S(up)port your future! A salutogenic perspective on youth development through sport

Sabina Super

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

Abstract

Background

Sport is often recognised as an avenue for the positive development of young people. In line with this, policymakers and health professionals in the Netherlands, and elsewhere in the world, encourage socially vulnerable youth to participate in sport. Socially vulnerable youth are characterised as having an accumulated amount of negative experiences with the societal institutions in their lives, leading to distorted relationships with those institutions and, eventually, to feelings of isolation and low self-esteem. As socially vulnerable youth participate less in sport than their non-vulnerable peers, encouraging them to participate may support these youths in leading a healthy and productive life. However, to date, our understanding of the role of sport in positive youth development has been primarily based on research conducted in non-vulnerable populations and very little research has been conducted among socially vulnerable youth. The research that has been conducted for this thesis has been inspired by the salutogenic model of health, allowing us to examine the underlying mechanisms and processes of sports participation in alleviating social vulnerability.

Aim

The overall aim of this thesis is to unravel the value of sports participation for socially vulnerable youth. Four research objectives were formulated:

To provide insights into the mechanisms underlying people’s capacity to cope with stressors (sense of coherence) to underpin health promotion activities that aim to strengthen this coping capacity.

To provide insights into the relation between sports participation and youth development for socially vulnerable youth;

To examine if and how community sports coaches can create optimal conditions for the personal development of socially vulnerable youth;

To explore how socially vulnerable youth experience their participation in sport and the value they derive from sports participation in a socially vulnerable childhood.

Methods

This study has adopted a mixed-methods research design. More specifically, this study has used literature review (objective 1 and 2), questionnaire research (objective 2), semi-structured interviews (objective 3), and narrative interviews and life-course interviews (objective 4).

Results

The findings provide insights into the mechanisms underlying sense of coherence which reflects people’s capacity to deal with stressors in a health promoting way ( i.e., research objective 1). Sense of coherence consists of three components: the extent to which people experience the world as consistent and structured (comprehensibility); the extent to which people feel that there are resources available to meet the demands of everyday life (manageability); and the extent to which people feel that dealing with the stressors of everyday life is worthy of investment and engagement (meaningfulness). Based on a literature review of the salutogenic model of health, two opportunities for strengthening this sense of coherence in health promotion activities were identified: the behavioural mechanism and the perceptual mechanism. Both empowerment and reflection processes are important for the development of sense of coherence and can strengthen the healthy development of individuals.

The findings provide insights into the relation between sports participation and youth development for socially vulnerable youth (i.e., research objective 2). In the systematic review, it was demonstrated that relatively few studies have been conducted regarding the life skill development of socially vulnerable youth in sports programs and that the evidence that is available is inconclusive regarding the benefits of sports. In the quantitative study, a positive relation was found between sports participation and several youth developmental outcomes (i.e., pro-social behaviour, subjective health, well-being, school performance and sense of coherence) but not with problem behaviour and the self-regulation skills. However, no conclusions can be drawn about a causal relationship between sports participation and youth development based on these data.

The findings also demonstrated the crucial role of the sports coach in reaching optimal social conditions for life skill development and transferability (i.e., research objective 3). The community sports coaches mainly adopted an implicit approach to life skill transferability, meaning that they did not employ explicit strategies to stimulate the transfer of life skills from the sports setting to other societal domains. Nonetheless, the sports coaches believed that socially vulnerable youth could develop life skills in the sports setting that could also be used in school, the family or in the community. Coaching actions were directed at creating meaningful, comprehensible, and manageable sports experiences for socially vulnerable youth.

Finally, the findings shed a light on how socially vulnerable youth experience their participation in sport and the role that sports participation could play in a socially vulnerable childhood (i.e., research objective 4). The youths’ positive and negative sports experiences rested on an intricate balance of the extent to which they experienced visibility of their skills, the extent to which they felt confident while playing their sport, and the extent to which they felt sport was a nice challenge that they liked to take on. The roles that sports participation could play in a socially vulnerable childhood are diverse: sport as a safe place, sport as a learning experience, sport as an instrument to reach goals, and sport as a purpose in life. As the challenges that socially vulnerable youth face in the sports setting can resemble some of the struggles they find in everyday life, their negative sports experiences could also potentially increase feelings of vulnerability.

Conclusion

Sports participation can support socially vulnerable youth in their personal development, but we also have to remain critical towards to use of sport as a means to reach positive youth development. The results from this thesis provide a deeper understanding of the conditions under which sport can contribute to positive youth development and offers recommendations for professionals in the field.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Koelen, Maria, Promotor
  • Verkooijen, Kirsten, Co-promotor
Award date5 Oct 2017
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publisher
Print ISBNs9789463436489
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • sport
  • youth
  • quality of life
  • disadvantaged youth
  • health promotion
  • community health
  • coaching
  • child development

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