University 101: Homegrown Alberta Model designed to promote performance sport
Just as surely as the Golden Bears and Pandas logos are sewn onto the outfits of the athletes who represent the University of Alberta in their chosen sport, Athletics director Ian Reade says athletics will be sewn back into the fabric of the university’s academic mission.
A new strategy to reinforce the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation’s curriculum with athletics, and vice versa, is referred to as the Alberta Model, named for what is thought to be the first such sport development model at any Canadian university.
“It is really a throwback to the origination of how faculties of physical education came together to re-emphasize how we deliver sport,” said Reade, who along with Kerry Mummery, dean of the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, are the modern architects of the Alberta Model.
Reade says much of the heavy lifting for the Alberta Model was done more than a half century ago, when Canadian sporting legend Maury Van Vliet was named dean of the Commonwealth’s first faculty of physical education in 1964 at the U of A. A visionary, Van Vliet used his tenure to help orchestrate collaborations that would begin burrowing his researchers into virtually every faculty on campus, and put physical education and recreation students and researchers at the leading edge of physical fitness research. Nearly 70 years later, that vision is seeing them combating ailments long thought to be the sole domain of medical researchers, such as diabetes and cancer.
But Van Vliet never took his eye off the ball that was his faculty’s raison d’etre: sport. According to Reade, however, research into sport in Canada’s phys ed faculties in the years since Van Vliet’s retirement in 1975 has been replaced by the more fundable research into physical activity as it relates to health.
“More and more, when our teachers and our researchers started to talk about physical activity, they would talk about health, they would talk about the link between physical activity and health and obesity and cancer,” said Reade. “Funding agencies started funding more health-related things, and the faculties switched over to health and wellness faculties, and sport became secondary.”
Lately, thanks in part to the reinvigoration of performance sport by the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Reade says there is a little more money out there for performance-sport-based researchers. Money or not, however, Reade says performance sport is a good place for the U of A to be.
“When everyone else gets out of a business, sometimes that’s a really good opportunity to get into it,” he said. “The whole niche of the world that focuses on coaches and athletes and performance doesn’t get talked about very much. We’re trying to get performance sport back to a respectable place on the educational agenda.
“We are not trying to usurp recreational physical activity as that has allowed physical education faculties to really assert themselves; we’re just trying to say, ‘Let’s not forget that performance sport fits here too.’”
Reade says the idea behind the Alberta Model is to make sure the curriculum, “which is the foundational building block of the university, what the students experience every day, has both theory and application.
“We want our students to be able to study performance sport in the curriculum and get involved in performance sport in the community,” he said. “If you don’t have curriculum that is performance sport, you make it hard for students to go practise it.”
One example of the Alberta Model in action is the master of coaching program replacing the longtime master of arts (coaching) degree. Reade explains that this course-based graduate program deviates from the traditional thesis-based degree and gives students interested in coaching a chance to apply their knowledge.
Applying that knowledge will be made easier with the development of a high-performance training centre at the Saville Community Sports Centre located at the U of A’s South Campus. Here, Reade says, students will train athletes in concert with performance sport research.
“It is very much creating collaboration between performance-sport practitioners, who are the athletes and the coaches, and those studying sport and performance, who are the undergraduate and graduate students,” he said.
“Little bits of that are happening accidentally already, probably forever in our faculty, but what we’re trying to do is make it far more systemic and far more purposeful, while creating a financial base that will support it.”
In the end, Reade says, the Alberta Model is about creating a more relevant and engaged student experience.
“Anything that benefits the students benefits the university—you can’t separate the two,” he said. “We also fulfil more fully the community-service mandate; community athletes will benefit and ultimately I do feel it will generate more research money and more research productivity.”
He adds, “As an athletics department we are about performance sport; we recognize physical activity as being very important, but let’s not forget we have 550 athletes and 50 coaches and we’re just trying to do some performance things.”