A sport-based, critical hours program for low-income youth


When it comes to sports, how do you measure success? Is winning everything or can success be measured in other ways? How about six ways? Nicholas Holt’s Try Sport program has found at least that many.

Holt is a professor and associate dean of research at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation. An avid soccer player and coach, it was only natural that he would kick-start his career with in-depth studies into motivation and performance in sport. What he found was unexpectedly discouraging: too often, sports participation had negative consequences. While his research subjects did report having fun, they also experienced feelings of anxiety, stress and frustration. Holt knew there had to be a better way.

So, he structured Try Sport—an after-school sport and life skills program—around just three sports (basketball, volleyball and soccer) and three life skills (teamwork, confidence and leadership). This focus allowed the positive to emerge, and the results were remarkable. Young participants not only happily stayed engaged, they reveled in the physical and social skills they acquired.

And, the positivity was infectious. The children grasped how mastering a serve could be like mastering a language, how passing the ball was akin to pitching in at home. Unanticipated results included improved gender relations and increased trust. So successful was the program as a community builder that it was used as a model for similar programs in rural Alberta, and even as far away as Nairobi, Kenya. Further, resource material for facilitating positive youth development through sport was provided to parents and policy-makers. Try Sport showed what winning is really about.

This research was funded by Sport Canada through the Sports Participation Research Initiative.