Sport as an Intervention to Reduce Risky Behaviours

During this class we focused on how sport participation can be useful as a means to reduce youth involvement in risky behaviours.  By taking a look at three articles and the webpage of the organisation Up2Us , we critiqued their effectiveness, but also examined their benefits in light of social identity theory and the aspects it brings on in-group and out-group behaviours. Below you can find video showed in class and a summary of the articles in light of what we discussed in class.

“Theorizing Sport as Social Intervention: A View From the Grassroots”, by Hartmann (2003): The Case Study of Hawkins in Chicago:

This article focuses on a specific sports intervention in Chicago that is lead by Larry Hawkins. The focal point of this intervention was using sports as a “hook” to get at-risk youth to join the program. After the youth enter the program due to their sports interests, the next step is getting the participants to learn the skills and importance of education and academia. The author of this article argues that the success of sports-based interventions depends on the the strength of the non-sport components. Thus, having sports at the focal point of the intervention may not yield that positive results that a lot of grants or government stipends hope to occur.

During our class discussion we discussed the generalizability of this intervention in Chicago. The reason Mr. Hawkin’s program has been so successful is because he has dedicated his life to this cause, but can his program be replicated in a different area or with a different person in charge? We also discussed that the literature of sport-based interventions is very outcome-oriented, such as increasing self-esteem. In order for an intervention to be successful, don’t we need a theory behind it to support the ideology and structure of the intervention? Our class discussed social identity theory where sports can create an in-group and collective experience that can be very beneficial to youth inclusiveness and positive development.

Up2Us is a non-profit organisation founded by Paul Caccamo which focuses on sport as a means to improve the lives of children in the U.S. whether it manifests itself as reducing obesity rates or helping children avoid engaging in risky behaviours such as abusing drugs and alcohol. Mr. Caccamo believes that sport is the solution to youth in underserved communities, and Up2Us tries to serve them through Sports-Based Youth Development. This has 5 components: (1) Context, this component recognises that the human being develops in an environment and focuses on involving the parents, school, and community; (2) Programme, herein lies the factors which contribute to a high quality and intentional programming such as the opportunity to be active, an environment that is emotionally and physically safe, opportunities for recognition, and having a strength-based approach; (3) Administration, without a well-structured administration the programme cannot run as it needs to be financed, have a concrete goal in mind, have trained and qualified staff, procedures for human resources etc; (4) Safety, providing a physical and emotional safe space is crucial if one wants to reduce the prevalence of risky behaviours, and Up2Us has clear guidelines to help foster this; (5) Coaches, the coaches are the ones that will most likely interact with the children, so they need recognised previous experience and formal training in the core values of positive youth development (fair play, teamwork, and responsibility), age appropriate behaviour management,conflict resolution techniques, basic competency in their sport etc. These 5 components are there to foster the development of mastering sports skills but also life and leadership skills in a safe and encouraging environment.

Mr. Caccamo believes that children want a sense of belonging and attachment, and thinks coaches as role models to show these children that they matter through positive reinforcement is especially important. But why sports one might ask. Mr. Caccamo says that children want to be part of a sports team so getting them to participate in the programme will not be a problem. Instead, the lack of available sports programmes in their communities is what concerns Mr. Caccamo which is why he tries to offer this through Up2Us to reduce youth violence and childhood obesity amongst others.. In class, we discussed this in relation to the case study of Hawkins which is very specific. It seems that Mr. Caccamo has been able to take the sports component of Hawkins and expanded on it by also providing an opportunity for further education through Coach Across America where you can help coach for at least two terms. Another positive is that this programme no longer relies solely on Mr. Caccamo to keep going. However, we did wonder if having a positive role model and being involved in an activity is the issue that will help reduce negative and risky behaviours, can we not simply offer other activities rather than sports? Mr. Caccamo also claims that children want to be part of a sports team, but what of those who do not, how do we help them and get these children involved to keep them out of trouble?

Suggestions from the class as to how to get children involved were through making it mandatory through school, offer participation in an unnamed sport where the children make up the rules of the game, and making it attractive for the parents as a way of offering free childcare.

For more information on Up2Us and Paul Caccamo, please watch this video.

“‘Social Inclusion’ through sports based Interventions?” by Laura Kelly (2011)

This article discusses the idea that sports can contribute to ‘social inclusion’ strategies.  The article used interviews with operational staff, managers, partners and participants from a sports based intervention program in England and Whales called “Positive Futures’ to critically analyze the concept of ‘sports based interventions’, referencing four main themes : ‘sport for all’, ‘social cohesion’, ‘a pathway to work’ and ‘giving voice’.  The article argues that programs achieve different degrees of success in relation to the four themes stated.  This article discussing the effects of sports based interventions also highlighted some risks, for example highlighting individual deficits and deemphasizing structural inequalities.

In the class discussion about this article we discussed how many of these interventions were based on deprived neighborhoods, and how that these may not be the only children that need the help.  We also discussed the idea of ‘sport for all’ in great detail and how this may be an effective way to allow all kids to get involved if the activities are readily available.  The done side we found was when children who were not athletic and uninterested in sports were unable to get involved.  The question raised was “what do we do for those kids?”  This question drove many of our discussions including a group activity at the end of class allowing out fellow class mates to come up with many great ideas, such as allowing them to create their own games, or make the physical activity mandatory in gym classes but bending the rules of the game so that everyone could play.

“Moderating effects of team sports participation on the link between peer victimization and mental health problems”, by Perron et al. (2012)

This study explores the moderating role of sports participation on peer victimization and depressive symptoms. The study also examines externalizing problems and how youth sports participation is related. The study samples 1250 participants between the ages of 7 and 10 years. Children’s levels of peer victimization, depressive symptoms and externalizing problems were assessed by teachers, which is one type of operationalization that we discussed in class. We discussed a potential operationalization of some combination of self assessments and assessments of both parents and teachers. The results of the study illustrated that victimized children who participated in team sports showed fewer externalizing problems, and victimized children who often participated in team sports displayed significantly fewer depressive symptoms. Similar results were not apparent when victimized children participated in individual sports.

As previously mentioned, one reason that the class disagreed with the operationalization of the variables was that the teachers rotated every year, making them incapable of accurately assessing the students. We also discussed the formation of ingroups and outgroups in relation to youth sports participation. For example, team sports foster the formation of an ingroup, which is often a protective mechanism against peer victimization and depressive symptoms. This theme of ingroup formation came up multiple times in our discussion. It represents a unique psychological benefit of youth sports participation. Along with ingroups and outgroups, we were able to discuss inter-group dynamics vs. intra-groups dynamics when examining peer victimization within teams and between teams.

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