It happened at 6:30 a.m. on a frigid Saturday in the dead of winter. On the second bench from the blue line at the neighbourhood rink. Over large double-doubles and under the only working overhead heater, while a gaggle of six- and seven-year-old girls spilled onto the ice – ready to play with more energy than any of the parents on the bench could ever muster before dawn.
I didn’t go looking for it that Saturday morning, but that’s where I found it – community. A place where I, an accidental hockey dad who had to search YouTube to learn how to tie goalie pads, felt like I belonged.
Maybe it was the heater. Or the surprise offer of a coffee. Probably both. And more than that. There’s something about a shared experience that sparks something in you. Makes you realize and recognize that you’re a part of something bigger – even if at first it seems like there’s nothing there at all.
That’s the power of belonging.
Last October, Community Foundations of Canada released Belonging: Exploring Connection to Community, a national Vital Signs report that explores the importance of belonging. From healthier and more meaningful lives; safer, more resilient and more inclusive communities; flourishing culture and identity and greater community participation; we know that a greater sense of belonging has an extraordinary capacity to transform our lives and our communities.
Yet our research found that 38% of Canadians don’t feel like they have a stake in their local community.
So we asked: How can we strengthen belonging to each other and our communities?
One of those ways is through sport.
In partnership with the True Sport Foundation, we recently released Vital Signs: Sport and Belonging which takes a closer look at how sport – when grounded in fairness, excellence, inclusion and fun – can strengthen our sense of belonging to each other and our communities.
Whether it’s in the school gym, arena, pool or on the pitch, sport is an important part of our national fabric and is present in all communities. And while we may experience the benefits of sport most immediately as individuals, it can also play a major role in strengthening communities by bringing people together, building social capital and fostering greater inclusion of those who may feel excluded.
But as our research shows, sport participation is in decline across the country. Seventy percent of us aren’t actively engaged in sport. Women and girls are dropping out earlier and more often than men and boys. Newcomers and those from marginalized groups are often left on the sidelines.
So what will it take for us to harness the full and true potential of sport – to make it more affordable, more inclusive and more fun? How can we use sport to help build communities where we all feel like we belong?
Check out the report and join the conversation with #VSBelonging.
In the meantime, I’ll be at the rink.
Lee Rose is the Director of Community Knowledge with Community Foundations of Canada, based in Ottawa, Ontario.