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Fun & Fundamentals - Choosing the Right Sports Program. What Makes a Quality Sport Program or Camp?

Many sport camps and programs will improve your child’s skill level in a given sport, but not every program will also instil the desire to stay active for life. This is an important distinction, and one parents should bear in mind when selecting a sport program or camp for their child.

The question is how can a parent know if a given program will both enhance their child’s skill set, as well as foster a lifelong love of physical activity? With a little knowledge and perseverance, it isn’t difficult to find quality programs that fit the bill.

Quite simply, not all programs in hockey, tennis, basketball, soccer, gymnastics, swimming or any other sport are the same. Anyone who has looked for the right preschool program for their child knows that they don’t all feature the same degree of organization, quality curriculum and qualified teaching. Sport programs are similar in that regard, and require the same level of attention to quality.

Though many sport camps and programs feature highly trained and certified leaders and instructors, some do not. Watch out for competition-focused formats that fail to reinforce good skill development, or training routines that compel pre-adolescent children to train like adults.

The following basic points will help you to know what to look for and what questions to ask to identify a quality program where your child will learn to love sport:

• Are the coaches, instructors or activity leaders trained or certified? Or are they untrained?

• Is the activity environment safe? Is it clean? Is the equipment in good condition?

• Is the program adapted for children with child-sized equipment and child-sized playing spaces (field, court or pitch) that encourage success?

• Time-on-task is important to skill development. Do the children spend more time actually performing the skill or more time waiting for their turn?

• Do all children have the opportunity to participate equally?

• To give kids the confidence to join in sports and recreational activities and to set them up to participate for life, kids need to develop a broad vocabulary, fluency and proficiency in fundamental movement skills. This is best achieved through participating in a broad array of sport activities. Does the program or camp include a variety of activities?

• Keep in mind that some amount of free playtime, preferably outdoors, is important for kids to develop creativity in their sport. Unstructured free playtime, where children of all ages develop creativity, decision-making, problem-solving and social skills is important for sport and for life.

• Does the program follow the training and competition guidelines recommended by the national association for that sport or activity? Every sport in Canada now has its own recommended Long-Term Athlete Development plan (LTAD) that provides guidelines for programs for children and adults. Programs that closely follow LTAD guidelines are more likely to be developmentally appropriate for your child.

• If your child is in the three- to five-year-old age bracket, does the program focus on fun and developing the ABCs of physical literacy? (The ABCs stand for Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed.) These abilities don’t just happen by themselves, and they are necessary precursors to learning fundamental sport and movement skills later. For more information, visit

• If your child is in the six- to12-year-old age bracket, does the program focus on fun and fundamental skills learning?

Fundamental movement and sport skills are the foundation of physical literacy, and should be developed before puberty.
This article is provided by Sport Calgary with content from the Active for Life website. For more information about Sport Calgary, visit or follow them on Twitter, @SportCalgary. For more information about Active for Life, visit

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