While sports-based intervention programmes for youth attract much interest, little is known about the underlying processes that might account for their impact on participants. Moreover, youth’s perspectives are seldom taken into account. The present article examines the underlying processes and key dimensions of sports-based interventions that contribute to the development of youth social bonds at the micro-social level. Such bonds are essential to reducing stigmatisation, discrimination and inequities. Our qualitative research presents a detailed case study on the sports intervention programme, DesÉquilibres. Results are based on the analysis of 27 interviews with participants, a focus group with 5 coaches and ‘observant participation’ of training sessions and challenges. We found that six elements are essential to DesÉquilibres: (1) Establishing a supportive climate; (2) Promoting collaborative strategies and group cooperation; (3) Striking a balance between outside rules and self-initiated actions; (4) Favouring collectivisation of individual performances; (5) Supporing the interconnectedness of e ort and pleasure and (6) Exploring beyond participants’ comfort zones. We conclude that certain conditions are necessary if the goals of sports programmes are to transform social bonds between youth, and between youth and coaches, in a positive and protective way.

Keywords

sports-based intervention; community sports programme; youth; social bond; qualitative methodology;

Introduction

When considering the impact of sports-based interventions on mental health, self-development and social functioning in adolescents, one must bear in mind the inherent complexities of sports for this age group as current evidence is not consistent. Several studies have reported the bene ts of sports for dealing with depression (Babiss and Gangwisch 2009), developing self-esteem (Kirkcaldy, Shephard, and Siefen 2002; Gendron et al. 2005; Bowker 2006) and promoting social functioning and relational aptitudes such as tolerance and compassion (Bailey 2005). Yet substantial evidence also suggests a cor- relation between sports and higher rates of delinquency and aggression (Faulkner et al. 2007; Gardner, Roth, and Brooks-Gunn 2009; Lemieux and Thibault 2011), behavioural problems (Endresen and Olweus 2005) or generally poor social and psychological functioning (Larson, Hansen, and Moneta 2006). The generalisation of the sporting experience and the absence of a clear de nition of what constitutes a sporting experience seem to explain the dichotomy in these ndings from studies interested in ‘development’ on an individual level (Coalter 2015). According to Hartmann and Kwauk, ‘sports pro- gramming and participation does not automatically and inevitably lead to prosocial outcomes and e ects; these e ects accrue only under the right or su cient conditions, with appropriate resources, and with self-consciously designed and directed programming’ (2011, 298). In other words, sport can be a vehicle for change, but it’s not always positive, and alone, it is not su cient (Hartmann and Kwauk 2011; Chamberlain 2013; Haudenhuyse, Theeboom, and Skille 2014; Coalter 2015; Gonin, Dusseault, and Hébert 2015).

A challenge in addressing these issues stems from a certain lack of clarity in the literature. A majority of sports programmes cannot concretely identify the processes by which they have obtained outcomes (Coakley 2011; Coalter 2015). Consequenlty, studies in the eld often do not clearly de ne and analyse interventions, which explains much of the di culty in developing a valid knowledge base (Coalter 2015). In the light of these critiques that justify some scepticism (Coalter 2015) we conducted research on the impacts of a sports-based intervention programme from the point of view of participants (Moreau et al. 2012). We demonstrated that the development of social bonds was one of the major success factors of the programme, which is based on the same model and implemented by the same organisation as the programme presented in this article (DesÉquilibres).

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