Experiencing Learn-to-Curl Leagues: A Qualitative Case Study Analysis of Adult Introductory Sport Programs
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Understanding the new sport experiences of adults is key to addressing declining Canadian sport participation and physical activity levels. Specifically, well-organized and engaging introductory sport programs may increase the likelihood of adults enrolling in new sports. This exploratory study examined the experiences of new sport participants in two adult learn-to-curl leagues. Using a qualitative case study methodology, two cases (the Redwood Curling Club and Shaw Curling Clubs) were examined using twenty-four qualitative in-depth interviews, four photo elicitation interviews, participant observation, and reflexive journaling. Study participants included new curlers, instructors, organizers, and administrators. New curlers valued strengthening existing and forging new social connections, acquiring curling skills, and fostering a sense of belonging to their club. Issues of increasing program standardisation and different conceptualizations of change were important structural considerations. Also, the learn-to-curl leagues were not leveraging initiatives; but rather, were part of the clubs’ wider membership recruitment strategies. Yet, important leveraging insights emerged from these learn-to-curl leagues, namely cultivating positive introductory sport experiences for adults. Adults flourish in introductory sport programs that foster positive and inclusive spaces where adults can cultivate and nurture relationships through social experiences, acquire and improve new skills, and adopt and strengthen a sense of belonging to their club. Overall, organizers of adult introductory sport programs can implement and improve existing programs by focusing on these essential components of introductory sport experiences for adults. Future research areas include studying introductory sport programs through a social capital lens, as well as further unpacking how competence and belonging shape the experiences of new sport participants.