Interpersonal Interactions and Athlete Development in Different Youth Sport Contexts

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Erickson, Karl
Youth Sport , Positive Youth Development , Sport Psychology
According to the 2008 Statistics Canada report on the extracurricular activities of Canadian children and youth, approximate 76% of Canadians under the age of 17 participate in sport. As such, sport represents a significant developmental experience in many young peoples’ lives. Whether this experience is positive or negative depends on a number of factors related to the specific context in which sport participation occurs. In particular, interpersonal interactions are known to be a significant influence on athlete development and may vary greatly across sport contexts. In youth sport, there are two primary contexts of participation: coach-driven organized sport and youth-driven informal sport play. The purpose of the present program of research was to examine the predominant interpersonal interactions occurring in organized sport and informal sport play contexts and their relationship to athlete development. Study 1 was methodological and presents the development and validation of an observational coding system designed to capture the motivational tone of youth sport coaches’ interactions with their athletes. Motivational tone represents a theoretically relevant but previously unexplored dimension of coaches’ interactive behaviour. Study 2 used the newly developed coding system from study 1 to examine the motivational tone of coach-athlete interactions in competitive youth volleyball, an organized sport context. Using a person-centred analysis approach, these coach-athlete interaction were then linked to athletes’ longitudinal development trajectories over the course of the competitive season. Results revealed significant differences in the coach-athlete interaction profiles of athletes on a negative developmental trajectory compared to athletes on a positive developmental trajectory. Study 3 was an exploratory observational examination of peer interactive behaviour in an informal sport play context. These interactive behaviours were examined with respect to athletes’ developmental outcomes. Results pointed to the social nature of participation in informal sport play contexts and the critical relationship between athlete competence and peer interaction tendencies. Overall, the results of the three studies comprising this program of research offered new information to further our understanding of interpersonal interactions and athlete development in different youth sport contexts but also identified several avenues requiring further research.
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