Rural Communities and the Need for Recreation and Physical Activity

By Stephanie W.

Many would consider recreation and physical activity as being part of some of their fondest memories growing up and over the summer months. For me, having grown up in a very rural community, recreation and sport opportunities were almost non-existent outside of the school atmosphere. Going back to work in this same community during the summer as the coordinator for a summer camp has been both interesting and sad to see how this is the only recreation program in the community that is being offered. Having this program themed around fishing it makes it difficult for the children who do not enjoy fishing. They have to either decide to come to the program anyways or not be involved in a camp or recreation activity during the summer months. Within the community there are also not any after-school programs offered for children. Due to this while I was in high school myself and a friend were able to start an after school program for children in Grades Kindergarten to 5. During this time children were able to have an hour after school to play games in the gym and also play some organized sports such as soccer or basketball. The children all loved it and were both happy to have something to be active at after-school, but also burn off some energy. After we had moved on from high school though, the program also ended. This is why I chose to dig deeper into why recreation programs are so crucial to youth development, especially in rural communities where there is usually less opportunity.

Within an article by Shores, Moore, and Yin (2010) this topic of physical activity and participation in rural communities was researched and discussed. During this study they looked at this idea from many different perspectives and how the lack of opportunity or access to these services affected the children in many different ways. One of the conclusions that they found was that youth in rural areas on average were less likely to participate in physical activity. One of the reasons they found for this was that children living in rural areas had less access to physical activity areas due to it not being within walking distance or not having access to them at all.  In saying this, youth with the lowest participation rates in these types of activities, also had low levels of self-efficacy, social support, and poor access to activity areas. Factors such as self-efficacy and social support are so important to youth development and this article proves how the access to physical activity needs to be there so children and youth can take advantage and benefit from these opportunities.

From my own experience growing up in a rural community, once I was old enough in middle school to start playing sports, I jumped at the opportunity. Throughout middle and high school, my own self-efficacy and feeling of social support did begin to increase as well.  Being able to choice what I wanted to be part of outside of school and to have people willing to help me in this and also support me through my activity had a very positive impact on my life. If I had of had these opportunities at a younger age, this might have helped me develop these skills earlier on as well. In saying this, some children my age did not like the competitive side of these school sports as well and having a more recreation version of sports or physical activity within our community would have gotten more children and youth out and being active within a safe and positive environment.

My suggestion to parents and people within the community would be to push for these types of programs. If no one shows the interest or need for recreation programs then the community will not put them in place. As seen above there are not only benefits to these programs, but there can also be major consequences to their development if these are not available to children. Within small communities even if there are not the funds to build recreation centers or create programs, there are always simple options. Having supervision in a free gym time during summer months or after school is both cost efficient and easy for people to organize. This would give children time to have fun, play sports or games, and also interact with both other children and older adults in the community to form positive relationships. As we have found in our class and I am sure many can speak from personal experience that having these basic resources can be so beneficial to children later on in life and also in personal development.


Shores, K. A., Moore, J. B., & Yin, Z. (December 07, 2010). An Examination of Triple Jeopardy in Rural Youth Physical Activity Participation. The Journal of Rural Health, 26,4, 352-360.


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4 Responses to Rural Communities and the Need for Recreation and Physical Activity

  1. rachben1 says:

    I can strongly relate to this blog post, as I am also from a rural community and have participated in sport my whole life. Where I live there are also no after school programs or summer camps offered. As a child my mom always had to hire a babysitter for me during the summer months. I missed opportunities to interact and build friendships at camps with other youth. Also as I got older we would have practice after school and living so far out of town I would have no way of getting home. My mom would either have to leave work early or I would have to wait for an hour after practice until she could come and pick me up. When I wanted to play on a competitive hockey team I had to travel far from my community to find that opportunity, which also meant travelling even further for games.

    I understand that funding is always a major issue that rural communities face. However, I think it is extremely important that all youth have equitable access to after school and camp opportunities. These types of programs are a huge asset to youth development. As discussed in class they help develop social skills, foster friendships, introduce youth to a variety of activities and allow youth to develop positive adult relationships with program leaders or camp counsellors. I feel that youth living in rural communities have a disadvantage and we need to address this issue with greater concern.

  2. JamesWoods says:

    Although I can’t relate to living in a rural environment, I can appreciate the struggles associated with living in that type of domain based on the points you’ve brought up in your post. I feel as though transportation would be a major factor in accessing recreation services, as Rachel alluded to in the previous comment. For this reason perhaps a drive share program would be effective. Having a certain portion of the municipality’s recreation budget go towards a transportation service solely for people attempting to access recreation.

    Another issue you mentioned was simply the variety of recreation services available to the public in rural communities. This is where students graduating from our degree program will have the greatest potential impact. And you are definitely leading by example on this front. It is extremely important for RSS students not to ignore the increasing need in rural areas. Even though working in larger municipalities may seem intuitively attractive, we must also take into consideration opportunities in rural areas.

    Definitely a unique set of of issues, but surely something students in our field are equipped to handle!

    Great article Steph.

  3. phanley8 says:

    Great job Stephanie! I can definitely relate to this, having also come from a very rural community and being engaged in sports throughout my lifetime there.
    I agree with what both Rachel and James have said above too. I think it’s really important that kids, no matter where they’re from equitable access to recreation activities, after school programs and summer camps. I can think of all the sports I would have loved to have played growing up, but we didn’t have it at our school, or in our community. I would imagine that a drive share program would be effective in my hometown, as so many kids live “out of town” and have to travel to our high school, some kids even by ferry. These kids and many others in small areas just can’t make practice or games when they don’t have a way.

    It’s awesome that you’ve been able to work at your fishing summer camp in your community and see how the positive effects are on the kids. It would be a really rewarding summer job, that’s for sure. I think that the missed opportunities experienced by residents of rural communities need to be addressed on a larger scale, including things beyond recreation and sport opportunities as well. Your article definitely hits the points that need to be addressed, such as simple ways that are cost effective to get kids involved, such as with supervised open gyms.

    I think this is where we (RSS students) come into play, spreading the word just how important recreation and sport activities are and all of the awesome benefits children (and people of all ages) can reap!

  4. sportandrecenthusiast says:

    Being from a rural community in New Brunswick, I can definitely relate to this post. Generally, the population of the area determines what funding and resources are made available to that area. Therefore, smaller and more rural areas get left behind. I agree, that all children, including those in rural areas, should be treated as valuable and assets in the making.

    This is definitely an issue that often gets overlooked and requires greater attention. Personally, I was fortunate growing up that my parents were able to travel me outside of my community to participate in competitive sports and various programs. However, not everyone has the family support or means to travel outside of their community. Therefore, these youth do not receive the multiple positive benefits of youth development discussed in class, such as learning social skills, perseverance, time management, and creating a stronger self-identity.

    Elaborating on James’ comment, I think the idea of having a fraction of the municipality’s recreation budget allotted for transportation to recreation services is an excellent idea. Growing up, I would often carpool with friends and neighbours who were in the same activities. This opportunity isn’t always available to everyone and eliminating the barrier of transportation would be an excellent way to engage youth in rural areas more.

    Great post Stephanie, and good for you for reaching out in your community and not ignoring the need for the availability of recreation programs, in all areas! Hopefully, there will be more attention placed on this issue soon.

    Megan C

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