Promoting Sportsmanship in Youth Basketball Players: The Effect of Referee’s Prosocial Behavior Techniques


  • Skye G. Arthur-Banning
  • Karen Paisley
  • Mary Sara Wells


Sportsmanship, Referees, Prosocial Behavior, Youth Sport.


The attraction to professional sport and college scholarships becomes more and more prominent, competition and winning at all costs in youth games are beginning to replace the development of skills and values, building friendships, and respecting the sportsmanship aspects of the game. Leagues focusing on building values such as sportsmanship rather than simply on elite competition can help in this process. One underutilized resource in developing sportsmanship is the officials who oversee the game environment. This exploratory study examined the effects of referees’ prosocial behavior techniques on promoting sportsmanship in youth basketball players. Participants included ten teams of third and fourth grade students and seven teams of seventh and eighth grade students involved in a youth basketball league located in an urban community center. Two different sets of referees oversaw the game environments. The control referees were either hired from the local referee association or from the local community center. The treatment referees were trained in techniques consistent with prosocial behavior and, more specifically, norm reactivation. Observers collected data on sportsmanship behavior exhibited during treatment and control situations. Data were analyzed using hierarchical linear modeling techniques and revealed that teams who participated in games in which treatment referees oversaw the environment demonstrated more positive sportsmanship behaviors than those teams being officiated by control referees (t = 2.76, p = 0.01). This study provides some very clear, yet simple, techniques for referees to implement that will aid in increasing positive sportsmanship behaviors of the participants. In addition, this study can benefit recreation program facilitators by providing opportunities for league development and improvement. Implementing some of these techniques into the training agenda, such as explaining infractions to players and how to correct them, staff could improve the sportsmanship of the league. This could benefit the various recreation programmers and facilities because children having a better experience in a league are more likely to return to the league in following years. Parks and recreation administrators can further benefit from this study because of their influence over a wide array of events. Even though this research has not yet been attempted with various other sporting events, it is possible that it would be equally as effective.





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