PhD Hebe Schaillée

More than just a game? The potential of sport programmes to foster positive youth development among disadvantaged girls.

Doctoral dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor in Physical Education and Movement Sciences

Promotor: Prof. dr. Marc Theeboom



Disadvantaged girls are, compared to other youth more often confronted with negative experiences such as exclusion, discrimination and feelings of incompetence in their institutional contexts. Such negative experiences are often detrimental for the development of these young people. Sports are often recognized as an opportunity to engage disadvantaged girls in a leisure context and not just in terms of participation but also in terms of positive youth development (PYD). Although researchers have recognised that components of a youth (sport) programme related to the organisation or staff may be critical for developmental processes, this type of research is still in its infancy. Furthermore, it should be noticed that a vast majority of existing research is based on samples of middle-class white youth, often because disadvantaged youth in general and disadvantaged girls in particular are simply underserved in the domain of sport. The point of departure of this PhD study has been to explore which programme components are helpful, not helpful and could be changed to improve the effectiveness (in terms of fostering developmental outcomes) of sport programmes targeting disadvantaged girls.

The book is built around four separate research chapters. The aim of the first chapter was to explore the relationship between peer group composition in sport programmes and positive youth development (PYD) in disadvantaged girls and to determine whether this relationship was moderated by participants’ personal characteristics. However, the group composition is merely one component that may be critical for developmental processes. Another important programme component in youth sport programmes is the social psychological climate (i.e., containing all social mechanisms within a setting that help to shape one’s perceptions of what is valued). The motivational climate is one of these mechanisms that has an impact on an individual perceived competence. The aim of chapter 2 was, therefore, to investigate the roles of the coach- and, the largely unexplored, peer-created motivational climate in sport. Furthermore, we examined if, and how, coach- and peer-created motivational climates moderated the developmental experiences based on participants’ personal characteristics. Chapter 1 and 2 provided us with valuable information indicating that not all contextual variables (e.g., coach-created motivational climate or peer-created motivational climate) have a similar impact on participating youth’s perceived PYD.

To better understand the remaining contextual features that might positively affect the perceived developmental benefits of participating youth in the first two chapters of this PhD study, we have chosen for an alternative research approach. Consequently, the following research questions were formulated in chapter 3: ‘What are the perceived developmental benefits of disadvantaged girls and what are the social mechanisms under which these outcomes have been generated for this group?’. Identified mechanisms include observational learning, participants’ perceptions of coaches’ autonomy supportive behaviours and caring climate. In addition, we found that the inherent characteristics of urban dance provide a unique context for facilitating an autonomy supportive coaching climate.

Whereas the first three chapters have mainly focused on the experiences of disadvantaged girls in the selected sports-based programmes, the fourth chapter looks at the experiences of those who deliver sports for these girls. From this multiple case study, including six Flemish (northern region of Belgium) sports-based developmental programmes, we learned that such initiatives are in itself a very diverse category. However, despite differences between the selected programmes we have noticed a number of commonalities related to specific opportunities (i.e., possibility to engage in competition and additional activities) as well as elements related to the coaching climate (i.e., an emphasis on socio-psychological competence building, autonomy support and the coach’s perceptivity towards participants well-being and effort). These commonalities could be described as key elements in working towards developmental outcomes with disadvantaged youth.


 Powerpoint presentation used during the public defence.

 Table of content of the doctoral dissertation.

The first part of the doctoral dissertation of Hebe Schaillée can be downloaded here.