Exploring sport as a site for children's relational and socio-psychological development

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Shifting family structures within Western society have arguably led to the weakening of child-parent relationships (Putnam, 2000). Though the evidence on relational outcomes offered by more diffuse family units is mixed (Field, 2008), there is an argument that a neoliberal social ethos that emphasizes greater competition between individuals in the pursuit of narrowly defined social ideals (e.g., according to health, education and career progression) is leaving less time for child-rearing (Coleman, 1987; Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010). This raises the question of whether alternate arenas can support children’s socio-psychological development. This research will explore whether sport is capable of providing an environment that can foster the formation of meaningful human bonds. It will also interrogate the extent to which these bonds can yield the psychological benefits (self-esteem and self-worth, amongst others) the child once may have accessed through strong familial relationships. The research will draw on the theories of attachment theory (to explore what psychological benefits or deficiencies relationships provide) and social capital (to understand how and why relational quality is changing and arguably deteriorating). These concepts will be applied in relation to ideas on sport and neoliberal ideals. Given that relationship quality and the ensuing psychological development offered by the family may be eroding it is imperative to investigate the extent to which alternative institutions can replace it. Sport, as such an institution, is often used to promote youth empowerment, social action, safer communities and improved health and well-being (see “Access Sport,” 2004, “Kids Company,” 1996, “Street Games,” 2007). However, the spotlight has rarely focused on the importance of fostering relational development. Before we encourage relationally deprived children to participate in sport we must understand how viable sport may be to compensate for current trends in familial relations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1069-1076
Number of pages8
JournalProcedia - Social and Behavioural Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2015


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