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Let’s get kids back in the game

By Jenna Caira

I’ve played softball since I was four years old. My memories are rooted in playing on my family’s driveway with my sisters, using a home plate my dad painted on the asphalt. Every time I think about my childhood, I was always outside, playing.

A powerful journey
As I grew up, softball grew with me. I feel blessed to have been able to see this through to the highest levels, the Pan American Games, the World Championships and, of course, the Olympic Games. But this story isn’t about medals; it’s about the journey: the incredible, incomparable adventure that sport opens up for children of any ability. 

Softball gave me lifelong friends with whom I’ve shared accomplishments and overcome adversity. It delivered many valuable lessons, from the ability to ask for help, to learning the power of teamwork and developing a growth mindset. Sport brings with it the people—coaches, teammates, opponents—all of whom support this journey. Yet nobody is more crucial to a child’s love of sport than their parents or guardians. 

Starting over
One story that sticks with me is when I moved to a different country at age 17 when my parents were transferred to Europe for work. For me, it was less about relocating and more the feeling of losing my connections to softball that had an impact. I felt adrift without my team structure, the training program, practices and friends I had come to rely on. It was then that I opened up to my parents and they helped me work through my feelings, re-build my sports life and continue to develop my talent.

However, my move to Europe is nothing, compared to the implications that COVID has had on sport and the lives of young people. The pandemic’s impact has been a staggering loss. In the first nine months of the pandemic we know that nearly 280 million hours of sport participation disappeared for kids in low-income households across Canada. In a Jumpstart State of Sport report from last March, three-quarters of parents, unsurprisingly, indicated that without their regular sports activity, their children felt both isolated and lonely. 

Let’s encourage sports activity
What we don’t yet know are what the long-term physical and mental health effects of this sport drought may be. As families and schools begin to return, I encourage all of us to do our best to make sure that sports activities are not sidelined in any way in the long-term.

Playing softball has impacted my life in a beautiful way and, as an Olympian, I’ve literally seen how sport can empower, inspire and unite—how it sparks communities to rally together, how it strips down barriers and how it brings out the best in all of us. Not everyone is an Olympian, but everyone deserves the opportunity to experience the joy, the benefits and the lifetime rewards of participating in sports.

Jenna Caira is an Olympic bronze medalist and three-time Pan American Games medalist in softball. She is a graduate of Syracuse University and Seneca College, an ambassador for Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, and a grassroots pitching coach in communities across Ontario where she focuses on Mental Performance.

Introducing your child to sport

1)Ask: Sport is a great place to empower children with choice. What would they like to try playing?

2) Get Moving: Set an example. You play a vital role in demonstrating the value of being active everyday as a family.

3) Volunteer: Be part of the community and help make grassroots sports leagues happen.

4) Give: Do your best to raise funds for a local sports organization.

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