PhD Pieter Debognies

Community sport for at-risk youth: Innovative strategies for promoting personal development


Promotors: Dr. Hebe Schaillée, Prof. Dr. Reinhard Haudenhuyse & Prof Dr. Marc Theeboom
1 January 2016 – 31 December 2019

Worldwide it is generally accepted that participation in sport can contribute to positive developmental outcomes (Coakley, 2011). By providing a site at which developmental processes may occur, sport is said to encourage young people to develop certain valuable personal and social skills that also could be useful in other educational and life domains (Coalter, 2010; Coakley, 2011). Community sport initiatives are potential settings in which personal development for at-risk youth can be achieved. However, an increasing number of researchers are starting to warn us about the risks of assuming that participation in any sport in any context inevitably produces positive outcomes for all participants (Coalter, 2013). Were correlations between sports participation and developmental outcomes have been found, the nature and direction of cause (e.g. selection effects) remains speculative (Coalter, 2013). Furthermore, less is known about other shortcomings of earlier published research, such as for example the limitations related to the applied theories, the used research methods and the studied research population. The mere part of the earlier published research only focused on individual behavioural or attitudinal outcomes and does not take into account the wider social structures in which young people live (Haudenhuyse; Theeboom & Coalter, 2012). Consequently, we still know little about the specific mechanisms through which sport participation may promote personal development (Coalter, 2010).

Inspired by a realist evaluation approach, the objective of this research is therefore to look into the mechanisms, processes, relationships and experiences in community sport initiatives that might have an influence on personal development. We focus on the following research question: What mechanisms and conditions in community sport initiatives can promote the personal development, mainly in terms of of education and employment, for at-risk youth?


This PhD is part of the SBO-IWT project ‘CATCH’ (Community sport for AT-risk youth: innovative strategies for promoting personal development, health and social CoHesion), carried out by Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) (research group Sport and Society) and Ghent University (Department of Family Medicine and Primary Health Care and the Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy). This research project is subsidized by the Flemish government, Flanders innovation and entrepreneurship (VLAIO).


Flemish Institute of Sport Management and Recreation Policy (ISB) (Vlaams Instituut voor Sportbeheer en Recreatiebeleid vzw (ISB))

Umbrella organizations

  • Demos
  • De Rode Antraciet
  • Groep Intro
  • Football+ Foundation
  • Formaat Jeugd en Stad (JES)
  • Kabinet Minister Muyters (Sport)
  • Kennis- en Informatie Centrum Sport (KICS) (Sport Vlaanderen)
  • Koning Boudewijnstichting
  • Netwerk Tegen Armoede
  • Uit De Marge
  • KRAS Jeugdwerk
  • Vlaamse Dienst voor Arbeidsbemiddeling (VDAB)
  • Vlaamse Sportfederatie (VSF)
  • Vlaamse Vereniging van Steden en Gemeenten (VVSG)
  • Vlaams Instituut voor Gezondheidspromotie en Ziektepreventie (ViGeZ)
  • Vereniging van Wijkgezondheidscentra (VWGC)