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Fair Play can make a difference

By Ross Lynd, Municipal Government, Melfort Saskatchewan

First published in Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association Inc.'s Recreation Saskatchewan.

An exciting research project studying the attitudes and the behaviors of athletes and parents concerning fair play was recently completed by the Culture, Recreation and Lotteries Branch of Saskatchewan Municipal Government, the Faculty of Physical Activity Studies at the University of Regina, the Saskatchewan Amateur Hockey Association and a number of its affiliated teams. A " Fair Play " Educational Intervention Program was developed, for the study, to inform parents and coaches about a variety of sportsmanship issues that are relevant to children's hockey.

One hundred and seventy three athletes, aged twelve and thirteen, and one hundred and thirty two parents from eleven Pee Wee AA teams participated in the study, and were tested twice during the project - once early in the season and once at the completion of the season. Participants were randomly assigned to either a control group (did not receive the fairplay intervention) or a treatment group (received the fair play intervention).

The participant survey involved five separate questionnaires which:

  • rated the importance of various aspects of hockey that make the game more or less enjoyable;
  • indicated the extent to which the player felt it permissible to use certain forms of physical or non-physical intimidation to beat an opponent;
  • indicated which aspects of playing hockey make players feel most successful; and

indicated the extent to which the player agreed or disagreed with fair play principles.

The parents also completed a survey that measured sportsmanship attitudes towards children's hockey. The treatment group received the fair play intervention immediately after completing the sportsmanship questionnaire. The session touched on reasons why children participate in sport, fair play issues and fair play principles that can improve the quality of the sport experience for everyone - participants, parents, coaches and officials.

The study found:

"Winning the game " was more important to parents than ensuring equal playing time for all athletes. This finding raises concerns regarding the extent to which parents truly understand their childrens' participation motivation in hockey. Indeed, the athletes themselves indicated that they derived more enjoyment and playing satisfaction from some "game losing experiences' in comparison to winning a game where they had to sit on the bench for the last ten minutes of the game

Participants felt "least good" about playing hockey when their coach or parents were involved in negative verbal interactions (parents shouting at opponents, parents shouting instructions while child is on the bench or the ice, parents arguing with other team parents).

Athletes with high levels of ego-orientation (demonstrate superior ability over an opponent, winning is only measure of success) showed a significantly higher tendency to condone the use of injurious behaviors in hockey. They also were more likely to have a lower respect for rules and officials. This finding is very important because some researchers have suggested that children's goal orientations (task vs. ego) can be altered through the systematic delivery of task and ego-oriented reinforcement from significant others. Thus, if young people are to develop "morally acceptable " attitudes towards justice and fairness in sport, coaches and parents should attempt to positively reinforce task-oriented behavior in competition.

The findings from this study indicate that negative behavior can be reduced through fair play intervention. The department is currently developing initiatives which will assist individuals, communities and leagues in enhancing the quality of the experience for all who participate in sport, whether as a player, coach, parent, or official.

For further information on the research project, fair play resources, or implementation of fair play in your community's sport and recreation program, please call Ross Lynd, Recreation Consultant, in Melfort at (306) 752-6211.

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