Exploring Young Female Athletes' Perceptions of Their Modified Sport Environment
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Competitive engineering involves making modifications to the structure of youth sport (e.g., rules, facilities, equipment and competitive structure) to promote positive sport experiences and desirable athlete outcomes. Although this is a promising approach to structure youth sport, empirical evidence supporting competitive engineering has focused on skill development and performance, with little known about how athletes’ perceive these modified competitive environments. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore young female athletes’ experiences in their competitively engineered soccer environment. Seventeen recreational and competitive soccer players, aged 8-11, participated in semi-structured interviews that featured several visual qualitative methods (i.e., athlete-directed photography, an athlete drawing exercise, a pile-sort exercise and a photo-elicitation interview) to facilitate insight on their sport environments. Results from the athlete interviews revealed that the athlete’s competitively engineered soccer experience was perceived as being a unique environment that emphasized personal development, positive relationships with coaches, peers and parents, and the underlying enjoyment of sport. Results were summarized into five themes that fell under the overarching unique environment concept, including: (a) strong friendships, (b) supportive coaching, (c) evolving challenges, (d) emphasizing fun, and (e) family influence. One final underlying concept was revealed by contrasting soccer with other sport settings, highlighting that soccer was just one, of many, unique and potentially positive sport environments for the athletes. While athletes positively viewed the competitive engineering strategies and underlying philosophies they were exposed to in soccer, it is important to note that the athletes’ also reflected positively on the range of experiences, emotions and outcomes they gained from participating in diverse sport environments. These findings add to the youth sport literature, extending our knowledge of how modifications to the youth sport structure influence the athletes’ experiences, providing practical implications to further promote positive sport outcomes and experiences for young athletes.