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Grad aims for social change through sports

Growing up with soccer, Dave Nutt once dreamed of playing professionally. Although a pro career never materialized, the recent graduate of SFU Continuing Studies’ evaluation program has found another way to shake up the game he loves—off the pitch.

As manager of development – operations at Canada Soccer, the  organization that governs and promotes the game nationally, Dave has developed and launched a new licensing program for youth clubs that he hopes will shift minds and attitudes in youth soccer.

“Goals are one measure of success,” he explains, “but there are other things that are equally important about the developmental process, and the holistic supports you put around the players so they feel safe, included and welcome, and have an enjoyable experience. All these things have become our new measures of success.”

To develop the new licensing system, Dave realized he’d need to build his understanding of the evaluation process. At a one-day workshop, he met renowned evaluation experts Mark Cabaj and Michael Quinn Patton and learned that both were involved in SFU Continuing Studies’ Evaluation for Social Change and Transformational Learning program.

Dave admits he didn’t know what to expect when he signed up. And on his first day in class, he wasn’t sure he even belonged in the room.

“I was sitting with people who came from completely different backgrounds who were measuring things that I considered to be a lot more important than the work I do,” he recalls. “They were working on things like anti-homelessness initiatives, health care, anti-poverty, reconciliation—all of these big, heavy topics that are so important in our communities. And then there was me, Dave from soccer! I told them, ‘I’m not changing the world like all of you are.’”

But his classmates disagreed, opening his eyes to the capacity of sport to touch so many more lives than other initiatives. “I realized that this is a social change project,” he says. “If we get sport right, it has the power to have a positive impact on millions of people across the country. It can help all of us.”

The support of his peers, as well as his mentor Mark Cabaj, was invaluable, says Dave, as he worked through the program over the course of a year. “Every time I wavered and thought I don’t know if I can do this, they were able to pick me up. Those relationships were as important to my experience in the program as the nuts and bolts of evaluation that I learned.”

Dave now applies what he’s learned to his everyday work, particularly his understanding of developmental evaluation concepts around the importance of relationship building and ongoing feedback, consultation and discussion.

“I feel a lot more equipped now to deal with that evaluation component of the licensing program,” he says. “For me, that’s what excites me and gets me out of the bed in the morning.

“By measuring the things that matter, we’re changing behaviours, and that really has the potential to change the way sport is delivered in Canada.”

By Kim Mah