"I don't care about the candy; I care about the game" exploring the impact of food rewards in youth recreation ice hockey


Introduction: Children involved in organized sport report unhealthier diets than those who are not, and this may be due in part to the pervasive use of unhealthy foods as rewards within youth sport. The purpose of this study was to explore the use of food as a reward in youth sport and the perceived impact it has on children's motivation to participate in recreational ice hockey. Methods: A constructionist paradigm, with a relativist ontology, and subjective and transactional epistemology guided this instrumental case study. Criterion-based and snowball sampling was used to recruit children aged 4-12 (n = 39), parents (n = 24), and coaches (n = 12) within central and northeastern Ontario, Canada. Parents and children participated in focus groups while coaches took part in individual interviews. Transcribed audio recordings underwent inductive thematic analysis. Results: Three key themes were constructed: 1. Food in hockey, 2. The how and why of motivating athletes, and 3. Opinions of sponsorship in youth sport. Conclusions: Ultimately, children's participation and effort in hockey would continue without rewards; however, coaches and parents continue to offer rewards to motivate and celebrate performance. The findings from this study highlight the need to educate parents and coaches on what children truly value about their sport participation and develop strategies for celebrating success and effort in a healthier way.

Acknowledgments: This research project is supported in part by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.