PhD Tessa Commers

Sport as an employability tool for persons in socially deprived situations


Promotors: Prof. Dr. Marc Theeboom, Dr. Jasper Truyens

01.10.2016 – 31.10.2020

This PhD will investigate the role of sport as a development tool for socially vulnerable youth. More specifically, the focus is on programmes using sport as a mean to increase employability. Special attention goes to young people who are not in education, employment or training.

Sport is gaining increasing popularity within intervention programs who focus on specific development goals such as certain health outcomes, increased participation in society or a better educational level (Spaaij, 2013). Sport has a great appeal among young people and can therefore play an important role in their development.

There is in fact a common belief that we can acquire certain ‘soft skills’ using sport and that these ‘soft skills’ are subsequently transferrable to the labour market. Examples are team working, leadership, fair play or respect for others, coping with winning and losing, mentoring, coping with stress, …

To assess the added value of sport within these initiatives, it’s necessary to explicit the systematics that underpin these programmes. This can be done by using the theoretical framework of ‘Realist Evaluation’. Based on this we can discover what specific activities, for whom and how they can have a positive impact on their employability. Subsequent to this, an analysis will be made of the work-related effects of these sport and employability programmes. Part of the research will take place in De Uitdaging in Genk, a sports-based initiative that uses sport as an employability tool for persons in socially deprived situations.

The core of these programmes is about raising the level of employability of the young people who are involved in these trajectories. As a result, part of the research project will be about validating the notion of ‘employability’. Employability refers to the chance of getting and/or maintaining a job (Forrier & Sels, 2005). The challenge will be to define what consists this chance.

Despite the growing popularity of these sport and employability initiatives, there is little knowledge of the specific mechanisms that cause ‘sport for change’ or ‘sport for development’ (Coalter, 2007). The aim of this PhD is therefore to gain insight into the way in which sport is used to improve the employment opportunities of socially vulnerable young people.