Access to Sport: a problem that should not be complex

While we’re on the subject of complex vs complicated, ensuring that young people have access to quality sport and play opportunities has become complex, but it shouldn’t be.

Why do people create systems that are hard to navigate when we all want the same result:   kids playing?

I’m reminded of how we navigate the health care system, at least in Ontario.  As a patient, you have to find a family doctor (which is becoming increasingly difficult in some places), make an appointment, take time off work, travel to the doctor’s office, maybe get a referral, and repeat with the specialist.  You may have to go get a few tests, which involve more travel and time. If you end up in a hospital setting, they are more friendly and patient-oriented than they used to be, but still quite intimidating places. And this is advanced medicine. At least we don’t have the added complication of dealing with an HMO!

Whereas, in places where Partners in Health operates, they go to you. Yes, in parts of Rwanda, Haiti and Peru, places where we think medical care is almost impossible to imagine, PIH sends the equivalent of nurse practitioners to your home. If you are taking medications, these nurse practitioners check in on you daily to support you and your family. If you have to go to hospital, PIH supports your family, because you can’t. This is a simplified summary of their model, but my point is how revolutionary it is to have service providers come to you, instead of you to them.

What if we did that in sport?

What if, instead of requiring people to sign themselves up for leagues, clubs, lessons etc, sport went to you? What if you could visit a website like SportsCorps , sign up, and someone contacted you to learn what it is you want to play, learn, coach? And when that might work for you, in your life’s context?

What if becoming a certified coach was easy? What if online modules connected you with a master coach to respond to your specific questions?

What if there was an app that mapped neighbourhood sport and recreation programs to let you know what is available close to home?

These ‘what if’s’ are particularly important for people who have not been raised in the Canadian context. How can you know how to get your child involved in ice hockey if you’ve never seen the game played? How can you be reassured that it isn’t too dangerous for your child to participate? We know these are burning questions from the report last year of the Institute of Canadian Citizenship.

Sport must do more to make itself truly accessible. We have to get out of our offices, on to the field, and into communities where we can ask people what they want to play. We have to see participation and high performance as a virtuous circle, mutually reinforcing.

The onus for doing so is on the sport system, not on the people who want to play. Just as the onus is on the health care system — a burden it has taken on, as I discovered with pleasure this morning at Women’s College Hospital where their mission is to keep you out of hospital by providing excellent community-based care. What a concept!

This is my vote for services that come to you. How do you vote?