Active Sudbury embraces transformational initiatives

Unless you’re specifically interested in the intersection between health and physical activity, chances are you don’t know what physical literacy is–and that’s something Carolyn Crang of the Active Sudbury project hopes to change.

Since the project began in 2017, Crang and the Active Sudbury team have hosted multiple physical literacy conferences while providing training opportunities for coaches, parents, camp counsellors, teachers, school board members, and superintendents. All of these initiatives are intended to mobilize knowledge that will encourage people of all ages to remain active throughout their lives.

“My dream is that every child, every youth, every adolescent, and every adult has an activity or activities that they do on a regular basis. They have a variety of skills they use for this activity, and they enjoy it,” Crang said.

“I think people need to live it to really understand it.”

Active Sudbury, funded by an Ontario Trillium Foundation Grow Grant, arose out of Sport for Life’s Physical Literacy for Communities project. It is one of six communities from the initial Physical Literacy for Communities intake that is working  to create and implement a multi-sectoral community plan that reflects and responds to each community’s unique context. Progress is then monitored and measured by tracking a series of indicators customized for each community.

Before becoming involved, Crang was working as a master lecturer at Laurentian University, in the faculty of education department. She met Sport for Life’s Director of Physical Literacy Drew Mitchell at a conference, and was immediately drawn in by the scope of the project and how neatly it dovetailed with her own person feelings on the subject of physical literacy.

Working with her Active Sudbury partner Natalie Philippe, a public health nurse in the community, they received an RBC Learn to Play grant and hosted their first conference in 2017, attracting approximately 120 people from multiple sectors.

“I felt then, and it’s changing now, that there are some amazing success stories coming out of Sudbury when it comes to hockey, swimming, soccer, and lots of Olympians coming from here, but it’s all very sport-specific,” she said.

“It’s that one part, excellence, that we’re missing. Athletes are good in their one sport, but that’s it. Now for me, I grew up doing all kinds of sports and that helped me understand the idea of physical literacy and the importance of multisport. But these days I still see my kid’s friends, and over and over you see the good ones go off to do high-level sport while all the other kids drop out.”

If she had her way, it would be normal to raise kids with an awareness of multisport benefits. And when she introduces some of these concepts to teachers, they routinely report back that physical literacy learning was transformational to the way they do things. The same goes for coaches, who are being trained for free through Active Sudbury.

The Trillium Grant they received supports a cross-sectoral collaboration with health, recreation, sport, and early childhood education professionals all coming together. They have been able to host two conferences, provide high level training for 1600 people, and engage 400 volunteers.

“Everything’s free, all our training,” said Crang, noting that the Active Sudbury team  is constantly tweaking their approach to fit who they’re trying to reach. For instance, they changed their 20-hour training module to a 1-day workshop for teachers.

“You’re probably not going to get a children’s soccer coach or an instructor paying to do a whole day of training. They just won’t do it. But if we offer the training at no cost, right away they’re making a difference in their athletes’ lives.”

In the instance of camp counsellors, Crang said each one trained can then impact 100 kids in a summer.

“A lot of them had never heard of physical literacy and didn’t understand how to engage everyone at once when coaching. Sometimes that means adding more balls to a soccer game, sometimes it involves hosting multiple games at once. We trained them all to use our tools, and how to run those camps, and then they can train other people to become leaders.”

Crang figures there’s still a long way to go, but she’s happy with their progress so far.

“I had one student teacher come back to me. This was a 22-year-old who originally had no interest in getting kids more active, and she felt this learning was absolutely transformational. All of a sudden instead of having the kids sitting sedentary on the carpet, she’s getting them moving and even doing little work-outs,” she said.

“We’re showing these kids why we need to be active as a whole society, and how to make that happen.”