Head to Head with Sport and Physical Activity Leaders: Trends in 2023

by Chelsea Currie, former Head to Head General Manager

Ten months, hundreds of conversations, and a few key takeaways… 

Since joining the Head to Head team at the start of 2023, our team has been gathering specific insights from coaches, teachers, and sport and physical activity leaders from clubs, schools, and camps across the country to understand the landscape of sport as it currently exists in Canada. As a coach myself for over 10 years, I’ve been energized by every minute of talking shop and getting a sense of the strengths and unique characteristics of sport programming from coast to coast. What has become prevalent though, are a few common challenges that youth are facing in sport, and in school. 

Through sport, youth learn the basics of building a team, making connections, challenging their limits, and importantly, risking failure. Through trials and tribulations in sport young athletes can realize that life carries on nonetheless, and they have not only a chance but a choice to try again. We’ve identified three very apparent themes throughout our conversations with partnership leaders, including: Performance Pressure, Dropping out of Sport, and the importance of diversifying youth’s experiences, or more plainly, Keeping Sport Fun. These themes have an important implication on registration numbers, the quality of sport programming, and the quality of life for the next generation… so we’re here to help. 

Performance Pressure: What is happening? 

Sport has evolved and grown in our country along with ample access to resources, education, training opportunities, and with it the internalized expectations of its young participants. 

Many kids are seemingly terrified to perform, compete, and to be put into a situation where they might fail. Understandably, nobody likes to fail, but a paralyzing fear of imperfection shouldn’t be so overwhelming that young people resent their sport. Our strategy is first understanding where that comes from, and to then provide tools and support to navigate mental blocks. We cannot have high performing athletes, or simply, happy young people if their only expectation is to be excellent all the time. 

One way to understand how to nurture positive pressure is from the athletes themselves: by creating open channels of communication to learn from and about our athletes as often as they learn from us. We know (as adults) that process and progress are where true champions are made, champions are born from the small details! For youth who are still developing their mental skills toolbox, it comes down to their ability to train and reframe their mindset. Since we can’t download our life experience unto theirs, we can create an effective environment to make sure that athletes understand “progress over perfection”. At Head to Head, we’ve designed our program so that Olympian mentors are able to reinforce process oriented goal setting while they offer actionable tools and strategies to measure growth, so that athletes can alleviate performance pressure by seeing the bigger picture. 

Dropping Out of Sport: Finding your ‘why’ 

Related to performance pressure, is an unfortunately common outcome, that is, quitting altogether. There are ample resources (link 1-2), that show kids between 12-15 have been dropping out of their sport exponentially since the pandemic. A lot has changed in the last few years, but the benefits of socializing through sport remain the same. So, organizational leaders in the landscape of sport in Canada are asking, how do we keep kids in sport? 

Our team has taken one step back however, to revisit the ‘why?’

Why should youth participate in sport and physical activity? The answers to this seem obvious. So, equally important, why is it important to us as mentors and leaders that youth have a positive experience in sport? Our ‘why’ for these athletes stems from the bigger picture: to build confident, courageous, and healthy young people. We understand that a stronger, more resilient individual will have the mindset to strive to achieve their highest potential in any domain, and this will impact the landscape of sport and society as a whole. The foundation of Head to Head’s mission is resilience: Our team of Olympian mentors and mental performance experts work not only with youth athletes, but coaching groups as well to align your team’s ‘why’ with the mission of your organization, club, or school. Our goal when doing so is to support environments that retain youth participants in sport, increase registration numbers, and promote long term investments in sport from grassroots to high performance. 

Keeping it Fun: How to underline success 

Like many of the coaches and teachers I’ve spoken with, I’ve been working on honing the craft of coaching for over a decade and in that time have worked with athletes on every level of the performance pathway from minis-multisport, to semi-professional women’s soccer, to 60+ women’s pickleball. Regardless of how high performing my athletes are, there truly has been one commonality that I carry in my coaching philosophy and that is that there will always be opportunities for fun and new experiences. At one point, even the most successful Olympians on our roster started out playing and training with parents and friends, and all it was about was laughter and movement. When we love something we work hard for it, we push ourselves for it, and we get more and more comfortable with the uncomfortable challenges that come with it. Head to Head creates a novel, and fun experience within your training environment that breeds the competitive drive of each athlete/student by highlighting team environments, celebrating individual strengths, and offering a new lens on high performance expectations: 

Even though Olympians wake up early, and work tirelessly, and sacrifice immensely – they do it because they love it, and they love it because there is enjoyment throughout their efforts. 

Working with us to create a memorable experience for your athletes and students can have a life changing impact. Our Olympian mentors are here to support your goals, and reinforce the notion that your leadership and your athletes/students potential combined are nothing short of an opportunity to develop resilience for life. 

Chelsea joined the Head to Head team this year (2023) bringing with her 5 years of experience as a USports national level athlete, 11 years of coaching from grassroots to semi-professional, and is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant under the Canadian Sport Psychology Association. 

Leave a Reply 0 comments

Leave a Reply: