According to the National Council on Youth Sports, millions of youth in the United States participate in sport each year. Research and evaluation have further elucidated the role of sport in positive youth development (PYD) by specifying that intentional programming is key to facilitating PYD outcomes (Gould & Carson, 2008; Petitpas et al., 2005). Scholars have also asserted that the processes or outcomes associated with youth sport participation must be considered within family contexts (Kirk et al., 1997). The family context, however, has remained largely unexplored in research on sport and PYD outcomes. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the role and influence of families in a sport-based life skills program targeting positive youth development outcomes among an underserved youth population.
Thirty-six youth aged 7 to 15 participated in a Hockey is For Everyone (HIFE) program, the official youth development program of the National Hockey League (NHL) in the Southeastern United States. HIFE, which aims to provide youth of all backgrounds the opportunity to learn and play ice hockey, was paired with a specific life skills curriculum: the Sports United to Promote Education and Recreation (SUPER) curriculum (Papacharisis et al., 2005). The combined HIFE-SUPER program was delivered over 11 weeks. Parents were recruited via their children’s enrollment. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews of youth and parents. Themes emerging from the data suggested the sport-based life skills program and participants’ families were reciprocally influential, and that this may have shaped opportunities for PYD outcomes. Findings indicated that family members and family contexts were an active part of the acquisition and application of life skills. Parents and youth perceived changes in behaviors (specifically, increased competencies) related to the life skills taught in the program, and these changes persisted after the program ended. Family presence and family involvement supported the acquisition and application of life skills, and youth participation in the program created opportunities for bonding and reinforcement and recognition of positive changes within families.
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