“I recognized the countless benefits associated with participating in team sports as a kid and I felt empowered to support a program that made these benefits accessible to all, especially those who maybe couldn’t afford to play sports otherwise,” said Verity.
“The most rewarding part was seeing how much the players improved from start to finish. The first session of every new sport was always a bit challenging trying to explain the rules and skills associated with that specific sport, but by the final sessions, it was amazing to see the players engaging in the game as if they’d been training for weeks, not just a matter of days.”
Friesen noted that the participants loved the program and the parents were overwhelmed with the skill of the volunteer coaches, the organization, and the snacks offered.
“It is wonderful that the kids who don’t have cabins and lake getaways get some physical activity, fun with other kids and some time away from electronics,” said a parent of a participant.
There are no plans in place yet to have the program continue in the summer of 2022, although organizers hope it becomes an annual event, after more than 50 participants joined last summer.