Let’s Not Eliminate Organized Sport from Public Schools

December 19, 2019

By Jeremy Luke, Senior Director, Sport Integrity, Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport

Growing up in a small town, the only opportunity I had to participate in organized sport – be it competitive or intramural – was in public school. Our town didn’t offer much when it came to sport leagues or other opportunities, and I imagine this remains the case in many small towns throughout Ontario. 

My experience with organized school sport was tremendously positive. I had great coaches, many of whom were also my teachers, who put in extra hours to ensure my sporting experiences were positive. I now have a far greater appreciation of the value of organized sport offered through the public school system. School sport enables more kids to have access to sport, regardless of socio-economic or geographical limitations. It provides certified educators as coaches (or as supervisors of volunteer community coaches) and from a social capital perspective, it helps instil a desire to attend school (and stay in school!), and creates a passion for the school community. 

For these reasons, both of my kids are now actively involved in school sports. Unfortunately, in Ontario there is a dispute between the Ontario Government and the teachers’ union that may result in a ‘work-to-rule’ campaign by teachers. This could mean that school sports would no longer be offered, as they are an extra-curricular activity usually delivered by teachers who volunteer their time on top of their regular teaching duties. 

To be clear, I am not advocating either for the government or for the teachers. My message is that extra-curricular sport should be a mandatory component of public school education and we should compensate teacher-coaches accordingly. The value of school sport for students is far too important to be an afterthought, left up to willing teachers who have the capacity to volunteer their time and expertise. 

You might argue that the cost of education is increasing and that to contain these costs it is okay to leave sport to some other delivery system. I don’t buy that argument. I think the more opportunities our youth have to participate in sport the better. 

The CCES commissioned a study called the True Sport Report that identifies the overall value of sport for society. We are all familiar with the direct health benefits of sport, but on top of that, participation in sport can actually reduce youth health risk behaviours such as smoking (and presumably now vaping), drug use, sexual activity and anti-social behaviour. Sport also enhances academic achievement by improving concentration, enhancing creativity and memory and better problem solving skills. Girls who participate in sport glean additional benefits like feelings of empowerment and lower levels of anxiety and depression. Outside of school, kids who participate in sport have lower rates of criminal activity.

It seems to me that inevitable savings associated with reducing poor health, academic underachievement and youth crime would more than cover the incremental cost of offering organized sport, and compensating teacher-coaches appropriately, as part of the public school system. No matter your view on the current dispute between the Ontario Government and the teachers’ union, let’s find a way going forward to ensure sport is always offered within our public schools!