Who's got the power : examining the similarities and differences in benefits obtained and considered important by high school basketball players and coaches

Olushola, Joyce Oluwatoyin
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Despite the lack of clarity on how sport delivers the benefits intended, sport continues to be positioned as a panacea for social disparities (Coalter, 2010). The inconsistent and sometimes nonexistent evaluation of sport has raised doubt about sport’s capacity to deliver the benefits desired (Broh, 2002; Chalip, 2006; Coakley, 1979; Coakley, 1993). In worse cases, sport has been considered complicit in reinforcing the same oppressive social structures that created the initial need for its intervention (Hartmann & Depro, 2006; Hartmann, 2003; Shaw, Frisby, Cunningham, & Fink, 2006; Spaaij, 2009). The belief that sport can provide benefits stems from the recognition that there are two groups of people: the empowered (i.e., those who employ sport for development), and the disempowered (i.e., those who are targeted to participate in these programs). Darnell (2007) asserts that “within the development through sport movement, a well-intentioned and benevolent ‘mission’ of training, empowering, and assisting is not only based upon, but to an extent requires, the establishment of a dichotomy between the empowered and the disempowered, the vocal and the silent, the ‘knowers’ and the known” (561). The crux of this assertion lies in the notion that the benefits provided through sport serve as social control mechanisms by reifying the values of the empowered as those that should be desired and reinforcing the social hierarchies that oppress the disempowered through the controlled (unequal) allocation of resources. Latent in the intent of these sport-for-development programs is the need to continually identify and socially anchor the historically disempowered. Social myths about their inferiority overshadow how social class, further distinguished by race and gender, was historically fashioned by the unequal distribution of resources and overpower the voices of those who are marginalized through this process. Therefore, what is considered “beneficial” becomes a contest between which group can put the most resources behind their ideals as opposed to the expressed needs of the participants (Coalter, 2007; Darnell, 2007; Spaaij, 2009). To better understand what shapes perceptions about the benefits obtained from sport participation, the purpose of this study was threefold: (1) to determine what players and coaches perceive as the benefits obtained by players through basketball and what benefits they perceive to be important; (2) to determine whether players and coaches perceive that players obtain benefits to the same degree that they feel they are important; and (3) to understand the differences in these perceptions based on gender, race, SES, and role (i.e., player or coach). Upon receiving IRB approval, a pilot study was conducted on high school athletes (N= 450) to ascertain the benefits they obtained from high school basketball. In SPSS, exploratory factor analyses with varimax rotation were conducted on 109 benefits identified in the literature to determine which groups of benefits were salient to high school basketball players. From the initial factor analysis, 23 factors emerged. In addition to feedback from sport-for-development researchers, coaches, and players, a second pilot study (N= 69) was conducted to refine the categories of benefits players obtained. The final instrument contained 41 items in ten categories of benefits: Academic Resiliency, Self-Expansion, Self-Discipline, Analytical Thinking Skills, Moral Value Development, College Preparation, Leadership Training, and Relationships with Others, Sense of Community, and Career Development. Cronbach’s alpha was used to test reliability of each category and all were found to be acceptable for this study Nunnally (1978). The instrument was available in paper form and electronic form for players and coaches to complete in a four-week period. The final sample included 237 high school basketball players and 164 high school basketball coaches from Texas.

First, two MANOVAs (one for benefits obtained and one for importance) were conducted to examine the potential interactions among gender, race, SES, and role in perceptions of benefits obtained and the importance of those benefits. Results of the MANOVAs were considered significant at α = .10. Next, paired-sample t-tests were conducted to determine whether players and coaches perceived that players received the same benefits that were deemed important. Finally, one sample t-tests (against the neutral point of the scale, 4) were used to determine which benefits were perceived to be obtained and which were considered important by players and coaches. T-tests were considered significant using Bonferroni criteria. The results of the MANOVAs included a three-way interaction between race, gender, and role that was significant in determining the perceived benefits obtained through sport. These results reinforce the need to analyze sport from a transdisciplinary lens to understanding the personal and structural factors shaping the needs of sport participants and subsequently creating culturally responsive sport component to provide the desired benefits. SES was used as a proxy for social class, more specifically, for one's access to resources, and was not found to be significant in determining the perception of benefits obtained from sport. This finding suggests that people marginalized by class differences may have a false consciousness about the benefits sport can provide despite the evidence that these individuals are not receiving benefits at levels comparable to more privileged groups and even worse, that sport participation can be detrimental to their development. In light of the findings that African-American women perceive more strongly that they obtain benefits from sports than do their male counterparts, further exploration is needed on how the experience of sport is influenced by hegemonic structures based on race and gender. To this end, practical implications for implementing sport-for-development programs including promoting culturally responsive training and implementation of programs (Ladson-Billings, 1990) that employ the resources available to foster the intended benefits and more importantly, to create more sustainable programs. Another key finding was that race, gender, role, and SES were significant in influencing the benefits perceived to be important. While the results showed that "sport is good" for providing the benefits observed, the differences in how well these benefits are obtained by race and gender suggest that further investigation is needed in understanding what are the mechanisms that allow sport to be "good" in providing these groups with benefits and in determining how athletes perceive sport as the channel for receiving benefits. Both findings push for more organic and long-term studies in the benefits of sport participation. Using the tenets of Critical Race Theory, theoretical implications include employing a socioecological approach to understanding how needs and benefits are conceptualized, the use of more emic approaches to studying these concepts, and providing more agency to the individuals in researching and understanding their needs and the benefits they desire from sport (along with the potentially negative implications of sport participation). The results promote the need to look specifically at one's access to resources, race, and gender in determining the components necessary and sufficient to providing benefits through sport. The concept of hegemony posits that these factors are not conditions inherent to an individual but identities and social positions constructed by the larger society. Therefore, sport researchers must create concepts of researching "needs" and "benefits" that are reflective of the individual as well as cultural and environmental factors that shape sport participation. These concepts must also be organic, taking into consideration that factors influencing the needs of participants are changing in concert with social norms and their effects on one's identity and access to resources. The results of this study also provide practical implications for recognizing that sport does not exist in vacuum and to be effective in providing participants with the intended benefits, sport must be culturally responsive (Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1992). To this end, sport administrators should be mindful of the cultural and structural factors that shape the students’ environment and consequently their identities and needs, by implementing sport components that work on multiple levels. Administrators and participants should also examine the ways that sport may impact them in negative ways, particularly if those negative impacts are masked by potential benefits (Bruening, 2005; Glover, 2007; Harrison, Sailes, Rotich, & Bimper, 2011). Giving voice to the participants, engaging school and community officials in providing access to resources, and using goal-setting to help students exercise more agency in shaping their sport experience were also practical implications from this study.