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Changing lives? Critical evaluation of a school-based athlete role model intervention

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There would appear to be an enduring belief that successful sportsmen and women can act as powerful motivational role models for young people, especially disaffected, disadvantaged or disengaged youth. In the UK, for example, this belief has been expressed recently in the development of programmes, such as changingLIVES, the Respect Athlete Mentor Programme and Playing For Success. There are further examples around the world of programmes based on similar beliefs including Sporting Partnerships, Athlete Development Australia, Active Girls Breakfast and the Whitelion Sports and Recreation program. This paper reports an evaluation of the changingLIVES ‘athlete mentor’ programme in the UK. This was a school-based programme using successful sports people to deliver a series of motivational activities to young people who were identified as being disengaged or disaffected in some way. Conceptual confusion in the terms ‘mentor’ and ‘role model’ evident in the literature was mirrored in the programme design. The design of an appropriate evaluation strategy was constrained by the scale of the programme aims and the comparatively low evaluation budget. Nonetheless, detailed data were collected on individual pupils. Evaluation data suggested that although the teachers and young people did report an immediate positive reaction to the activities, there was limited evidence of a wider impact on young people's behaviour, school attendance or self-esteem. It is argued that there should be greater conceptual clarity and a stronger evidence base supporting the design and delivery of interventions in schools that seek to use sports people as role models (or mentors) for young people.
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Keywords: Athlete role models/mentors; Disaffection; Physical activity; Physical education; Reengagement

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sport Pedagogy,University of Birmingham, UK 2: Institute of Youth Sport,Loughborough University, UK

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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