Positive youth development and physical activity/sport interventions: mechanisms leading to sustained impact

Kathleen Armour, Rachel Sandford, Rebecca Duncombe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Sport/physical activity interventions are sometimes viewed as a panacea for youth-related social problems, and this may explain their proliferation. Yet, there is little robust evidence to support some of the claims made for the efficacy of such programmes, particularly those relating to sustained benefits for young people.

Aims: The purpose of this paper is to report findings from longitudinal research on two youth sport/physical activity interventions in the UK in order identify key features in their design that were found to be central to sustained positive impact.

Method: Two physical activity programmes that sought to address youth disaffection and disengagement were evaluated by one research team using a similar evaluation strategy. Between 2003 and 2007 (years 1–4 of each programme), over 10,000 young people participated in the programmes (HSBC/OB and SSLfS). Impact data were collected on over 50% of all SSLfS pupils engaged in the programme nationally (n = 4700) and 90% of HSBC/OB pupils from the five participating schools (n = 540). An evaluation framework was designed based on a range of detailed, individualised methods including: individual pupil profiling, school-level case studies and the creation of programme logic models. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics, profile comparisons and a constructivist revision of the grounded theory method.

Results: Data on sustainability of impact on young people are reported from each project and the findings are considered together to identify common themes. Data suggest that six key features should be embedded in the design of physical activity/positive youth development programmes: matching pupils' specific needs with programme objectives; locating project activities outside of the ‘normal’ school context; working closely with pupils to choose activities, set targets and review progress; establishing positive relationships between leaders, mentors and pupils; offering young people the opportunity to work with and for other young people; and making available structured pathways to enable young people to have sustained involvement in further project or complementary activities. Importantly, what these data illustrate is that in combination and through complex interaction, these six design features can maximise the potential for sustained positive impact on youth participants.

Conclusions: These data offer insights into the mechanisms that can lead to positive impact from physical activity/sport interventions/programmes. Perhaps more importantly, the findings illustrate the complex ways in which these different mechanisms interact to produce positive outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Issue number3
Early online date5 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2013


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