Staying fit and feeling settled in Canada through sports
By Michelle Boon
Posted on April 19, 2021
As a newcomer, you’re a busy person. You’re establishing a new life in new surroundings while taking care of yourself and your family. Recreational activities may not seem like a top priority during the settlement process.
While it may not be No. 1 on your to-do list, getting involved in sports can be a great way to multitask. It can help you stay healthy and feel more settled in your community.
Sports and community
Unlike other forms of exercise, like training at the gym or going for a jog, sports are a great option for staying fit and making connections. “Sport has a unique power to attract, mobilize, and inspire,” according to the United Nations Office on Sports and Development. “By its very nature, sport is about participation. It is about inclusion and citizenship.”
In ideal conditions, sports help newcomers integrate into Canadian communities. By participating in them, you could practice your English skills, build a network of friends, and learn about Canadian culture from this network.
You have many different options to participate. You can play casual pick-up games, join a competitive league, or join an intramural or non-competitive league. For kids, there are endless options for competitive and non-competitive sports programs for all different levels. You can also choose from a variety of sports, including hockey, gymnastics, baseball, and soccer, to name a few.
How to get involved
One of the most accessible ways to get involved is through your local recreational centre. Here you might find basketball courts, a pool, running tracks, and studios for martial arts and dance. You will also have access to sports equipment.
You can drop in and play casually or register for a tournament or league. Community centres, like the YMCA, organize one-day tournaments or competitions that last a few weeks. You can sign up on your own and be placed on a team or register as a team with your friends. For children, recreational centres often offer lessons to learn various sports, such as swimming, basketball, and soccer. At any age, participating in these types of physical activities is a way to meet new people, while staying active.
To find the recreational centre closest to you, you can contact your municipal government and ask about the local sports facilities. You can also use the Services Near Me tool on settlement.org. Fill in your postal code and search “community centre” or “recreational centre.”
If you’re a more seasoned athlete or you want to sign your children up for a competitive sport, there are many programs available. These vary depending on your area. Children can try-out for sports teams and compete through school, or they can join a community team. If you’re having trouble finding a team to join, try asking other parents at your child’s school, your neighbours, or inquiring on social media about where to register.
How much do sports cost?
Most community and recreational centres require entry or membership fees. This will vary depending on the community centre. At the Toronto YMCA, for example, an adult membership costs $59 per month, and a family membership costs $99 per month. There is also a one-time $85 joining fee. For occasional use or to test out the facilities, you can get a day pass available at $16 for adults and $7.50 for children.
Competitive sports also come with a price tag, and some are more affordable than others. A season of children’s soccer costs about $250, while a season of hockey costs about $750. Between registration fees and purchasing equipment, sports can get expensive.
As a newcomer, sports may not be a top priority in your budget, but there are options to remedy the cost. Your local community centre might offer a membership subsidy. If you qualify, the YMCA reduces fees by up to 50 per cent. You can also access grants from your community. Newcomers in Toronto can apply for the Welcome Policy, which provides funds for recreational use. Contact newcomer services to find out if there is funding for recreation available in your area.
Barriers in sports
Cost is just one barrier you may have to overcome in sport, and currently the pandemic is a prominent one. Recreational centres are closed, and competitive sports can’t run due to the closure of indoor facilities. What are your options for participating in physical activities safely?
Well, they are currently limited, but outdoor spaces are still open. Parks are an option for a hike in the snow, and you can practise your skating skills at outdoor rinks.
Besides the pandemic, you may encounter other challenges in accessing and participating in sports.
As a newcomer, you may face difficulties related to the costs and time needed to participate in physical activities. You may also feel unfamiliar with organized sports in Canada and be unclear as to where and how to register. There are also barriers that affect women and girls, seniors, people with disabilities, and people who identify as LGBTQ+. For newcomers who identify with one or several of these groups, these barriers can accumulate. For example, newcomers who are LGBTQ+ may overcome their unfamiliarity with Canadian sports systems only to face homophobia when they finally join a team.
Exclusion and inaccessibility can occur in sports, especially for vulnerable groups like newcomers.
If you have trouble accessing sports because of your culture or identity or feel excluded while participating, there are programs specifically designed to make sports more equitable.
Home Ice Hockey, for example, is a non-competitive program for newcomer children in Toronto. Hockey is a major aspect of Canadian culture, but it is also one of the most inaccessible. It requires expensive equipment and prior ability to skate. Additionally, there are gender barriers preventing girls from playing hockey. In general, women are underrepresented in professional hockey, and some newcomer parents say that hockey is too violent for their daughters to play.
This program fights these barriers by offering free access to equipment, skating lessons, and organized games. They also have two girls-only locations that provide a safe space for newcomer girls to try the sport.
Find the sport that’s right for you
It is no coincidence that many athletic programs targeted toward newcomers focus on hockey, Canada’s national winter sport. Sports help you feel more integrated into Canadian culture or more comfortable in your settlement process.
But you’re not limited to popular Canadian sports like hockey and basketball. As a multicultural country, many international sports have a thriving presence here. Soccer is popular around the world, and Canada is no exception. In fact, for many Canadian children, playing in a soccer league is a rite of passage. There are also other sports available like cricket, table tennis, and badminton which are dominated by newcomers.
The Ontario Cricket Academy, for example, was founded by Canadian cricketer Derek Perera, and many of the coaches in the club are newcomers themselves. This club is popular with newcomers and newcomer families who want to play a familiar sport at an advanced level.
Playing a sport that is popular in your home country, but not so much in Canada, means you may not meet as many Canadian-born people. Don’t let this stop you from playing the sport you love. Adjusting to Canadian life can be difficult; building a support network of other newcomers can help with the settlement process.
Sports are not a requirement to be included in Canadian culture, but it’s a fun option for staying fit and making connections. Don’t be afraid to try different options and find a sport that’s right for you.