Queen’s University Study Executive Summary

Here is the more detailed summary of the study done by Matthew.

An Integrative Case Study of Positive Youth Development in a Recreational Community Sport Program
Summary Report for the Pete Petersen Basketball League Executive Board

The purpose of this research project was to conduct an in-depth case study of a successful, sustainable community youth sport program. A growing body of research aims to better understand how we can create youth sport environments that promote the personal development and life skills of young athletes, ultimately helping to foster their civic and community engagement across the lifespan. The Pete Petersen Basketball League (PPBL) represented a real-world, sustainable example of a youth sport program that aligned in many ways with this body of work. Thus, through three separate studies, this project aimed to better understand how and why the PPBL has been so successful over the past 60 years. This research project served as Matthew Vierimaa’s doctoral dissertation and was completed over a three-year period in collaboration with his supervisors (Dr. Jean Côté and Dr. Mark Bruner) and dozens of undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University. This report summarizes the methods, results, and outcomes of the research project, and outlines the next steps that have been taken to further this line of research.

Study 1. The first study provided a description of coaches’ perceptions of the basketball league. Twelve coaches from the PPBL (six of whom also previously played in the PPBL as youth) completed semi-structured interviews wherein they described the structure of the league and the perceived benefits for the young athletes. This first study intended to provide a general overview of the league from the perspective of coaches, who are key members in the league’s operation.
Study 2. The second study described the PPBL from an “insider’s perspective”. Specifically, Matthew volunteered as an assistant coach in the biddy division for one season and explored the organizational culture of the PPBL. Over this six-month period, he collected data through a variety of means including interviews with players, coaches, and volunteers, personal reflections, and archival data (e.g., PPBL anniversary memory books). Through this process, he attempted to uncover the deeply rooted cultural values and foundational beliefs that are shared by the PPBL and guide its operation.
Study 3. The third and final study explored the relationship between players’ self- reported developmental outcomes (competence, confidence, social connections, and character) and their observed behaviour during basketball games. The research team videotaped multiple game nights in the biddy, graduate boys, and girls’ divisions, and 67 players also completed a set of questionnaires. Video recordings of all 67 players were coded based on the frequency and duration in which various social behaviours were observed, and this information was later linked with the questionnaire data.

Key Findings
Study 1. Aside from a description of the general structure and operation of the PPBL, two distinct, inter-related themes emerged from Study 1. First, unlike many other youth sport programs that are time/resource-intensive, and explicitly teach youth life skills and how they can be applied outside of sport, the PPBL appears to adopt a more implicit approach to the transfer of life skills. Rather, coaches simply emphasized the importance of fostering positive immediate experiences (i.e., “Just for the fun of it!”), and that over time, these enjoyable experiences may lead to more long-term benefits, such as former players returning to the league to volunteer. This cultivation of contribution and the desire to give back to one’s sport organization and the community is the hallmark of effective youth development programs.
Study 2. The themes that were identified from the second study can be understood at three levels of complexity. First, observable aspects of the league’s organizational culture related to its welcoming atmosphere and strong community support. The PPBL’s espoused cultural values implied a focus on fun, inclusiveness, and accessibility. At the deepest level, the PPBL appears to share underlying assumptions related to equally valuing all members’ contributions, giving without expecting a return, and the importance of family.
Study 3. Overall, the questionnaire data from this study revealed that all players’ reported relatively positive perceptions of their sport experiences in the PPBL. However, further inspection revealed two clusters of players which were differentiated on the basis of higher and lower self-perceptions of confidence, coach-athlete relationship quality, and character. Interestingly, the group of players who scored higher on these measures also engaged in more frequent social interactions with their coaches. Overall, this study highlights the critical role that coaches play in youth’s sport experiences.

Ultimately, this research project formed the basis of Matthew Vierimaa’s doctoral dissertation, which was successfully defended in July 2016. A copy of this document can be found at the following link: http://qspace.library.queensu.ca/bitstream/1974/14666/1/Vierimaa_Matthew_A_201607_PHD.pdf. Each of the three studies described above have individually been submitted for publication in peer- reviewed academic journals in the area of sport psychology. All three manuscripts are currently under peer review, and will be shared with the PPBL executive board when they are ultimately accepted for publication. The findings from these studies have also been disseminated through eight separate presentations at national and international academic conferences. The data collected through the first and third studies were collected in part by undergraduate students Kaitlyn Saunders, Cheryl Yang, and Courtney Braun, and served as the basis for their honours thesis research projects. Altogether, this research project has made a significant contribution to the academic literature and has served to advance the development of many young researchers.

Next Steps
Despite the wealth of data that has been collected and analyzed to date, numerous research questions remain. First, an additional data set similar in nature to Study 3 (observation and questionnaires) was collected and partly analyzed through an undergraduate honours thesis
project, but further data analysis is still required. This fourth study will be analyzed and completed over the next eight months, and the key findings will be shared with the PPBL at a later date.

The prominence of former PPBL players who return to the league to “give back” later in life, in other words, fostering a sense of “contribution” is a unique characteristic that has been studied in other youth development contexts, but not in sport programs specifically. Thus, there are plans underway to follow-up on this project with a novel line of research that will more broadly examine what motivates former athletes to give back to youth sport organizations and communities.

Even though many different aspects of the PPBL were studied in detail through this research project, a core element that was not adequately stressed was the immense role of Pete, specifically. Thus, plans have been made to write a “best practices” profile of Pete and his vision and philosophy behind the PPBL. This profile will be written in collaboration with members of the PPBL, and will be framed as an article that will be accessible and useful for both researchers and practitioners.

Finally, the entire sport psychology lab at Queen’s University are thoroughly appreciative of the relationship with the PPBL that has been forged through this project. It is hoped that the PPBL will remain open to future research opportunities with the Queen’s research team. The research team is more than happy to give back and provide the PPBL with any resources or programming (e.g., coach education, workshops, etc.) that may be beneficial.

If you have any questions about this research project, or ideas about ways that we can give back and help, do not hesitate to contact either Matthew Vierimaa (matthew.vierimaa@usu.edu; 435-797-7323) or Jean Côté (jc46@queensu.ca; 613-533-6000 ext. 79049).

Matthew Vierimaa, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Kinesiology and Health Science
Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services Utah State University

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