An ecological approach to examining positive youth development in competitive youth sport
Strachan, Leischa Augusta Teresa
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Research in the field of developmental psychology has highlighted the importance of structured activities in providing positive experiences and outcomes for youth. In particular, youth participation in organized sport has been linked to the development of physical, motor, and psychosocial skills. Although these outcomes have been discussed in the sport psychology literature, it is not clear how positive youth development may be facilitated through sport. An ecological approach was used to examine developmental processes, personal characteristics, contextual factors, and time elements that may be linked to youth sport participation and positive development. Study 1 used a quantitative methodology to examine the relationship between developmental asset possession and youth sport outcomes such as burnout and enjoyment. Of the eight asset categories examined, four emerged as significant predictors of burnout and/or enjoyment. Specifically, positive identity, support, and empowerment were linked to burnout and positive identity, empowerment, and social competencies were linked to enjoyment. Study 2 also utilized a quantitative methodology in order to investigate differences between a group of youth sport “specializers” and a group of youth sport “samplers”. Outcomes including burnout, enjoyment, and developmental assets were compared as well as experiences in sport. The groups did not differ in developmental asset possession or in sources of enjoyment. However, “samplers” reported more experiences integrating sport, family, and community whereas “specializers” were more likely to have more experiences with diverse peer groups. The “specializers” also reported higher levels of burnout (i.e., exhaustion) relating to their sport participation. Study 3 examined the development of positive youth within a sport specialization context. Through the use of interviews with elite youth sport coaches and practice observations, four characteristics (i.e., appropriate training structure, opportunities for personal and social development, opportunities for physical and motor skill development, and the presence of supportive interactions) were developed outlining how elite sport settings can enable the development of positive youth. This line of research highlighted the key role of the sport experience in promoting positive youth development. If youth sport programs are delivered with an emphasis on skill development in conjunction with the growth of key assets and an appropriate contextual experience, young people have the potential to emerge as healthy, secure, and positive citizens who feel valued and invested within their homes and communities.