Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

Promoting Character Development through Coach Education

Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

Promoting Character Development through Coach Education

Article excerpt

The primary justification for organized youth sports in the United States has been-and remains to this day-the development of children's character (Power & Sheehan, 2014). In the latter half of the 19th century, proponents of organized youth sports argued that adult-supervised sports could save children from the dangers of the streets and teach children the virtues of discipline and teamwork, which are vital to success in the workplace (Chudacoff, 2007). This belief in the character building potential of organized sports persists today, largely on the basis of testimony from former athletes. Yet alongside that belief is the ever-growing awareness that organized youth sports have become less about developing virtues than about winning, self-promotion, and profits. Bad to outrageous coach, fan, and player behavior has become commonplace. Lipsyte's (1995) often quoted epitaph that "Sports are over because they no longer have any moral resonance," may be as true about youth sports today as it was about professional sports at the close of the 20th century.

Character and Moral Development

Youth sports may be losing their moral resonance, but judging from the thriving youth sport industry (Koba, 2014); they are hardly over. Should we be concerned about the perception that youth sports have become more focused on winning than on fostering character development? Why should we expect youth sports to do more than teach children how to compete while developing their athletic skills? Contemporary scholars in the fields of moral and character education generally look to schools' curricula not to sports programs to provide moral, character, and civic education (Altof & Berkowitz, 2006). Well-run sports programs, however, have the potential to provide young people with experiences of group attachment and social responsibility with significant character-building potential (Power, 2015; Power & Sheehan, 2014). At a time of rising inequality and declining social mobility and social solidarity (Putnam, 2015), the need for such sports programs that can serve both poor and affluent children has never been greater.

To date, there has been little research that substantiates the notion that playing organized youth sports build character, at least insofar as character is understood to have a moral dimension (e.g., Bredemeier & Shields, 2006; Power & Sheehan, 2014; Shields, Bredemeier, & Power, 2002; Stoll & Beller, 2000). By a moral dimension, we mean what Lickona and Davidson (2005) have called "moral character," that is character marked by other-oriented virtues, such as justice and respect for the rights and welfare of others. Although there is a widespread interest in promoting character development through youth sports (e.g., Character Counts' Gold Medal Standards Campaign, CHARACTER COUNTS!, 2006) and the Positive Youth Development movement (e.g., Weiss, 2008), the view of character advanced in these approaches does not differentiate moral from performance character (Power, 2015). Following in the tradition of Kant (Kant, Schneewind, Baron, & Kagan, 2002) and Kohlberg (1981), we argue that achievement-related virtues, such as self-discipline, courage, and perseverance, are not virtues in the full sense unless they are at the service of the moral virtues, which are rooted in principles of justice and benevolence (see also Berkowitz, 1997; Power, 2015; Shields, 2011).

Piaget (1932/1965), Kohlberg (1984), and Damon (1990) have shown that morality develops throughout the lifespan as a function of social experience. They describe the process of moral development as a constructive activity that occurs through interactions within different macro and microcultures. Although most moral development research has focused on reasoning and judgment, moral functioning encompasses a wide range of competencies. Rest (1983) provides a helpful model, which identifies four major components of moral functioning leading to moral behavior: (1) moral sensitivity; (2) reasoning and judgment; (3) motivation, which includes responsibility and identity (Blasi, 1993); and (4) the execution of the action itself. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.