By Tamsin F.
Think back to the prominent leisure activities individuals engaged in within your home community. If you lived in a rural setting, it is likely that the choices that were available in terms of leisure activities were a lot more limited than what would be offered in an urban setting. Within those choices, you could probably identify certain activities that were deemed more suitable for you to participate in than other activities, based on a few key factors.
In my rural hometown, population 2,327, not only were certain activities gendered, but they were also socially classed (Statistics Canada, 2017). If an individual was from a more affluent family, it was almost a given that they would participate in hockey and/or dance, beginning from a young age. It was in these two activities that peer groups were formed, and individuals gained their sense of identity within the community. In terms of gender, hockey was played majorly by males or ‘tom-girls’, and dance was dominated by female participants. As individuals grew older, there were some shared activities between genders, but team sports were always segregated by gender. If a child’s family could afford the time and extra costs of accessing the recreation services in the urban center a half hour drive away, they had increased exposure to more diverse leisure experiences; in the types of activities participated in, and the increased range of participants. This leisure privilege, however, made an individual stand out over their rural peers who did not have the same opportunities. Within the rural community, there was limited flexibility on what was available for individuals who did not fit in the traditional gender identities.
The stereotypical image of a rural community being close knit is not an exaggeration. Within small communities, pressures to conform and fit in are often extreme. Rates of substance use among youth, which can increase the risk of developing mental illness, is experienced at a higher incidence within rural settings than in urban settings (Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 2015). Fear and perceived risk of going against the gender norm and facing exclusion from the community as a consequence, is a very real concern for many individuals who reside in rural communities. This anxiety may translate to participation in leisure activities that is very limited in diversity and range. A serious outcome of this mentality is the negative impact it could have on children’s and youth’s experiences within sport and recreation activities. Exposure to physical activity opportunities that occur in a caring environment, where the athlete feels supported by their coach and teammates, is considered to be highly influential in the likelihood of the athlete’s continued participation and commitment to the sport (Fry and Gano-Overway, 2010). Thus, it is crucial that programs and community members, adjust their messaging and attitudes around available programs to attract new participants who may not fit the traditional ‘ideal’ participant identity.
While it is easy to focus on the negatives and simply state that there is a problem within rural community recreation structures, advocates for wellness can identify strengths and opportunities for growth within the challenges a community may face. Parents, teachers, and community leaders can all be active role models and facilitators of leisure programs that are welcoming to all individuals, regardless of how they identify their gender. Having mixed gender leagues can be one way to encourage fair play, respect, and cooperation among children and youth in a community. Another strategy used with positive results, is the inclusion of quality physical education programming within the school day so that children have a barrier free opportunity to increase their physical literacy skills that they can then transfer to activities beyond the classroom (Stevens-Smith, 2016). By shifting the attitudes of the youth in a rural community, sustainable changes can be experienced. Additionally, a collaborative approach by community members is a necessity in creating more inclusive and supportive recreation environments for all individuals who live within this setting.
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. (2015). Urban and rural student substance use (report at a glance). Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Urban-Rural-Student-Substance-Use-Report-at-a-Glance-2015-en.pdf.pdf
Fry, M. D., and Gano-Overway, L.A. (2010). Exploring the contribution of the caring climate to the youth sport experience. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22(3), 294-304, DOI: 10.1080/10413201003776352
Statistics Canada. (2017). Beaverlodge [population centre], alberta and manitoba [province] (table): Census profile. 2016 Census. Catalogue no. 98-316-X2016001. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada.
Stevens-Smith, D. A. (2016) Physical literacy: Getting kids active for life. Strategies, 29(5), 3-9. DOI: 10.1080/08924562.2016.1205536