February 2013 issue

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Sports in Canada

With renowned national sports, world-class skiing facilities and varied school offerings, sports-mad international students in Canada are well catered for, discovers Matthew Knott.

Sports are an essential part of Canadian high school life, and provisions for overseas students range from dedicated programmes for serious high-performance athletes to more casual extracurricular clubs and activities.

“At Luther College High School, participation in artistic, athletic and social activities is an essential component in a well-rounded education that seeks to develop the whole person,” enthuses Alison Keramati at the school in Regina, SK. “We offer special physical education classes which include... non-traditional sporting activities including karate, downhill and cross-country skiing, skating... and cycling.” Meanwhile, extracurricular sports offered include football (soccer), American football (gridiron), basketball, volleyball, cross-country running and track and field, she adds, with ski trips to the Rocky Mountains also offered during the winter break. “We have found many of our international students like to pursue their extra-curricular interest in football and badminton, but also make the most of participating in traditional Canadian winter sports such as curling and ice hockey,” she says.

As for facilities, the school “currently offers students a historic gymnasium with a weight and exercise room. The existing facility has been home to western Canada’s most famous basketball tournament, the Luther Invitational Tournament, for over 60 years,” Keramati attests. She adds that a CAN$17.3 million (US$17.4 million) expansion will include a new physical education centre.

“Winnipeg is a great hockey city and is home to the National Hockey League’s Winnipeg Jets,” relates Brent Poole at the Pembina Trails School Division, MB. “Shaftsbury High School in Pembina Trails School Division is proud to offer Shaftesbury Hockey Canada Skills Academy,” Poole continues. “This academy is sanctioned by Hockey Manitoba as a Hockey Canada Sports School. The Hockey Academy is designed for athletes who are interested in gaining knowledge and developing their skills and attitudes to support their passion for the game of hockey.” He adds that students can earn up to four high school credits through the programme, with each week consisting of three on-ice sessions, one-to-two hours of off-ice training, and one-to-two hours of classroom instruction.

Poole advises the division has four schools, “all of which excel in a number of sports”, and lists some of these as hockey, American football, football, rugby, basketball and cheerleading. Most sports have girls and boys teams, he adds. For the more serious aspiring young athletes, “The Canadian Sports Centre and the Pembina Trails School Division have established a programme at Vincent Massey Collegiate that enables high-performing athletes to pursue their sports goals without forfeiting their academic development.” Designed for students participating at provincial level, student support includes a teacher advisor, a tutorial support programme, regularly scheduled meetings, and electives designed for high-performance athletes, Poole continues.

At Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, SK, Kim Hoffart explains there are top facilities for overseas students. “We have an international swimming pool attached to one of our high schools along with a national swim team programme – Goldfins, and an indoor full-field football centre right next to one of our other schools.” The range of sports offered includes volleyball, track and field, football, wrestling, badminton, curling and basketball, he adds.

The Calgary Board of Education, AB, has over 200 schools in its public system and is a big attraction for sports enthusiasts due to the proximity of some world-class facilities, explains Colleen Bratko, noting Spruce Meadows, Canada Olympic Park, Canmore Nordic Centre and Olympic Oval as top sites for sport. “Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, so we do see quite a lot of students looking to be involved in winter sports.” Furthermore, she adds that the appeal of the great outdoors is strong. “Our location close to the Rocky Mountains makes it a natural fit to combine a modern urban lifestyle with the easy access to the amazing wild back yard!”

An interesting aspect of sports provision in Canada is involvement with the local community. “It is very, very common for our students to be enrolled in sports/activities outside of school,” attests Bratko. “I think most students are enrolled in at least one sport.” While these have extra costs and are privately run, there is an obvious social benefit to participating. “There are so many out-of-school programmes that are in the area – it is limitless!” she says. Hoffart relates that in Greater Saskatoon there are large city sports programmes outside of the schools in most disciplines that students can participate in. Keramati adds that this is an important part of Luther College’s engagement with the area. “Regina, SK, has a strong athletic community with all levels of many sports. Many of our students are also part of the wider athletic community in Regina and have opportunities to compete in sport at a local, provincial and national level.”

Markets and student recruitment

Many international students are drawn to Canada’s traditional sports. Alison Keramati at Luther College High School in Regina, SK, explains that curling has become very popular. “Our international students are eager to participate. This year our Japanese students have taken a particular interest in learning the game and in previous years we have had teams made up of German and Brazilian students.” Winter sports in the Pembina Trails School Division in Winnipeg, MB, are a big draw for Europeans. Meanwhile, at Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS), Kim Hoffart advises that Latin American students are interested in soccer and swimming, while German students favour football and gridiron.

In terms of recruitment, Poole advises that enquiries from agents are always welcome. Hoffart informs that GSCS work with agents and participate in student fairs, agency fairs and embassy fairs. Keramati, meanwhile, says Luther College High School has been recruiting international students for over 60 years and word-of-mouth marketing is very effective. “We have also attended the Alphe conferences in London as well as Canadian education agent events.”

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