Shift the Coversation: Leisure and Culture

The leisure and culture domain embraces free time and engagement with arts, culture, and recreation.  This domain acknowledges the significant contributions to wellbeing  that this engagement makes.

Latin Men United

If there is one thing that the Spanish-speaking men living with life challenges in the Davenport-Perth area have in common, it is a deep love for soccer. Soccer, like many forms of leisure and culture, contributes to the experience of health and wellbeing by improving physical fitness and mental health, creating social connections, and giving the opportunity to have fun outdoors.

When a health promoter at the Davenport-Perth Community Health Centre conducted a survey of this population, she learned that like many populations CHCs across Ontario serve, these men were experiencing difficulties in accessing any health related programs and services, including oral health, health promotion, mental health, housing, employment and justice services. On top of this, these men had no welcoming spaces where they could “hang out,” without receiving complaints about loitering.

Through conversations, several men expressed their excitement about the prospect of being involved in a soccer group. With the help of volunteer coaches, the Latin Men United soccer program was formed in June, 2013.

Although the program is in its infancy, there are early signs of a positive impact.

By taking a harm reduction approach, the soccer program meets the participants where they are at and does not require sobriety. While many of the participants would initially come to the practices to have an outlet to socialize and drink, over time as the group began to take leadership over the program, they decided by consensus that there is to be no drinking on the field, in order to respect those who show up to play soccer. As of July 2013, the past 2 practices have been completely “dry,” as a result of this peer-leadership and self-regulation.

According to some of the players’ feedback to the program staff, playing soccer has greatly increased their level of physical activity and soccer skills. There also appears to be an increase in self-confidence, social support and access to programs and services offered by the CHC. The players have demonstrated their commitment to the program by requesting that it continue indoors in the winter and that they enter a recreational league.

There are several partnerships being formed through this initiative. The CHC has begun partnering with the Centre for Mental Health and Addictions and Alcoholics Anonymous to provide resources and counselling regarding addictions. There is also a partnership with Unison Community Health Centre’s diabetes program to improve cooking and healthy eating to fuel the avid soccer players. Finally, through a partnership with Community Legal Education Ontario, the participants are getting access to education about their legal rights.

Although the Latin Men United soccer program only just begun, there is evidence that is has responded to a demonstrated need by providing an outlet for leisure and culture in order to build community and personal capacity for leadership, access to services, and a sense of belonging while also improving physical health outcomes.