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This is the first blog in a series on positive youth development in sport. If this is your first visit to this series, considering taking a few minutes to read the other two posts: Teaching Life Skills Through Sport and Supporting the Transfer and Application of Life Skills Beyond Sport.

Many individuals and organizations have devoted considerable time to identifying core ingredients to achieve desired outcomes from youth sport participation. For example, Eccles and Gootman (2002) have identified eight program setting features that have been proposed to foster positive development in youth programming, including providing an appropriate structure, opportunities for belonging, support for efficacy and mattering, and opportunities for skill-building. Similarly, Sport for Life’s notion of “quality sport” promotes three core components: good programs, good people, and good places. Yet what is often missing is the development of an understanding amongst coaches and program leaders about how to structure the youth sport context to support these elements (e.g., Bean & Forneris, 2016).

Below are five tips that coaches and program leaders can use to facilitate quality sport programs that support positive youth development, adapted from a recent Research-to-Practice report (Bean & Kramers, 2017). These strategies require that coaches be intentional in their approach, understanding that outcomes don’t happen magically but are a result of good design and leadership.

  1. Use a Consistent Program Structure. Many frameworks have been developed and validated within the sport context that help coaches adopt an intentional approach to athletes’ holistic development. For example, Hellison’s (2011) Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility Model and Danish’s (2002) Sports United for Recreation and Education (SUPER) program can be used as guides in both recreational and competitive sport contexts. Both frameworks, and others, suggest breaking down a program session into components to support program goals and outcomes. For example, starting every session with a check-in helps foster relationships, while ending every session with a reflection or debrief allows youth to reflect on lessons learned and how they can apply skills beyond the program context.
  2. Foster Positive Relationships with and between Youth. Coaches and program leaders play a critical role in achieving positive youth outcomes through sport, and can use informal and formal strategies to foster relationships with youth on their team or in their program (Petitpas, Cornelius, & Van Raalte, 2008). Checking in with youth through individual or small group conversations; showing an interest in the person beyond who they are as an athlete; and integrating formal activities, such as ice breakers, cooperative games and team dinners can be used to intentionally build strong relationships.
  3. Integrate Both Sport and Life Skills. Similar to structuring a practice to develop physical and sport skills, coaches should work to explicitly teach life skills that help youth succeed in contexts off the court or outside the gym (e.g., communication, leadership, managing emotions). Youth in sport programs structured to support the development of life skills perceive the program to be of higher quality and developed greater life skills compared to youth participating in sport that did not explicitly teach life skills (Bean & Forneris, 2016).
  4. Empower Youth. Youth-centered approaches that foster youth voice and autonomy is critical to effective program planning and delivery, and let youth know coaches care and are listening. Coaches can illicit youth voice during an end of practice or game debrief and incorporate feedback into the following practice. This can be done through attaining input on what is done (e.g., types of drills or activities) or how things are done (e.g., order of activities, choice of positions). Additionally, coaches can offer leadership opportunities to youth to facilitate a drill or activity of their choice (for more on developing leadership in youth check out this SIRCuit article).
  5. Use the Power of Reflection and Evaluation. Reflection and evaluation are critical at personal, program and organizational levels in order to learn, improve, and understand effectiveness. Three tools have recently been developed to assess the youth sport context: the Program Quality Assessment in Youth Sport (Bean et al., 2018), The Implicit/Explicit Life Skills Continuum, and Sport for Life’s Quality Sport Checklist for Communities and Clubs. The tools provide an intentional strategy to reflect on program processes, including one’s coaching philosophy, one’s program environment, and the teaching of life skills development and transfer, with the goal of delivering a quality youth sport program.

About the Author(s)

Dr. Corliss Bean is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia Okanagan within the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, and the Research and Evaluation Specialist at Youth Research and Evaluation eXchange (YouthREX) at York University. Corliss has worked with organizations at the local and national levels to develop curriculum and evaluate programs.


Bean, C. N., & Forneris, T. (2016). Examining the importance of intentionally structuring the youth sport context to facilitate psychosocial development. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 28(4), 410-425.

Bean, C. N., & Kramers, S. (2017). Game on: Sport participation as a vehicle for positive developmental outcomes for youth facing barriers. Youth Research and Evaluation eXchange (YouthREX). Toronto, ON.

Bean, C., Kramers, S., Camiré, M., Fraser-Thomas, J., & Forneris, T. (2018). Development of an observational measure assessing program quality processes in youth sport. Cogent Social Sciences (advanced online publication).

Bean, C., Kramers, S., Forneris, T., & Camiré, M. (2018). The implicit/explicit continuum of life skills development and transfer. Quest (advanced online publication).

Danish, S. J. (2002). SUPER program: Leader manual (3rd ed.). Richmond, VA: Lifeskills Center, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Eccles, J. S., & Gootman, J. A. (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Hellison, D. R. (2011). Teaching personal and social responsibility through physical activity. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Kendellen, K., Camiré, M., Bean, C., Forneris, T., & Thompson, J. (2017). Integrating life skills into Golf Canada’s youth programs: Insights into a successful research to practice partnership. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 8, 34-46. 6

Petitpas, A. J., Cornelius, A. E., Van Raalte, J. L., & Jones, T. (2005). A framework for planning youth sport programs that foster psychosocial development. Sport Psychologist, 19, 63-80.

Sport for Life Society. (2018). Quality Sport Checklist for Communities and Clubs. Victoria, BC: Sport for Life Society.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.