CBU Scores a Win for Research and Teaching: Meet Dr. Colin McLaren

Feb 13, 2023

Dr. Colin McLaren was a postdoctoral fellow at Nipissing University in February 2022 when he applied for funding to research youth sports and mental health. He never imagined what would happen next, when two positive outcomes came together to advance his academic career in a big way.

“I was living in Ontario, working on advancing my research program, with no connection to Cape Breton,” Dr. McLaren explains. “Soon after, an opportunity to join the faculty at Cape Breton University came along, offering the perfect environment for research and teaching in the field of sports leadership.” After talking to his partner and considering the possibilities, the couple made the decision to pack up their two preschoolers and the contents of their house and set their sights on this exciting opportunity.

Dr. McLaren joined CBU in July 2022 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Experiential Studies in Community and Sport. As he made his way to the east coast and CBU this past summer, he not only brought his expertise in physical and health education, but also research funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). His project, Leading ’Us’ to positive mental health: Investigating athlete leadership and mental health in youth sport, will look at youth sport teams as a vehicle for positive mental health promotion.

“Put simply, my research aims to understand how the identity we form as a member of youth sport groups relates to resilience – the perceived ability to overcome the barriers and stressors of everyday life,” Dr. McLaren explains. He adds that sports participation can become an important part of our sense of self and from what he’s learned so far, that’s something nearly everyone seems to agree with.

“The enthusiasm for sports in local communities is motivating for me as an educator, former athlete and youth sports coach,” says Dr. McLaren. “From the coaches, athletes, families and fans, Cape Breton is an amazing place to work with people who recognize the benefits of youth sports.”

Dr. McLaren will work with local community sport organizations, with a focus on competitive and recreational teams in the 13-18 age range. He says this age group is important for two reasons.

“First, because sport participation is in steep decline across adolescence,” he notes. “And second, there is an increased need for quality peer interactions as adolescents are seeking to expand their identities beyond the family unit.” Dr. McLaren hopes to contribute his research to sport psychology, coaching and youth development journals, but also to give back to the youth sport community in meaningful ways. “While I’m an educator and a researcher, I’m eager to make a difference by working with community members to translate my research into practice,” he says.

Dr. McLaren’s goal is to develop resources that will guide coaches, athletes and youth sport stakeholders to create spaces for positive personal and social growth, while enjoying competition. He hopes to eventually share those resources during free workshops offered through CBU.

Dr. Tanya Brann-Barrett, Associate Vice-President of Research and Academic, says Dr. McLaren’s work is well-aligned with CBU’s priorities.

“It’s inspiring to see our new faculty pursuing research that supports CBU’s strategic focus on healthy and thriving communities,” says Dr. Brann-Barrett. “We’re excited to see Dr. McLaren’s research unfold.”

To maximize the impact of his research, Dr. McLaren is consulting with experts in the field of youth sport development from around the globe, including his former mentor, Dr. Mark Bruner at Nipissing University, as well as researchers from Belgium and Australia. He says he’s also fortunate to work alongside CBU’s Dr. Bettina Callary, Canada Research Chair in Sport Coaching and Adult Learning.

For his part, Dr. McLaren says he can’t imagine a more perfect start to his research and teaching career at CBU. “Although this project is a first step in my journey, I see an opportunity to support CBU as a core institution for mobilizing research and knowledge and providing further evidence that positive developmental experiences through youth sport can have long-lasting impacts,” he says.

Congratulations to Dr. McLaren on his research success and we hope he and his family are enjoying their first Cape Breton winter!