Existential Learning in Youth Sport: Lessons Learned through Negativity

Ronkainen, Noora, Ryba, Tatiana, Aggerholm, Kenneth and Allen-Collinson, Jacquelyn (2020) Existential Learning in Youth Sport: Lessons Learned through Negativity. In: Nordic Educational Research Conference, Turku, Finland.

Existential Learning in Youth Sport: Lessons Learned through Negativity
NERA.2020ExistentialLearningFINAL ResearchGate.pdf - Whole Document

Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Presentation)
Item Status:Live Archive


Following developments in European educational policy more broadly, the teaching and learning discourse in youth sport in the Nordic countries is increasingly shaped by instrumental and outcome-based frameworks where the aim of sport participation is to develop useful skills for life. From an existential perspective, this competency-based approach appears as a shallow perspective on learning that does not account for the role of sport in the process of ‘subjectification’ of people (i.e., learning associated with the capacity to be a self, and critical awareness; Biesta, 2010). In our study, we sought to challenge and expand understandings of sport-based youth development by exploring the existential dimension of learning in sport, which concerns the way we are attuned to the world, find meaning in life, relate to others and make life choices. We invited young pre-elite athletes (N=16, nine women, aged 19-20) in Finland – five of whom had recently disengaged from elite level sport – to tell us about their learning experiences in sport via phenomenologically inspired interviews (McNarry, Allen-Collinson & Evans, 2019). We used creative non-fiction vignettes to initiate the dialogues on learning and engage the participants in reflecting on their experiences through the experience of others. Our preliminary, phenomenological analysis indicated that while the young people recognised useful ‘skills’ commonly associated with sport participation (e.g., goal setting, time management), many of them also provided rich descriptions of deeper ‘life lessons’ learned in sport. These included (1) coming to terms with one’s limitations; (2) recognising the values on which their relationships are built and how athletic success affects those relationships; (3) persisting over adversity but also not taking sport too seriously; (4) becoming aware of the dangers of perfectionism; and (5) selfishness and the harsh world of elite sport. Often, these types of learning were connected with encountering ‘negativity’ – that is, a collision with something surprising (e.g., unexpected performance, overtraining and injury), which triggered the process of questioning and reflection (Gadamer, 2004). Our findings make visible the athlete-led processes of learning that might be unintended, informal and not always immediately ‘useful’, but nevertheless important for these young people’s development and self ‘becoming’. We discuss the implications of the research for sports coaching and policies concerning the validation of informal learning in sport in the Nordic context.

Keywords:Existential learning, Youth sport, Elite Sport, Nordic countries, Learning in sport
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C600 Sports Science
C Biological Sciences > C800 Psychology
L Social studies > L300 Sociology
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Sport and Exercise Science
ID Code:47033
Deposited On:30 Nov 2021 10:59

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