Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Talented Male Athletes: Exemplary Character or Questionable Characters?

Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Talented Male Athletes: Exemplary Character or Questionable Characters?

Article excerpt

The study of sport participation as a mechanism for positive development of youth and adolescents has centered upon the age-old debate over whether sport builds or reveals character. Examinations of sport in a developmental context have found support for enhanced physical and mental health (Steiner, McQuivey, Pavelski, Pitts, & Kraemer, 2000), psychological adjustment (Barber, Eccles, & Stone, 2001; Bartko & Eccles, 2003; Darling, Caldwell, & Smith, 2005), academic achievement (Barber et al.; Bartko & Eccles; Darling et al.; Whitley, 1999), emotional regulation (Hansen, Larson, & Dworkin, 2003; Larson, Hansen, & Moneta, 2006), and positive occupational outcomes (Barber et al.; Bartko & Eccles; Darling et al.). In contrast, additional research has pointed to aggressive and violent tendencies (Conroy, Silva, Newcomer, Walker, & Johnson, 2001; Endresen & Olweus, 2005; Rees, Howell, & Miracle, 1990; Widmeyer, Bray, Dorsch, & McGuire, 2001), increased alcohol use (Barber et al.; Bartko & Eccles; Darling et al.), problem behavior (Bartko & Eccles), negative peer and adult interaction or pressure (Hansen et al.; Larson et al.), and decreased moral reasoning (Belier and Stoll, 1995; Rees, 2001; Shields & Bredemeier, 2005; Shields, Bredemeier, & Power, 2002) as several associated costs of participation in sport. In addition, an increasing prevalence of popular press have documented what appears to be an escalation of inappropriate behaviors by athletes that suggests sport participation in and of itself should not be viewed as either a positive or negative correlate of positive development.

Wankel and Berger (1990) noted, "Sport, like most activities, is not 'a priori' good or bad but has the potential for producing both positive and negative outcomes" (p. 167). Sport has been shown to be a positive developmental context for youth if taught, organized, managed, and led in a manner consistent with sound developmental principles (e.g., Brunelle, Danish, & Fomeris, 2007; Petitpas, Van Raalte, Cornelius, & Presbrey, 2004; Rutten, Stams, Biesta, Schuengel, Dirks, & Hoeksma, 2007). Although the benefits of sport participation have been of interest for some time, little research has examined the benefits of sport participation within the framework of positive youth development (Fraser-Thomas, Cote, & Deakin, 2005; Petitpas, Cornelius, Van Raalte, & Jones, 2005). Over the last decade, the collective discourse towards youth has shifted from a deficit-oriented approach where youth were viewed as problems to be fixed to a more positive mentality in which youth are viewed as resources to be developed (see Benson, Scales, Hamilton, & Sesma, 2006; Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, & Hawkins, 2004; Damon, 2004; Lerner, Almerigi, Theokas, & Lerner, 2005a; Lerner, Brentano, Dowling, & Anderson, 2002; Pittman, Irby, & Ferber, 2001). This shift in thinking and the accompanying theoretical framework underlining the shift has been coined positive youth development (PYD).

Positive youth development is comprised of the following developmental indicators that form the conceptual basis for the theoretical perspective (known collectively as the "five C's"): connection, character, competence, confidence, caring or compassion (Lerner, Fisher, & Weinberg, 2000; Pitman et al., 2001). Proponents of PYD view all youth to possess the potential to develop into contributing adult members of society (Benson, 2002; Benson & Pittman, 2001; Damon, 2004; Park, 2004). Based on developmental systems theory, individuals are deemed active and dynamic agents engaged in a bidirectional process with their community contexts (Lerner, 2002). Although there appears to be a consensus in the literature that youth should be viewed as resources to be developed, there is little more than speculation as to how sport can facilitate positive youth development. …

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