Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Preadolescent Female Development through Sport and Physical Activity: A Case Study of an Urban After-School Program

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Preadolescent Female Development through Sport and Physical Activity: A Case Study of an Urban After-School Program

Article excerpt

Youth development research has found that children become more engaged and benefit more from being incorporated as decision makers. Thus participation helps promote development and encourages engagement. Based in theories of engagement and free-choice learning, the current research focused on a program combining sport/physical activity, life skills, and mentoring while promoting healthy life choices for preadolescent girls of color. The co-investigators, all women, conducted two 2-hr visits per week for two 12-week periods with a group of 8 girls at a community recreation center in Hartford, Connecticut, including lessons in nutrition and life skills and participation in a sport/physical activity. Five of the girls completed every stage of data collection, including participant journals and four individual interviews with each participant and her parents, over the course of the 24 weeks. The co-investigators also kept journals throughout the program. The results reflected the following themes: self-esteem/self-worth, accountability/responsibility for self, connections to community and a sense of belonging, knowledge and acquisition of health/life skills, application of those skills, and planning and recognizing one's own influence on self and others.

Key words: community, life skills, mentoring, student athletes

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Youth development programs have transitioned from being prevention-centered to "identifying important predictors of problem behaviors" (Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, & Hawkins, 1998, p. 1). Youth development theorists and practitioners have come to the understanding that "problem-free is not fully prepared" (Pittman & Wright, 1991). Historically, the three most common approaches of youth development programs have (a) focused on treatment, (b) attempted to prevent at-risk youth from engaging in the undesirable activity through behavior modification, and (c) provided educational programming for those who have not yet reached the at-risk stage (Pittman, Irby, Tolman, Yohalem, & Ferber, 2002). However, these approaches do not always reach today's youth, especially preadolescents. There has been a shift toward incorporating socialization agents, such as caregivers, parents, teachers and other school personnel, peers, and community members, as primary to youth development (Catalano et al.). Using this person-in-environment perspective, the current program model acknowledges the importance of developing an understanding of the culture and community of the participants for positive developmental outcomes (Peters, 2002; Deyhle, 1995). Additionally, the mentors engaging in power sharing and encouraging active participation from the preadolescents as well as other socialization agents (i.e., parents, caregivers) help bridge the gap between simply preventing problems to promoting development and encouraging engagement (Pittman et al., 2002; see Figure 1).

Based in theories of engagement and free-choice learning, the current project sought to provide a "thoughtfully developed relationship-based program" (Rhodes, Grossman, & Roffman, 2002, p. 9) combining sport/physical activity and life skills while focusing on promoting healthy life choices for preadolescent girls of color. From there the associated research pursued four goals. The first goal was to look beyond prevention and a focus on academic outcomes by examining the self-evaluated health and life skills development of the participants as well as the evaluation by others close to them (i.e., socialization agents such as their parents). Second was to develop mentor relationships over an extended period of time, because previous research has found relationships of a year or more in duration produce greater positive outcomes (Rhodes, et al., 2002, p. 16). We operationalized the definition of mentor based on previous research on African American female student athletes: "I think if people look up to you for guidance and leadership, you are a [mentor]" (Bruening, 2004, p. …

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