Leeds Beckett University
UnderstandingAndImprovingChildrenAndYoungPeople’sDevelopmentalOutcomesInSport-LARA-BERCIAL_Redacted.pdf (17.5 MB)

Understanding and improving children and young people’s developmental outcomes in sport: a psychosocial perspective

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posted on 2022-11-11, 10:14 authored by Sergio Lara-BercialSergio Lara-Bercial

Sport participation is widely believed to positively impact on the psychosocial development of children and young people. Due to the nature of existing research, a full understanding of this process is, however, lacking. The purpose of this thesis was thus two-fold: i) to establish the philosophical and structural foundations of the field to propose a way forward; and ii) to develop a comprehensive picture of the process of psychosocial development through regular organised sport participation. 

A variety of novel methodologies established that positivistic and post-positivistic epistemologies dominated the field, while quantitative methods accounted for the majority of research designs. Findings also revealed the predominance of negative views, emphasising the risks of participation and a fragmented structure divided in thematic silos. Based on the findings of the philosophical and structural analysis, a comprehensive and integrative, two-staged, case study was conducted based on an English youth performance basketball club, informed by Realist Evaluation. 

Findings confirmed that participation in a performance youth development sport setting can lead to a broad range of psychosocial developmental outcomes including self, moral, emotional, social and cognitive development. Significantly, the case study also reported the potential of sport to produce negative effects, such as low self-esteem, social isolation and decreased emotional wellbeing. Nevertheless, stakeholders were overwhelmingly in favour of the positive impact of the experience. Four principle concurrent mechanisms were identified: i) directing the attentional focus of the young person; ii) engaging in structured and unstructured skill building activities; iii) providing deliberate and incidental support; and iv) regularly experiencing personal growth. Findings point towards an understanding of sport-based personal development as the deliberate and/or incidental continuous acquisition and maintenance of positive attitudes and behaviours moderated by the young person’s internal disposition and the environment’s contextual features. While sport is not a ‘one-size fits-all’, many of the elements that contribute to positive development stem from when coaches and sport clubs become more ‘deliberately developmental’.


Qualification name

  • PhD


Duffy, Pat ; McKenna, Jim

Awarding Institution

Leeds Beckett University

Completion Date


Qualification level

  • Doctoral


  • eng


Leeds Beckett University

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