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Tim Adams doesn’t love terms like ‘vulnerable’ or ‘at-risk’ or ‘marginalised’ to describe the thousands of kids he’s worked with these past 13 years.
Adams' preferred term? Kids. Just kids.
The founder of the Edmonton Free Play program, originally called Free Footie, believes in the potential for all kids to overcome life challenges, with a bit of work and a lot of play.
Adams was a CBC journalist in 1987 when he was sent to an inner-city school to cover a story. He was watching some kids playing soccer and thinking of his own childhood, where his love of and commitment to multiple sports kept him out of trouble.
He got talking to the school principal about the kids and their needs … and one thing led to another. He left the school that day committed to coaching the kids in soccer, but then ran into multiple complexities, roadblocks and challenges that led him to found Free Footie.
That program branched out into numerous schools and involved teachers as volunteer coaches. Getting kids to and from games was a challenge, as was raising money for basics — a problem that remains to this day.
Free Footie became Free Play when the games expanded past soccer, into hockey, basketball and flag football and involved thousands of kids each year.
At its heart, Free Play was designed to keep the kids busy in after-school hours, when their parents are still at work and boredom can lead to unhealthy decisions. Free Play also gave overworked parents a free pass on after-school care.
But Adams thought the program could offer even more. Sport is supposed to teach life lessons. What if the lessons were built right into the games?
Free Play now has the ability and the coaches to teach everything from mental health practices to social and emotional skills, such as regulating emotions.
Free Play continues to evolve into a program that focuses on personal growth and development, with numerous school and community partners.
Yes, Adams is proud that Canadian soccer star Alphonso Davies went through the Free Footie program. But he thinks there’ll be thousands of kids who will graduate into being great people and great citizens, if not great athletes.
Free Play is social innovation at its finest, emerging and growing in Edmonton. Its founder, Tim Adams, is our guest on the LiftEd podcast with Erick Ambtman and Scott McKeen.
About Tim Adams Tim Adams is the Founder and Executive Director of Free Play for Kids, a registered charity in Edmonton that harnesses the power of sport and play to teach social, emotional and mental health to 4,500 kids a year. Tim started the organization as a volunteer after finishing his shift as a journalist for CBC. Four years ago he flipped to make his volunteer life his full time job.