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2010 Grant Recipient: Spirit of the Game and Positive Youth Development: Exploring the Perspectives of High Performance Female Youth Ultimate Frisbee Players

Spencer-Cavaliere, N., Kingsley, B. C, & Gotwals, J. K.

Positive youth development (PYD) can be defined as the “development of personal skills or assets, including cognitive, social, emotional [physical], and intellectual qualities necessary for youth to become successfully functioning members of society” (President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, 2009, p.1). Unique sport contexts such as Ultimate Frisbee—with its emphasis on ‘spirit of the game’—have been identified as having the potential to advance understanding of the role of sport in PYD. To explore this potential, this study investigated female youth Ultimate Frisbee players’ perspectives of spirit of the game.

Guided by interpretive description (Thorne, Reimer Kirkham, & MacDonald-Emes, 1997) nine female Ultimate Frisbee athletes (aged 16 – 19 years) kept a reflective journal and were interviewed about their spirit of the game experiences at the 2010 World Ultimate Junior Championships. Through a combination of critical examination and constant comparative analysis, interdependence was identified as an overarching theme reflected within five subthemes: 1) meaning of spirit, 2) context of spirit, 3) nature of the sport, 4) relationships, and 5) personal responsibility. In meaning of spirit, players described the importance of respect, sportspersonship, encouraging others and mutual love of the game. Spirit, however, was also viewed as contextual. At higher levels players negotiated its meaning, at times taking advantage of self-refereeing, becoming critical of others and allowing the desire to win to influence calls. This often resulted in negative interdependence among players. Nature of the sport reflected self-refereeing, how the sport was sustained/grew, the diversity of opportunities to compete and a unique sense of community. Relationships within the sport also led to a strong sense of community. Finally, players assumed personal responsibility to uphold the sport’s honor system, learn, self-reflect and hold themselves, their teammates and opponents accountable.

Petitpas, Cornelius, Van Raalte, & Jones, (2005) suggested that three conditions—context, external assets, and internal assets—must be satisfied through sports participation for PYD to be achieved. Context reflects activities that are intrinsically motivating, where participants feel valued and safe. External assets are comprised of caring relationships with adults and community. Internal assets involve learning skills such as problem solving, and developing a sense of identity and confidence. In reference to these conditions, the present results suggest that the emphasis on spirit within Ultimate Frisbee can both contribute towards, and detract from, PYD. At times players felt motivated and valued by teammates, opponents, and coaches which created a positive climate. However, athletes felt challenged to maintain spirit during competition and conflicted when self-refereed calls led to poor sportspersonship. Players expressed how the culture of Ultimate Frisbee provided opportunities for new relationships and supported newcomers. Participation in Ultimate Frisbee may most influence the development of internal assets. In particular, the interdependence created among competitors and teammates due to self-refereeing and spirit enabled the athletes to make meaningful decisions and self-reflect. This responsibility to others and self, creates opportunities to develop confidence and a strong sense of identity, which are very much in keeping with a PYD perspective.