Cultivating Canadian Sports Culture

By Saltus Admin

Why does Canadian sport struggle?

In sports, conditioning is paramount.  All else being equal, the strong, quick, powerful, agile, and efficient athlete will always dominate the weak, slow, and uncoordinated athlete.  Given this common knowledge, why then in typical Canadian athletics is formal strength and conditioning an afterthought?  In the typical Canadian athletic program, largely due to early specialization and the misnomer of “sport specific” training, it seems like teams focus almost solely on skill and team development, and spend very little time, if any, in the weight room to develop the conditioning that will produce better, well-rounded athletes.  Moreover, if a team does possess a weight training component, chances are that it is administered simply by leaving inexperienced athletes to work out on their own with little or no supervision from coaches/trainers who may have limited knowledge of effective strength and conditioning principles.

There are obviously exceptions to this, as powerhouse schools such as Terry Fox and Vancouver College that are consistently in the top ten in both ‘AAA’ basketball and football have formal strength and conditioning programs.  Moreover, after working with Simon Fraser University’s strength and conditioning team, I can tell you that their program is at the pinnacle of the industry.  However, why is the culture of Canadian athletics so poor aside from these elite programs?  Is it funding?  Lack of interest?  A feeling of helplessness that these elite programs will never be defeated?  Or is it merely because we can’t cultivate a passion for sports?

Sports Culture on Steroids

I’ll never forget the experience I had when I traveled to California for a Christmas basketball tournament in my “junior” year of high school, where I was awe inspired just by the difference in the magnitude of the facilities.  The hosting school had multiple, dedicated full-sized fields for soccer and football, Olympic sized swimming pools, bleachers that seated thousands (not hundreds), locker rooms so big you could get lost in them and pristine weight rooms with every piece of equipment imaginable.  The list goes on and on.  I was jealous.  My years of playing high school basketball were arguably the most fun in my life, yet south of the border kids were having the same experience on steroids.  Why can’t our Canadian athletes experience this as well?

Creating a Culture

CrossFit coach and physical therapist Kelly Starrett touches upon a notion of cultivating a culture of Supple Leopards.  That is, creating interest and excitement around the concept of movement and mobility by relating it to increased athletic output so that athletes will take care of their own bodies, which will ultimately make them exponentially better athletes, and in turn, happy winners.  The fitness industry has successfully cultivated a culture of health-conscious, active people, particularly here on the West Coast with Lululemon and the yoga movement.

In that same light, I think it’s our responsibility as strength coaches, trainers, athletes, and fans of sport to cultivate the same culture and excitement around sport itself and in particular, excelling at sports.  After all, isn’t that what a lot of us are training for in the first place?  Recall the excitement of Canadians dominating the 2010 Olympics, or the Vancouver Canucks run to the Stanley Cup.  Wouldn’t it be cool if the casual fan were THAT passionate about sports around here, too?

Some Clarification

My intent isn’t to spark a political debate regarding sports versus healthcare or education, or American funding versus Canadian funding. My intent was to highlight the fact that with the current allocation of resources to sports (or lack thereof) in our community, certain elite schools are consistently on the top of the rankings. Why do they keep producing the best athletes? I believe it’s because they create a culture where excelling and upholding their tradition and reputation of being provincial powerhouses is important to the coaches and the athletes, and the sense of pride filters down and influences them to do everything they can to maintain that reputation, i.e. strength and conditioning, which most other schools are lacking.

This is in contrast to schools with failing sports programs, where there is barely enough interest to field a team, and the emphasis isn’t as much about excelling at sports, but rather merely participating. To create passion for sports, you need to create a winning environment (see the Canucks recently versus the rebuilding years and the corresponding buzz in the city about the team). To create a winning environment, you need to produce good athletes. How do you create good athletes? Place importance on strength and conditioning, which overall I think is lacking. It’s part of our job as strength and conditioning coaches to sew the seeds and get kids excited about strength and conditioning so they can excel, which will start the process of developing PASSION for sport, rather than a passing interest in it.