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European project tackles youth dropout rate in grassroots sport

Photo courtesy of the PAPA Project


Involving nearly 10,000 children and their coaches in several European countries, the recent PAPA (Promoting Adolescent Physical Activity) project is, according to its coordinators, the largest research project in the world concerning the nature and impact of coach-created environments operating in youth sport settings. Professor Joan Duda writes that the coaching programme model developed under the project is aimed at equipping coaches with ways to keep young people motivated to participate in grassroots sport.


The PAPA Project has been led by Professor Joan Duda and successfully managed by Dr Eleanor Quested from the University of Birmingham (UK), and partnered by 7 European universities from England, France, Greece, Norway and Spain.


It recognises that youth sport has the potential to result in a number of physical and psychological benefits, including the promotion of young people’s physical literacy, fitness and participation in physical activity, psychosocial development and feelings of self worth. However, it is well known that there are a considerable number of children who do not realise the positive consequences that playing sport can bring. Unfortunately, many of these children choose to drop out of grassroots sport.


Funded by a 4-year research grant from the European Commission, PAPA has provided a compelling, multi-national evidence base that points to the importance of the coaching climate to children’s sport motivation, well-being and sustained engagement. The major goal of Project PAPA has been to further develop, deliver and rigorously evaluate a theoretically grounded and evidence-based coach education programme (i.e., Empowering Coaching™). This long-standing training programme, which was customised for grassroots football in the PAPA project and delivered by experienced coach educators, was designed to help coaches foster quality motivation and make youth sport more engaging, empowering, and enjoyable.


As a result of attending the Empowering Coaching™ workshop, coaches reported that they changed their behaviour to be more empowering and observations of their training sessions indicated that this was indeed the case! Children whose coaches participated in the training perceived the climate on their team to be less disempowering than those who didn’t receive the training and also were less likely to intend to drop out when compared to their peers. When the youth sport environment was more empowering, young people were more active, experienced greater enjoyment and vitality and reported higher self esteem!


Building on the extensive work conducted within PAPA Project, partnerships are now being developed with national governing bodies/youth sport organisations to embed Empowering Coaching™ as a key component of youth sport coach education… for all children, in all sports, at all competitive levels. Empowering Parents™ workshops are being offered as well so that we can have all key parts of the youth sport climate be more positive!


ISCA asked Professor Duda if this model has the potential to be rolled out to other countries in the future.

“Yes...absolutely!,” she says. “We are working on this now. A number of countries in Europe as well as further afield are interested and we are working to get projects going.”


Find out more about Empowering Coaching™