Research Summary

A Framework for Planning Youth Sport Programs that Foster Psychosocial Development

2005

A Framework for Planning Youth Sport Programs that Foster Psychosocial Development

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YouthREX Research Summaries ask Just Six Questions of research publications on key youth issues. These summaries get at what the youth sector needs to know in two pages or less!

1. What was this research about?
Over 40 million youth in America regularly participate in athletic or sporting programs. Participating in sport is commonly thought to help contribute to positive youth development through the development of skills and attitudes. However, there is also contradictory evidence that suggests sports involvement can have a negative impact when youth development is not intentionally integrated. This research identifies specific elements, which it proposes as a framework, that, when incorporated into the design and implementation of youth sport or athletic programs, can create ideal environments where young people are likely to develop positive skills and attitudes.

2. Where did the research take place?
This article reviews research that took place in the United States.

3. Who is this research about?
This research is about youth participating in sport and how to best design and implement programs that will assist in positive psychosocial and life skill development.

“Youth sport programs that promote psychosocial development are those that use sport as a vehicle to provide experiences that promote self-discovery and teach participants life skills in an intentional and systemic manner. In addition, these programs have clearly defined goals and strategies to enhance the generalizability and transfer of life skills to other important life domains. This definition serves as the cornerstone of our youth development through sport framework” (p. 66).

4. How was this research done?
This research is an overview of the current literature on the psychosocial benefits of youth participation in sport, which the researchers integrate to propose a framework for developing sport programs that enhance youth’s psychosocial development. In addition to the framework, the authors provide suggestions for conducting research and evaluation of the programs that use the framework.

5. What are the key findings?
The researchers found that positive psychosocial progress is most likely when, “young people are (a) engaged in a desired activity within an appropriate environment (context), (b) are surrounded by caring adult mentors and positive group or community (external assets), (c) learn or acquire skills (internal assets) that are important for managing life situations, and (d) benefit from the findings of a comprehensive system of evaluation and research” (p. 67).

The researchers provide suggestions for how to best develop programs that create the ideal environment, or context, for positive psychosocial development. First, they suggest that sport programs should be designed in ways that fosters a sense of initiative and self-motivation in youth. Second, youth should feel valued within their groups, and their roles should have some importance, not only to them, but to their peers. Third, activities should have clear rules, goals, and incentives, all while being voluntary.

In addition to a sport context that promotes psychosocial development, youth also benefit from external assets like close relationships with adult mentors, parental monitoring, and participating in community service opportunities.

Youth programs should offer activities and opportunities for youth to develop internal assets. These include providing opportunities for goal-setting and problem-solving. The program should help youth to develop a sense of identity and purpose, as well as a confidence in themselves, which extends beyond the realm of sport.

The researchers argue that embedding evaluation within the program is a necessity. An inclusive evaluation plan, which uses standardized evaluation instruments, should be used. The evaluation should be designed in a way so that results can be compared across programs.

6. Why does it matter for youth work?
Physical activity and sport participation is very popular and offers an opportunity for facilitating a range of positive outcomes for youth. This research identifies six key elements that can be incorporated into the design and implementation of youth sport programs. This evidence-based framework can support the design of youth physical activity and sport-based programs.

a) Youth Sport Program Context
The program provides a safe and supportive environment. Youth participate voluntarily, without coercion, and are valued by peers and program staff. The program is ongoing and provides activities that are structured with rules, goals, and incentives.

b) External Assets
Youth have positive relationships with adult mentors. Their parents set developmentally-appropriate limits, which they monitor and enforce. Youth have opportunities to participate meaningfully in their community.

c) Internal Assets
The program provides youth with opportunities to set goals and to develop social and problem-solving skills. Youth develop a positive self-identity and belief in a positive future. Youth are able to apply skills learned in the sport program to other contexts.

d) Research and Evaluation
Multiple dimensions of a program are evaluated over time using standardized research measures. The evaluation assesses program process, implementation, and outcomes.

Petitpas, A., Cornelius, A., Van Raalte, J., & Jones, T. (2005). A framework for planning youth sport programs that foster psychosocial development. The Sport Psychologist. 19, 63-80.

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