Developing young athletes the Green & Gold way

Innovative sports system gives kids skills to enjoy sports more—and potentially reach higher than specialized athletes.


To reach the elite level in sports, budding athletes have to specialize early and train year-round. Or do they? University of Alberta researchers are showcasing an innovative athlete development program that helps kids learn skills to enjoy sport more, stay involved longer and potentially reach even higher than specialized athletes.

With the aim of helping young athletes and coaches realize their full potential, the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation created the Green & Gold Sport System. Spearheaded by sport researchers and experts in the faculty, including Dean Kerry Mummery, Rob Krepps, associate director of sport development, and Nick Holt, associate dean of research, the system expands on the principles of Long-Term Athlete Development developed by Canadian Sport For Life.

10 ways kids benefit from sport

U of A researcher Nick Holt led a review of 63 studies looking at what kids can learn from participating in sport. He says these benefits depend on programs that intentionally focus on specific outcomes. Strong relationships with coaches, positive interaction with teammates and supportive parents are also essential to help kids develop physically, emotionally and socially.

Social benefits:

  • teamwork
  • leadership
  • communication skills

Personal benefits:

  • positive self-perceptions
  • improved academic performance
  • independence
  • personal responsibility
  • making good life decisions

Physical benefits:

  • basic movement skills
  • skills for healthy living

“The Green & Gold Sport system is unique in its multi-sport approach to sport development,” notes Mummery. “It is well known that specialization in a single sport at an early age is not related to long-term athlete success, yet many programs inevitably force these early choices. In the Green & Gold Sport System, the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation is able to bring its collective expertise and its world-class facilities to the systematic development of sporting skills across a broad spectrum of activities. The faculty has long been a leader in sports and recreation, and the Green & Gold Sport System will be a key athlete development program in Edmonton and region for many years to come.”

This past summer, for the first time, the university offered summer programming in 18 sports, from grassroots to elite levels, giving participants opportunities that could lead to their taking part in a wide range of fall, winter and spring programs. The 18 offered sports have three categories: early-entry, mid-entry, and late-entry, which provide participants with intentional opportunities to explore, engage and excel in their chosen sports.

Built to provide rewarding year-round developmental sport experiences, the Green & Gold Sport System will help participants develop in both sport and life.

"Sport can be used to help children learn a variety of life skills, but the delivery of programs must be intentional,” noted Holt, a major researcher in the field of Positive Youth Development Through Sport and chair of the research committee for the system. “One of the unique things about the Green & Gold Sport System is that it will use research evidence to inform the intentional design and delivery of its programs to teach participants life skills that transfer from sport to other areas of their lives."

One of the key components of the system is its AIM Program, which helps athletes build a strong general foundation to support their sport-specific pursuits. The program delivers an age-appropriate blend of physical and mental training that helps athletes get the most out of their involvement in their chosen sports. At younger ages and stages, the AIM Program uses carefully selected multi-sport experiences to build strong movement skills, and to teach values like fair play, teamwork, communication and respect. As the athletes mature, the focus moves progressively to sport conditioning and to a variety of performance-oriented mental skills.

"We believe that athletes at every age and stage can benefit from building and maintaining a strong general athletic foundation,” says Krepps, a former Canadian Olympic curling coach who now oversees the daily operation of the Green & Gold Sport System, as well as the Golden Bears and Pandas curling program. “That is why we have incorporated the AIM Program into all aspects of our athlete pathway, and why we are developing coaches to deliver the corresponding multi-sport physical and mental training.”

Green & Gold Sport System programming, from physical skills development to mental skills training, is led by experts in coaching, sport conditioning and sport psychology—all of whom work in the faculty or coach within Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics.

Not content with just developing athletes, the system also has a coach pathway that includes both academic and community routes, and is designed to give aspiring coaches the skills and experience to work with athletes at every age and stage of development. It fully integrates within the faculty’s bachelor of kinesiology degree, as well as the U of A’s world-renowned Master of Coaching program.

Registration for fall programming in the Green & Gold Sport System is now underway.