To improve the experiences we provide young athletes, we need attitudinal change within the youth sport space. But challenging long-established ideas and behaviours is rarely easy. Thus, a collaborative approach, driven by a collective of sport leaders, administrators, coaches, and parents is required.
Below, we explain why attitudinal change is necessary if we’re to optimise our sporting environments — and how we can effectively implement that change in order to enhance the experiences of all youth sport participants.
Why Do We Need Attitudinal Change?
To understand the need for attitudinal change in youth sport, we must first appreciate the key benefits that sport can provide when it is delivered effectively:
- Helping individuals to improve, and sustain, their health and wellbeing.
- The positive psychological impact of enjoyable sporting experiences.
- Providing environments for individuals to grow and develop holistically.
- Giving individuals a sense of belonging.
- Connecting communities.
These benefits underline the invaluable role that sport can play in the lives of young people. But we undermine many of these positive outcomes when our sporting environments place undue emphasis on winning, or if we allow other high-performance narratives and behaviours creep into the youth sport space. Thus, attitudinal change — whereby all of sport’s positive aspects are promoted alongside competition and winning — is required.
Achieving Change Within Youth Sport Organisations
The first step to achieving meaningful change is often to critically reflect on our current approach; consider what you believe to be the purpose of youth sport, or why the young people you know choose to participate; ask participants the same questions and compare their answers to your own; this type of reflection helps to highlight our own assumptions about how and why we deliver youth sport, and provides a basis for identifying potential areas for change within our existing programmes.
Attitudinal change is a collective process. Therefore it’s essential that we use evidence, research, and relevant stories (for instance, where similar changes have produced positive outcomes elsewhere) to inform our decision-making and achieve the buy-in of other adults within our organisations.
Similarly, connecting individuals from different sports, environments, and roles can facilitate the sharing of different perspectives, while also emphasising the importance of both attitudinal change and collective leadership.
Key steps you can take to implement change within your organisation include:
- Consider change-management principles, such as Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model, to lead and support change.
- Allow time and space to plan how you will implement change.
- Use behaviour-change strategies to explain the need for attitudinal change and compel individuals within your organisation to act. This could include weaving evidence and stories in order to present your standpoint.
- Educate all stakeholders within your organisation about the need, and justifications, for change. This could include initiatives such as coach development, team meetings, and increased parent engagement.
- Work with other organisations — for example, schools, clubs, and programmes from other sports — to reinforce key messages within the wider sporting community.
Finally, we must appreciate that attitudinal change is a process requiring patience and persistence; significant adjustments to our programmes and organisations will take time, and need multiple points of intervention. This means effectively communicating and explaining changes to participants, parents, and coaches; aligning our external messaging (such as newsletters and social media posts) with any revisions to our overarching philosophy; and adjusting all adjoining parts of our programmes where necessary, to ensure coherence across our entire organisation.
By taking these steps — and thereby implementing collective attitudinal change throughout the youth sport space — we can improve the experience we give young people, and harness the full array of benefits that youth sport can provide.
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