Impact and Benefits
Physical Activity and Recreation
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A Complex and
Prevention First and Foremost
Holistic, Community-based Approach
YOUTH-AT-RISK - WHO
WHY ARE YOUTH AT RISK?
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND RECREATION CAN
COMMON CONSTRAINTS TO PARTICIPATION
WHAT DO YOUTH REALLY WANT?
LEARNING FROM BEST PRACTICES
Failures Tell Us Something Too
FUTURE JOINT INITIATIVES -
CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
A Complex and Controversial Issue
The issue of youth-at-risk is complex.
Because the risk factors faced by young people are so many and varied, and fall within so
many sectors of society, it is an issue that is subject to interpretation and debate.
Without limiting the ongoing discussion related to this issue,
there is a general consensus that all youth (defined here as those between 15 and 19 years
of age) are exposed to some degree of risk. The role that physical activity and recreation
can play in the development of young people, and in reducing youth-related risk factors is
the focus of this report. The report summarizes of a research study, commissioned jointly
by the Inter-Provincial Sport and Recreation Council, Health Canada and the Canadian
Parks/Recreation Association, which was carried out by a research team from the University
of New Brunswick.
The study used several different methods to gather
information. The main tool was the use of 64 focus groups that involved youth, parents,
front-line staff and policy makers which were organized by each provincial/territorial
Ministry responsible for physical activity and recreation. Involving more than 450
participants, these focus group meetings identified some of the major strengths and
weaknesses of Canada's Current youth physical activity and recreation system. Researchers
reviewed and summarized the research literature on the impact of physical activity and
recreation on youth-at-risk, collected via a large mail-out survey current examples of
programs and policy initiatives from the local, provincial/territorial and national level,
and presented the focus group discussions in a final report.* Government officials and a
representative of the Canadian Parks/Recreation Association also reviewed the information.
Finally, the federal and provincial/territorial Ministers responsible for physical
activity and recreation considered the findings and confirmed recommendations, which are
located at the end of this discussion.
It has been recognized that physical
activity and recreation are valuable tools in preventing youth problems since the earliest
days of the playground and recreation movement in Canada and the United States. The
underlying presumption that social outcomes were influenced by recreation, and that
activity could be used as a control mechanism for adolescent behaviour was evident in many
of the early theories of play and playground/ recreation activities. This attitude formed
the early theoretical and practical basis for the link between recreation and the problems
Over the years, research studies have indicated that a
potential positive influence could be exerted on Canada's youth through physical activity
and recreation. Physical activity and recreation have also been shown to facilitate the
development of children and youth, and to play a significant role in influencing
behavioural patterns and in preventing or reducing risk.
" Youth want to be heard ... adults plan and organize
from a different perspective.
Let us prove ourselves. Give us a chance.
We'll show you that we're capable.
The paper provides a number of specific
suggestions for program delivery based on the focus group discussions and a review of best
practices. However, before getting to these operating details, it is worthwhile to focus
on three guiding principles that were clearly illuminated through the analysis. These
principles should provide the overall framework within which all physical activity and
recreation services for youth-at-risk are delivered.
Youth empowerment may be an over-used
phrase, but it is clear that youth do not believe they are being heard. Effective
solutions require major input and leadership from youth.
Prevention First and Foremost
Prevention should be the primary role of
physical activity and recreation services. These services can and should be used as an
intervention in the "redevelopment" of youth-at-risk, but the first focus must
be prevention. The earlier that regular participation habits are developed, the greater
the impact and effectiveness. The view must be long range.
SUMMARY OF TRENDS
More than 75,000 youth are found guilty by the
courts every year.
- Youth suicide increased by 300% between 1965 and 1987.
According to Statistics Canada, a total of 198 youth males and 51 youth females took their
own lives in 1992.
- There were 40,000 teenage (age 15 to 19) pregnancies in 1989.
- Estimates for homeless youth are in the 150,000 range.
- More than 190,000 youth between 15 and 24 years of age are not
working or in school.
- The national average high school drop-out rate in 1988-89 was
- 20% of Canadian youth are obese.
- There is a significant decrease in physical activity patterns
as children reach adolesence.
- Most, but not all, of these risk factors are magnified for
|Experiment with drugs
|Some physical activity
|Experiment with sex
Holistic, Community-based Approach
Youth are at risk from the interaction
of a number of risk factors (e.g., family, peers, self). Because of the complexity of the
situation, an interdisciplinary, holistic approach involving the whole community - not
just one agency - is required.
- WHO ARE THEY?
- Youth-at-risk are not just a bunch of kids in trouble
- All youth face some sort of risk - some more than others
because of their socioeconomic status, environment, friends, family situation, behavioural
problems, physical or mental health. No one is immune from risk.
- At one end of the continuum is a large group of youth facing
low levels of risk. At the other extreme, a small group is involved in chronic anti-social
behaviour, serious drug abuse, risky sexual behaviour, or even suicide. In between are
risk situations ranging from lesser to greater degrees of risk.
ARE YOUTH AT RISK?
Researchers have identified five groups
of factors that affect the likelihood that youth will be at risk.
- Efforts are needed at all stages to lower the risk environment
and to prevent youth from moving along the continuum to situations of greater risk.
- individual factors (eg. boredom, lifestyle behaviours)
The chance that a youth will engage in risk-producing
behaviour depends to a very great extent on the interaction of these factors. For example,
a risky situation due to peer association (e.g., hanging out with a bad crowd) may not
have much impact if the youth is resilient and has strong family support. Dimensions of
interac tion include control and supervision, identity support, caring and trust,
communication skills, parental disapproval of peers, and conflict. Within all the risk
factors, low levels of physical activity are generally associated with situations AT-RISK
CONTINUUM or activities of higher risk.
Low levels of physical activity are more common
In 1991, there were 1.9 million
adolescents between 15 and 19 years of age, or 6.8% of the Canadian population. Although
some youth trends are encouraging, such as decreased use of alcohol and tobacco, and a
reduction in the high school drop-out rate, others are less so. More than 100 teenagers
(age 15 to 19) become pregnant every day, and although the teenage pregnancy rate had
decreased to 40.5 per 1,000 by 1985, it had risen to 42.7 per 1,000 in 1991. It is clear
that youth-at-risk is a continuing tear in the fabric of our society.
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND RECREATION CAN HELP
Research shows that strategies involving
physical activity and recreation appear particularly promising in minimizing or removing
risk factors at all stages of th continuum. Participation in physical activity and
recreation can provide positive benefits related to psychological health, physical health,
familial interactions, peer influence,, academic performance, Community devetopment and
other lifestyle behaviours.
- inadequate family support
- lack of education
- social isolation
- inadequate peer support
- low socioeconomic status
However, existing public recreation and physical activity
services have a negative image problem among some youth-at-risk. Criticism includes the
perception that services are for white middle-class youth only, and, in particular, are
not meeting the needs of youth who are further along the continuum.
COMMON CONSTRAINTS TO PARTICIPATION
The University of New Brunswick
researchers found that youth face many limits to participation in the current system of
physical activity and recreation in Canada today. Any one or a combination of the
following constraints identified by the focus groups were found to lead to disinterest in,
or outright barriers to becoming involved in activities that can enhance self-esteem or
otherwise provide some alternative to partaking in risky behaviour.
The cost of registration fees, equipment and travel expenses
can keepyouth-at-risk out, or can drive them out.
In many areas, there is inadequate public transportation, or
the cost and availability of private trans portation is beyond the means of most youth.
Although programs and facilities may be available, their
services are not used because the youth or family is not aware of them. And if they have
heard of the service, many do not know how to get information about it or access to it.
The rigid structure of physical activity and recreation
services is not conducive to youth-at-risk involvement. Many youth-at-risk do not want to
deal with the regulated and controlled nature of sports leagues, fitness and group
activities. Regulations and rules may drive them away.
Competitive sports programs with an elimination process
usually have adults present and are often scheduled and run by adults. Many youth-at-risk
are not interested in competitive sports or in activities that they do not plan and
The adult focus of most services, not just in the sports area,
turns youth away. They believe that these services and organizations do not care about or
identify with their concerns.
- Class and racial discrimination:
Many Aboriginal youth and youth from other visible minority
groups do not feel comfortable or welcome in "white" physical activity and
reation areas or facilities. They perceive the focus to be on the values and needs of the
white upper-middle classes and may even be seen to be designed deliberately to prevent
youth-at-risk from entering and mixing with other youth.
- Lack of family/parental support:
Support from families or parents is critical to initial or
continued participation of at risk youth. Youth who have low family support are less
likely to participate and are more likely to progress along the continuum.
Many programs are viewed as being for males only. There are
also fewer female leaders than male leaders, which limits participation by girls and young
Many youth have a sense of hopelessness about the future. They
belive they are discriminated against, misunderstood and not given the opportunity to make
their own choices and express their opinions. The reearchers recorded the 10 most common
suggestions provided by youth about improving the situation.
ban the kids we should be working with
[who] really need our help."
Focus group participant
Internal policies and structures often
prevent various organizations that work with youth and those involved in physical activity
and recreation from providing the services necessary for youth-at-risk.
The focus groups indicated the following as being
among the many constraints to participation:
- Insurance that prevents smoking in the building
- A union or services contract that limits the availability of
support staff and the hours that a building may be open
- Fears and policies around liability
- Personnel policies and procedures that prohibit the
organization from hiring youth workers from visible minority groups who may not meet the
normal professional standards
- Offering only traditional program services
- Having to follow rules and regulations often results in denying
access for the kids who really need to participate
- Behaviour and dress codes that hamper the participation of
There also tends to be little awareness of, and lack of
communication and cooperation among various organizations that include youth-at-risk in
their mandate. This results in a significant amount of duplication and gaps in youth
services. Many of the resources necessary (e.g., services, facilities, money, personnel)
to help youth-at-risk are already in the systems (e.g., education, recreation, social
services, justice). However, because of poor awareness and communication, and sometimes
professional territoriality, resources are not being used effectively (e.g., "there
are no points [in the system] for cooperation and collaboration ... and resources are
An holistic approach would likely lead to improved
interorganizational cooperation. The singular focus of many organizations that deal with
youth-at-risk, such as education or recreation, is inefficient. Also, too many
professionals and their respective agencies focus only on their mandated issues. Because
the problems and issues that youth-at-risk face in their lives are interdisciplinary, so
must be the problem-solving approach.
In addition, it was indicated that many physical activity and
recreation leaders (professional, volunteer, administrative or political) have little
knowledge of, or are not concerned about, the physical activity and recreation interests
WHAT DO YOUTH REALLY WANT?
1. Establish drop-in centres that offer
full services and a holistic approach.
2. Offer a wider variety of physical activity and recreation
programs which include passive and cultural pursuits.
3. Increase employment opportunities for youth.
4. Improve educational opportunities for youth.
5. Give youth a chance to be heard.
6. Encourage cultural harmony.
7. Improve the parenting/ family situation for youth.
8. Change adults' attitudes about youth by offering more trust
and less stereotyping.
9. Provide positive role mmodels.
10. Provide for less fortunate youth (home-less,
Feedback to the research process
identified the following as strategies to make programming more attactive to at-risk
- Although at-risk youth are interested in both structured and
unstructured program services, many prefer unstructured ones. These run the gamut from
passive to active, individual to team, indoor to outdoor, and soft to hard outdoor
adventure. The traditional focus on competitive team sport and services for adults and
children should be expanded to include a wider range of activities, particularly ones that
- Physical activity and recreation organizations should develop
loosely structured services that youth can participate in at any time of the day. Rigid
time tables, rules and organization are not conducive to youth-at-risk participation. Nor
are lectures about rights and wrongs. Youth want to participate in physical activity and
recreation for fun. Program services should offer youth the opportunity to be part of a
group and to hang out, learn to share, be both leader and follower, and to feel that they
have contributed and made a difference.
- Organizations should develop a culture that trusts youth and
allow them to have an active role in running their own services. These organizations need
to learn to communicate with and empower youth to look after their own physical activity
and recreational needs. While youth need the opportunity to provide their own leadership,
they should also receive some adult supervision and guidance.
- Communities should not look to any one agency or group of
agencies, outside organizations or particularly to government to solve the youth issues in
their community. The "whole" community needs to take action to develop
- In neighbourhoods where youth drop-in centres are set up, these
centres should: provide a variety of integrated services, including educational and career
counselling (drug and alcohol education, health information), as well as physical activity
and recreation opportunities have some adult supervision.
Aboriginal communities throughout
Canada, on and off reserve, are going through tremendous social changes and face a host of
problems. As with other communities in Canada, these changes and problems are creating
pressures on their families and youth. Aboriginal leaders are exploring various solutions
to the youth-atrisk situation, including physical activity and recreation strategies.
- To be accepted by youth, the people planning and running
programs should be trained specifically in youth issues and youth communities. In reality,
they should be more like youth street workers with training in physical activity and
recreation. The program initiative must be youth-at-risk driven, and leaders must be
trained and empowered to make decisions regarding services. It is important that these
youth leaders come from the community - both geographic and social - that they serve.
Discrimination, lack of qualified leadership, isolation,
transportation, cultural identity, language barriers, partnership development, and lack of
culturally specific programming are seen by many Aboriginal communities as being specific
issues of concern.
In communities where major issues or problems are large-scale,
prevention, not intervention, is also viewed as the primary function of physical activity
and recreation for Aboriginal at-risk youth.
To increase opportunities for these youth, the
focus should be on the following:
- The various social and health service agencies that serve
Aboriginal families need to address community issues more holistically. Partnerships with
the schools, church, recreation, police, and especially Aboriginal organizations, need to
- The federal and provincial governments, along with Aboriginal
leaders, need to discuss the issues of community development for Aboriginal people.
Partnerships from the two levels of government, along with Aboriginal leaders, are needed
to establish strategies to develop a healthy community. The concept of a healthy community
model must be approached with the whole community involved, including a strategy for
- Full-time Aboriginal recreation leadership is needed in urban
Aboriginal communities and on reserves. This leader would be responsible for organizing
leadership courses for volunteers, obtaining information on what is available in other
communities and through government, and initiating new programs in the community.
- Better use of existing school facilities is required. The
school should become a community centre for all Aboriginal children. The school should
always be open.
- Public consultation is needed to discuss ways of developing
recreation activities in the community. This consultation must include all youth,
particularly those at risk.
Discrimination is seen as a major issue
among the different ethnic groups.
Youth make up an above average share of
the population reporting visible minority origins. In 1991, 7.9% of all those in the
visible minority groups were between 15 and 19 years of age, compared to 6.8% for the
Canadian population in total. ' Although only 9% of all youth were immigrants, most of
them came from Asia, Central or South America, the Caribbean, Bermuda or Africa, resulting
in a dramatic cultural change.
- Linkages are needed with the white community to explain the
Aboriginal culture. Together a way has to be found to eliminate discrimination of
Because many parents of minority youth do not read or write
English or French well, promotions for programs may not be understood and their children
may not be aware of existing programs. The language barrier goes beyond advertisements as
well, because it is hard for parents to call for information. Also, in some cultures,
women are not allowed to go out after dark, to wear exercise clothing, or allowed to take
part in co-ed activities.
Having more cultural events/festivals where members of the
community can interact and share their different cultures; knowing the ethnic make-up of
the community to ensure that communications take place in appropriate languages; hiring or
recruiting volunteers of different ethnic make-up; offering female-only activities; and
including programs/activities that are culturally familiar are suggested responses to
address these problems in a positive manner.
the problems and issues that youth-at-risk face in their lives are interdisciplinary, so
must be the problem-solving approach. However, future collaborative activities must be
community-driven and have significant input from youth."
Focus group participant (policy maker)
Some female teenagers face risk factors specific to
- Gender bias in programs - Many programs are male oriented,
which tends to decrease female participation. Also, due to social stereotyping of roles,
females who do want to participate in "male" activities are often prevented or
discouraged from doing so. A gender bias also exists in the availability and accessibility
of school and community programs (time and transportation).
- Gender bias in leadership - Gender discrimination goes beyond
programs and facilities; it also includes leadership. There is a lack of female leadership
opportunities and role models.
- Gender bias in parenting - Parents seem more protective of
daughters than sons, which often leads to restrictions in participation being placed on
the female (cannot stay out late at night). In many homes, daughters have less
discretionary time due to family responsibilities such as doing housework and caring for
- Gender bias in issues - Females face at least the same risk in
society as their male counterparts. They also may face different risks than mates, such as
health (pregnancy) and safety (more likely to be subject to abuse) issues.
FROM BEST PRACTICES
As youth encounter increased risk,
programs need to be more adventurous, non-competitive and informal. The training needed by
leaders who work with youth is also dictated by the stage of the continuum. The greater
the risk factors faced by the individual youth, the more experience and training the
leaders require to be effective. Higher-risk youth also need more one-on-one attention
with highly supportive leaders.
To improve services for youth-at-risk, the
following factors may contribute to a greater degree of success:
The program should be community-based with
agencies (schools, city halt, service clubs, recreation departments, social agencies, and a variety
of combinations of these agencies and others) working together to meet all the needs of
atrisk youth. This will result in more resources being devoted to youth-at-risk to address
reduction of risk factors while possibly reducing overall costs. Recreation should be
involved in any strategy directed at reducing risk factors.
- Communities that pool their resources and jointly fund programs
will experience a greater degree of success.
- The knowledge, skills, attitude and commitment of the leaders
are essential elements to enhance programs and services for youth-at-risk.
- Communities need to designate who will coordinate youth-related
activities, which prevents duplication of services and gaps in programming. No one
particular organization should be preferred over another.
- Succesful programs mix pro-social youth with antisocial youth.
- Youth must be listened to and be involved in the development of
- Programs should be holistic and not based solely on physical
- The most successful programs take preventive measures and stop
the at-risk behaviour before it begins.
- Successful intervention programs offer alternatives to at-risk
- Programmers must go to where the youth are, and not expect them
to come to their facility. Outreach programs operated in malls are achieving success based
on this philosophy.
- Programs must offer a positive, non-threatening environment.
- Cross-cultural awareness training has led to the success of
recreation centres in multicultural communities.
Failures Tell Us Something Too
Programs that are unsuccessful also
provide useful information. Experience has shown that there are two major reasons why
programs for youth do not work as designed.
- Ongoing evaluation is an important component of a successful
- a lack of funding which results in prohibitive costs to the
The researchers found a vast number of
programs taking place at the national, provincial and local levels, both government and
non-government. The following are just a few examples of innovative programs. (Please
note: other successful programs are outlined in the full research report.*) go.-
- lack of input from youth in designing programs
- "A Partnership for Youth" is a cooperative program
between the Halifax Police Department and the Halifax City Recreation Department which
provides six summer students the opportunity to assist in the "Youth L.I.VE."
program Linder the Halifax Police Department. They work toward increasing access to
services within the community as well as increasing positive images of youth.
- Dufferin Mall is a I 10-store shopping mall in downtown
Toronto. Situated in an area containing six high schools, the mall had an average daily
visitation of 3000 youth of mixed racial backgrounds. Besides the impact of 300 youth
"hanging out," the mall was experiencing 1000 to 1400 shoplifing charges a year,
50% of which were youth under 18 years of age. Other crimes such as armed robbery, rape
and dealing drugs were also a concern. Through a partnership of an advisory committee
(made up of representatives from the youth, the Toronto Parks and Recreation Department
and a local Settlement House), Dufferin Mall, the Toronto Parks and Recreation Department
and the Toronto Board of Education, the mall provided unused retail space for various
- The programs include martial arts, a dance group, a youth
theatre, a marketing co-op program where participants learn retailing and gain experience
in the mall's stores, a mall-based high school program for youth 18 years of age or older
who have been out of school for at least one year, a youth drop-in centre and a bicycle
club, among others. The benefits have been significant: crime is down 16%, operating costs
are down, and a million more people a year are coming to the mall.
- "Program Integration" is a program for youth who have
no other physical activity and/or recreation other than the services of the Boys' and
Girls' Club in Thunder Bay, Ontario. To provide additional opportunities for youth, the
club shares with the family the costs of getting the kids involved in other forms of
physical activity and recreation, including those not offered by the club itself. The
program initially covers up to 100% of the costs of a new service; this level is slowly
reduced over time allowing the family to increase its contribution gradually. The program
financially enables youth to participate, to develop new recreation and social skills, and
to broaden their social boundaries.
- The Community and Youth Corrections of Winnipeg, Manitoba has
worked in conjunction with the Teen Adventure Group (TAG) to provide adventure-based
activities and employment services to young offenders in custody. Three separate programs
have been run, and each one has been judged successful for engaging high at-risk youth and
involving them in both recreational and employment programs.
- The Ranch Ehrlo Society in Pilot Butte, Saskatchewan emphasizes
recreation as one its four main components. Programming includes recreation, sport, social
and cultural activities. The purpose of these programs is to develop teamwork,
self-confidence, responsibility, sharing and respect for others. As most of the clientele
are Aboriginal, the program focuses on Aboriginal cultural preservation. Youth are
encouraged to speak Native languages, and cultural activities include Native crafts,
traditional Native games and archery.
- The Leisure Services Department of Prince George, British
Columbia has initiated four programs addressing youth-at-risk issues. The first program is
the Prince George Youth Recreation Organization Committee. This committee is made up of
youth, representative of the Prince George area, who advise the Leisure Services
Department on youth issues and what programs and services they feet they need. The Summer
Youth Centre is the second program, which provides a positive environment over the summer
where youth can take part in leisure activities they planned themselves. This program is
free of charge and targeted to youth between 12 and 18 years of age. Youth Day, the third
program, involves a full day devoted to the youth of Prince George. The whole Community
participates by providing low cost or free activities for youth, such as swimming,
skating, dances and movies. The fourth initiative is a newsletter called Teens Today,
which is designed to promote and direct activities and services to youth, as well as
display positive images of youth.
- St. Patricks School in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories is
opening a full-service community school facility in summer 1995. The school will take a
holistic or wellness approach to Youth and their needs. Housed within the walls of the
school will be representatives for all youth-related agencies. In addition, students will
have a child care service. The school will be open to the community for recreation
programming before school hours, during noon hours, after school, evenings, weekends and
The federal government has also responded in a number of areas
as well, such as significant policy development in the area of violence against women and
children, cycles of family violence, the availability of affordable shelter, child
poverty, and the plight of Aboriginal and immigrant children.
Additional Research Required
Research on how recreation might reduce
youth-related problems is still critical today. For example, additional research is needed
to determine more precisely the understanding of the physiological and psychological
mechanisms responsible for some of the advantageous behavioural changes that occur in
response to physical activity and recreation. Also, additional research into assessment
and evaluation of frameworks and interventions of physical activity and recreation
programs and services is vital to the further advancement of the youth-at-risk issue.
FUTURE JOINT INITIATIVES - MINISTERS' RECOMMENDATIONS
|"The people who
plan and run the program must be more like youth street workers, with training in physical
activity and recreation."
Focus group participant (parent)
Based on the University of New Brunswick research report, a
series of conclusions and recommendations was presented to the federal and
provincial/territorial Ministers responsible for physical activity and recreation in
The following recommendations were approved by the
Ministers and will form the basis for future joint federal-provincial/territorial
initiatives in this area:
1. Ministers agree that there is a meaningful role for
physical activity and recreation as part of the solution to youth-at-risk issues which
requires public attention and resources. The documentation commissioned by the two levels
of government and the Canadian Parks/Recreation Association related to the impact and
benefits of physical activity and recreation on youth-at-risk will be made public.
2. Ministers agree that a summary document of the research
analysis will be the basis for consultation with their cabinet colleagues responsible for
justice, social services, health, education and leaders of other organizations serving
youth, as a vehicle for the development of a more coordinated approach to service delivery
3. Provincial and territorial Ministers agree to take a
leadership role in stimulating the development of community-driven solutions through
increased dialogue with youth, elected officials, youth-serving agencies and others at the
local and provincial/territorial levels, recognizing the unique needs that exist in more
4. Ministers agree that particular attention is required to
address the physical activity and recreation needs of girls and young women.
5. Ministers agree that particular attention is required to
address the physical activity and recreation needs of Canada's Aboriginal persons.
6. Ministers agree that their officials collaborate to develop
a framework that supports community-driven activities in areas such as leadership,
partnerships, the removal of barriers, research and evaluation. Officials will report on
progress to Ministers at their next meeting.
7. Ministers agree that their officials develop a means of
information exchange and sharing on initiatives addressing the needs of Canadian
FOR THE BETTER
Those who work in the physical activity and
recreation field, and who have a great deal of contact with youth, have an exceptional
opportunity to make a difference. By following guiding principles and putting best
practices into action - community by community - physical activity and recreation can
better the situation of young people across Canada.
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