08/31/2011 11:08 EDT | Updated 10/31/2011 05:12 EDT

The Power of Sport

One thing I really loved about this summer is seeing people of all ages being active. The sanctity of home or the indoor gym was traded for the park, swimming pool or bike path. I spent eight days with 24 teenagers, aged 16 to 18, from all over the world in the Colorado Rockies. We climbed a 13,000 foot mountain, hiked, camped, rock climbed, repelled and whitewater rafted. I absolutely loved the experience -- physical activity in the spectacular mountainous outdoors. And, even more so, I loved my time with these kids. What we shared was unbelievably special!

Next year, a huge event will add another layer of enjoyment to July through September, when the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games take place. Canadians will join others from around the world to revel in the drama and glory of the Games. The pride of where you live and where you come from will bring nations together.

But have you stopped to think about what the true common denominator of the Games is? It is not necessarily athleticism, competition or even patriotism. It is sport.

Whether at a global, national or grassroots community level, sport is a universal language that is understood by all. The boundaries of sport -- whether via its technical rules or acceptable behaviours -- are consistent. Sport has life lessons to teach, and if you are a participant rather than just a spectator, you gain even more. Unfortunately, sport participation is on the decline in our country. Over the past two decades, sport participation rates in Canadian youth aged 15 to 18 dropped from 77 per cent to 59 per cent -‐ and in adults, from 45 per cent to 28 per cent.

As you know, I always say that we are in the midst of a physical inactivity crisis and Canadians simply need to move more. Sport has a huge role to play in facing this crisis head-on for the simple reason of it being active at its core. But it provides numerous benefits beyond health improvement. Social benefits, including camaraderie, opportunities for mentorship and even crime reduction, can all be linked to the uptake of sports activities. Sport makes significant contributions to the well-being of youth -- socially, as well as physically.

Knowing all this, don't you think sport should have its own national celebration to honour what it brings to our lives? Well, it does! Sports Day in Canada on September 17 provides an opportunity for Canadians to showcase a passion and love of sport. The more we extol its benefits and highlight sports' principles of excellence, fairness, inclusion and fun, I hope the more Canadians will pick up the banner. Not just a banner for a community team or for Canada at the Olympics and Paralympics, but the banner of sport in general.

So next time you watch or participate in a sport -- and hopefully you continue to do so beyond the summer months -- think about what it does for you, your community and society as a whole.