"Sport builds character" is a phrase often heard throughout Australian society,, but whether it really reflects what happens for young males through sport is debatable. This paper reports on doctoral research with young males. The stories of their sporting experiences provide rich insight into the ways that sport does, and does not, build resilience to facilitate the transition to adulthood and negotiate the adversities of adolescence.
Keywords: sport, young males, resilience, health and wellbeing
Young males in Australia face the prospect of negotiating a transition to adulthood and developing health and wellbeing through an increasingly complex relationship between the individual and their community. Young males are presented with a diverse range of alternatives for building resilience in order to negotiate this transition smoothly. The doctoral research that provided the impetus for the following discussion of health and wellbeing initially set out to explore the relationships between sport and civic engagement for young Australian males.
The age range for participants in this study overlaps a life stage most often referred to as adolescence, which represents a path of transition from childhood to adulthood. Developmental psychologists (e.g., Erikson, 1968; Hegel, 1971) describe adolescence as a life stage where, apart from struggling with the physical and hormonal changes associated with puberty, young people experience the turmoil of youth that he calls the "identity crisis." They say that this turmoil is most commonly experienced during the teenage years, and proposes that the primary tasks to be resolved during adolescence are those of seeking identity and moving toward independence.
This "turbulent" transition is often made more navigable through certain protective factors. Atwool (2002) identifies several key factors that contribute to a young person's capacity for overcoming adversity during this transition. First, there are individual characteristics such as high self-esteem, self-confidence, communication skills, conflict resolution skills, cultural pride, easy temperament, and a sense of belonging. Second, a supportive family plays a strong role, and third a supportive person, network or agency outside the family. That is, forming attachments to significant adults outside the immediate family system, including extended family, family friends, or adults in leadership roles such as those found in schools, church youth groups, sports teams or youth work services, also contributes to resilience. Worsley (2005) adds that any kind of skill that a young person has learned (and can rely on) contributes to their ability to survive adversity, and can include creative and performing arts, technical and manual skills, and sports skills. Finally, she argues that the peer group is an important dimension that, even when it is characterised by conflict, can still provides an environment in which young people can learn social cues.
Atwool (2002) and Worsley (2005) both agree that young people in transition who experience more of these protective factors are more likely to avoid or overcome adversity. The transition to adulthood is a complex path and young males are presented with a diverse range of alternatives, of which sport is one, for building resilience in order to negotiate the transition smoothly.
Cale and Harris (2005) provide a brief overview of some literature that links physical activity with psychological health. They cite research (e.g., Biddle, 1995; Calfas, & Taylor, 1994; Mutrie & Parfitt, 1998; Tortolero, Taylor, & Murray, 2000) that shows associations between physical activity/fitness and increased self-esteem, positive selfconcept, improved self-efficacy, greater perceived physical competence, lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and greater perceived health and wellbeing. Daley (2002) reports similar results in terms of sport contributing to a higher sense of physical self-worth. …