Youth sport programs' facilitation of developmental experiences: Examining the role of program characteristics


Background: A growing body of research suggests youth sport programs can foster positive youth development (PYD) (Fraser-Thomas et al., 2005). While researchers have begun to examine the role of select program characteristics in influencing youths’ developmental outcomes (Bruner et al., 2011; Wilkes & Côté, 2010; Zarrett et al., 2008), limited studies have examined the relative contribution of various key program characteristics to PYD outcomes, or focused specifically on coach gender in relation to athletes’ gender. The purpose of this study was to examine the role of sport setting (team/individual), time investment, age, and coach gender (in relation to athlete gender) in contributing to youths’ developmental experiences.   Methods: 879 Canadian youth between 9 and 19 years old, involved in 23 different sports completed the Youth Experiences Survey for Sport (YES-S; MacDonald et al., 2012), and provided information on their sport program’s characteristics. Five separate multiple regression analyses were run, for each of the five domains of the YES-S.   Results: Male athletes coached by males and male athletes coached by a mixed gender coaching staff had significantly more negative experiences within their sport program. Team sports were associated with higher scores in personal and social skills, cognitive skills, and initiative; however, team sport athletes also had more negative experiences. Programs that required more invested time were associated with higher personal and social skills, and cognitive skills. Older athletes scored lower in cognitive skills.   Conclusion: Findings suggest the importance of considering program characteristics such as coach gender in relation to athlete gender when designing youth sport programs to facilitate PYD. Future research is needed to explore processes and mechanisms within youth sport programs that may be underlying youths’ differences in developmental experiences.