Adversity. Perseverance. Success.

Governor General Gold Medal recipient and PhD graduate Kacey Neely takes determination and resilience to a whole new level

Date published: 1/10/2018 1:00:00 PM

Saturday, June 30, 2001 is a day that will always stick out in Kacey Neely’s mind. She was at home in Burlington, Ontario getting ready to head to soccer practice when the phone rang. It was her coach calling to tell her to not come to practice as she was no longer on the team. At 15 years old, after playing on the same team for the past six years, getting cut was truly a devastating moment in this young athlete’s life.

Kacey looks back at this moment as a key turning point in her life.

Kacey’s desire to research positive youth development through sport had her actively seek out one of the leading researchers in this area, Dr. Nick Holt. After agreeing to take her on as a Masters student, Kacey and Dr. Holt developed an after-school sports and life skills program for inner-city school kids called Try Sport, where they applied findings from Kacey’s research into practice with local youth.

With the sting of getting cut from her soccer team still in the back of her mind, Kacey focused her PhD research on gaining a better understanding of deselection in competitive female youth sport by examining the experiences of athletes, coaches and parents. Over the course of her postdoctoral candidacy, Kacey conducted three separate studies examining different aspects of deselection: the first study focused on the coaches’ views of deselecting youth; the second study looked at how athletes and parents cope with deselection; and the third study explored athletes’ experiences of positive growth following deselection. Taken together, the results of all three studies demonstrated the complex and stressful nature of deselection for coaches, athletes and parents. More importantly, the outcomes helped Kacey identify a deselection process and processes of communal coping, making an important contribution to youth sport literature and practice.

The research Kacey has conducted over the years has garnered the attention of the academic community and beyond. The after-school program, Try Sport, caught the eye of a non-governmental organization working with schools in Kenya. They approached Dr. Holt, asking if someone would come to the Mathare Slum in Nairobi to help create a basketball-specific life skills program for the kids in the community. Kacey jumped at the opportunity to take her research half-way across the world and helped to create a program coined Slums Dunk/Hoops for Kids.

On June 14, 2017, Kacey Neely collected her doctoral degree and accepted the University of Alberta 2017 Spring Convocation Governor General Gold Medal Award; something Kacey feels is the cherry on the top of what has been an incredible graduate and doctoral experience.

Her passion of conducting research that have practical outcomes and will directly make a positive impact for youth in sport is something that Dr. Holt feels will create a bright future for Kacey.

“She is an excellent young scholar and I am sure she will go on to a flourishing career where she will continue to leave a lasting impression on everyone she encounters.”


This above is excerpted from a story written by Nicole Graham, a marketing and communications associate at the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta. It was first published on June 14, 2017 on the faculty website.