"Give it everything you got": resilience for young males through sport.
Subject: Boys (Health aspects)
Resilience (Personality trait) (Analysis)
Quality of life (Analysis)
Author: Hall, Neil
Pub Date: 03/22/2011
Publication: Name: International Journal of Men's Health Publisher: Men's Studies Press Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Men's Studies Press ISSN: 1532-6306
Issue: Date: Spring, 2011 Source Volume: 10 Source Issue: 1
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Australia Geographic Code: 8AUST Australia
Accession Number: 262787299
Full Text: "Sport builds character" is a phrase often heard throughout Australian society,, but whether it really reflects what happens for young males through sport is debatable. This paper reports on doctoral research with young males. The stories of their sporting experiences provide rich insight into the ways that sport does, and does not, build resilience to facilitate the transition to adulthood and negotiate the adversities of adolescence.

Keywords: sport, young males, resilience, health and wellbeing

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Young males in Australia face the prospect of negotiating a transition to adulthood and developing health and wellbeing through an increasingly complex relationship between the individual and their community. Young males are presented with a diverse range of alternatives for building resilience in order to negotiate this transition smoothly. The doctoral research that provided the impetus for the following discussion of health and wellbeing initially set out to explore the relationships between sport and civic engagement for young Australian males.

The age range for participants in this study overlaps a life stage most often referred to as adolescence, which represents a path of transition from childhood to adulthood. Developmental psychologists (e.g., Erikson, 1968; Hegel, 1971) describe adolescence as a life stage where, apart from struggling with the physical and hormonal changes associated with puberty, young people experience the turmoil of youth that he calls the "identity crisis." They say that this turmoil is most commonly experienced during the teenage years, and proposes that the primary tasks to be resolved during adolescence are those of seeking identity and moving toward independence.

This "turbulent" transition is often made more navigable through certain protective factors. Atwool (2002) identifies several key factors that contribute to a young person's capacity for overcoming adversity during this transition. First, there are individual characteristics such as high self-esteem, self-confidence, communication skills, conflict resolution skills, cultural pride, easy temperament, and a sense of belonging. Second, a supportive family plays a strong role, and third a supportive person, network or agency outside the family. That is, forming attachments to significant adults outside the immediate family system, including extended family, family friends, or adults in leadership roles such as those found in schools, church youth groups, sports teams or youth work services, also contributes to resilience. Worsley (2005) adds that any kind of skill that a young person has learned (and can rely on) contributes to their ability to survive adversity, and can include creative and performing arts, technical and manual skills, and sports skills. Finally, she argues that the peer group is an important dimension that, even when it is characterised by conflict, can still provides an environment in which young people can learn social cues.

Atwool (2002) and Worsley (2005) both agree that young people in transition who experience more of these protective factors are more likely to avoid or overcome adversity. The transition to adulthood is a complex path and young males are presented with a diverse range of alternatives, of which sport is one, for building resilience in order to negotiate the transition smoothly.

Cale and Harris (2005) provide a brief overview of some literature that links physical activity with psychological health. They cite research (e.g., Biddle, 1995; Calfas, & Taylor, 1994; Mutrie & Parfitt, 1998; Tortolero, Taylor, & Murray, 2000) that shows associations between physical activity/fitness and increased self-esteem, positive selfconcept, improved self-efficacy, greater perceived physical competence, lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and greater perceived health and wellbeing. Daley (2002) reports similar results in terms of sport contributing to a higher sense of physical self-worth. Pertinently, boys reported significantly higher scores than girls on sports competence, attractive body adequacy and physical self-worth. Coalter (2005), on the other hand, explores some negative psychological aspects of sport, particularly related to overtraining and exercise addiction. Furthermore, Boone and Leadbeater (2006) found that participation in team sports partially mediated the risks for depressive symptoms. Thus, it is fair to conclude that, in terms of these aspects of psychological health, resilience is seemingly enhanced by participation in sport and physical activity.

Some health literature seeks to broaden this relationship in order to establish a connection between sport and community health. Fensham and Gardner (2005) argue that dancing--as a form of physical activity--enables a person to engage "of and with their bodies in all of their lived social, physical, spatio-temporal, aesthetic and otherworldly dimensions" (p. 15). Dance classes are thus environments in which social skills can be learned and social capital developed, providing benefits that exceed economic considerations and so representing unique community capacity building opportunities. In terms of capacity building, Hall and Banno (2001) also found that public performance of activities such as dance (for young females) and exhibition games of rugby sevens (for young males) were effective both in developing a sense of belonging to community and in contributing to its vibrant life, where the adult community could recognise their contribution. Jarvie (2003), however, argues that it is unreasonable to expect sport to maintain a dimension of social capital or civic engagement without first addressing issues of ownership, obligations and stakeholder interests in sports at government, policy and market levels.

Community recognition of the contribution of young males will often translate into an affirmation of their worth and, consequently, as both Woodman (2004) and Wilkinson (2006) assert, an increased sense of health and wellbeing. Furthermore, this recognition can also often result in a more keenly developed sense of belonging, participation and ownership in decisions and social structures that impact on their lives (Easthorpe & White, 2006). Conversely, Saggers, Palmerm, Royce, Wilson, and Charlton (2004) and Matthews (2000) note that the inclusion and participation of young people also makes communities stronger.

Foundational to understanding the relationship between sport, resilience, health and wellbeing for young males is Macdonald's (2006) emphasis on the social and political determinants of men's health, which promotes an understanding of men that is "salutogenic," that is that acknowledges men's strengths and resilience. The salutogenic model seeks to move away from historical criticisms of masculinity, and also to avoid building an approach to men's health based on apologies for what is masculine (Macdonald, 2005; Macdonald, McDermott, & Di Campli, 2004). The model acknowledges that "all people have a darker side, but ... focuses on men's health and health-enhancing behaviour, on what is salutogenic rather than pathogenic" (Macdonald, McDermott, Woods, Brown, & Sliwka, 2000, p. 4).

Wilkinson and Marmot (2003) identify ten main social determinants of health as social gradient, stress, early life, social exclusion, work, unemployment, social support, addiction, food and transport. Macdonald (2005) draws a connection between health and a person's or society's environment, and understands health to be the successful interaction/relationship that individuals and communities have with their surrounding environment, rather than apportioning blame to "masculinity and men behaving badly" (Macdonald, 2006, p. 456).

Easthorpe and White (2006), Wilkinson and Marmot (2003), and Vinson (1999) agree that the empirical evidence no longer supports the idea that individuals are solely responsible for their health, when individual and public health is evidently poorer in whole communities/societies that are poorer across a number of social indicators.

Sercombe, Omaji, Frew, Cooper, and Love (2002) acknowledge that, based on mortality and morbidity rates, young people are generally considered the most physically healthy section of the community in Australia. They argue, however, that their mental health (measured by indicators such as depression, self harm and suicide) is poorer. They list some of the determinants of individual youth health that feature: hope for the future, feelings of self-worth, feelings of being needed, and seeing a positive role in the world for self. Feelings of powerlessness are basic to apathy and ill-health, and social exclusion creates powerless groups in society (young people being one of them). Wilkinson (2006) agrees that health and longevity tend to be better in more egalitarian societies. Therefore, any processes that increase equality, fairness and empowerment are going to have a positive impact on an individual's health. Wilkinson (2006) also shows that any form of social affiliation, which includes participating in community life and being valued for it, is "highly predictive of good health" (p. 713). Participation in sport could be considered a form of broader community participation, although it is important to acknowledge, as McKay (1990) and Kell (2000) do, that social exclusion still exists within the sporting world.

If it is considered that a young person's health can be improved by broader social participation, then this participation should begin by finding out what they say about health. Easthorpe and White (2006) conducted a study that sought to escape the trap of understanding youth health through conducting purely epidemiological assessments of it. The study also sought to avoid the misdirected technique of asking adults what they think about the health of young people, and to sidestep current conservative approaches to health that focus on individual responsibility to make good health choices. They found that young people accepted public health messages about being individually responsible for their health by lifestyle choices, but that social relationships are the crucial influences on health behaviour. Despite the synonymy of health and wellbeing in some political definitions, the young people they interviewed considered the two as separate concepts, "not occupying the same mind space" (p. 48). Health was determined by eating well, exercising, and avoiding bad habits like smoking, drug-taking, binge drinking, etc. Wellbeing, on the other hand, was achieved by having a circle of friends and a supportive family, and was closely connected with feeling good. Therefore a young person may know the health messages, and understand their individual responsibility for making health choices, but their behaviour is much more likely to be influenced by their social relationships, because "wellbeing" (which outranks "health" in their eyes) is determined not so much by public health messages, but by these social relationships. They propose that it is because of this dichotomy that young people may often engage in "risk behaviours" to feel good and achieve wellbeing, despite knowing that it is not healthy for them.

Woodman (2004) also acknowledges the existence of young people's understandings of their individual responsibility for future health choices. However, he says that this responsibility also weaves in and out of the centrality of finding time to enjoy the present. He found that young people will rarely include "risk behaviours" (such as alcohol and other drug use) in their descriptions of wellbeing, even though they are regularly used as outcome measures in health research. He saw young people's understanding of wellbeing as connected to overload and "the constant burden of the future" (p. 92). It may be the case that devolving responsibility for health decisions solely to the individual may, in fact, add to their feelings of overload and therefore detract from their overall sense of wellbeing. Woodman proposes that, for young people, the important element in life is balance between responsibility for their future and having time to enjoy the present. Consequently, he argues that those who work with young people, and those in research and policy, need to make room in their work for a young person's understanding of health and wellbeing, and how it connects to other aspects of their social world, which may include sport.

Eckersley (1999) argues that the cultural forces directed toward young people (for example, sport, media and music) should also be the focus of critical and robust discussion about their roles and consequences, and that society as a whole needs to accept some responsibility for these consequences in order for the social and cultural environment to have a positive impact on young people's wellbeing.

METHOD

The research relates the experiences of fourteen young males, aged 16 to 25, who either lived or studied in the Western Sydney region of Australia. Participation was voluntary, with no intention to target a representative demographic spread of participants, other than to focus primarily on Western Sydney. Twelve participants were from an Anglo background, with two from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds, and almost all lived in working-class/lower middle-class suburbs. All participants had been involved in some form of sports participation from an early age and had played a range of sports, either serially or in parallel.

The purpose of the research was to explore the connections between sport and civic engagement for young males. Based on a phenomenological research framework, which Finlay (1999) describes as a means of seeking to capture the richness of individual experience, the research utilised semi-structured interviews that allowed opportunities for investigating patterns gleaned from literature together with the participants' own sport-related stories. Groenewald (2004, p. 5) advises to refrain "from any pre-given framework" and cites other works (e.g., Holloway, 1997; Hycner, 1999) that argue the inappropriateness of overlaying a technique or method that will fit all situations. However, it is important to note that the research did not start with a blank slate. The notion of exploring connections between sport and civic engagement in young males does, to some extent, suggest an embryonic form of a hypothesis, particularly in pursuing some of the correlations emerging from previous literature. As a piece of qualitative research, though, and as recommended by Walter (2006) and Ploeg (1999), the priority was to gather narrative style data through semi-structured interviews, with open-ended questions. Gollop (2000) considers that the key to the research interview is offering younger participants an opportunity to be heard. Whether they take this opportunity depends largely on the researcher's careful attention to the interview process, and on the extent to which they hone their listening and attending skills in the context of a positive relationship. Because of this potential opportunity, and the need to address issues of power imbalance in the research process with young people, the research framework needed to offer young males an arena in which to explore their own lived situation and generate a change environment for themselves.

Although this study was not wholly based on a grounded theory approach, it can be argued that the research was informed by some of its broad principles, such as Strauss and Corbin's (1998) indication to regularly move back and forth between data collection and analysis, and a focus on the findings from interviews, with that focus forming the basis of further argument about the issues raised, especially in relation to the specific connections between the factors that constitute the focus of the interviews. The study design was also influenced, to a lesser extent, by post-modernist thought, particularly in the representation of the participants' language used to construct meaning about their experience of sport and civic engagement (Alston and Bowles, 2003) and an understanding of difference, that is that difference is not deviance, and does not necessarily need to be explained away (Kapitzke, Cheung, & Yu, 2000).

As the study aimed to capture the richness and complexity of some young males' lived experiences, the main method of analysis used in this study was one of thematic analysis which, according to Willis (2006), is an appropriate and effective form of analysis in qualitative research, especially if interviews were the main technique for data collection. Boyatzis (1998) says that thematic analysis is a process for encoding qualitative data that looks for common patterns, in order to, at the least, describe and organise the data and, at most, interpret aspects of the data. Furthermore, Bernard and Ryan (2000) propose that major cultural themes can emerge when applying thematic analysis to research data, for example, around dimensions of maintaining social status, cultural contradiction and social conflict. Thematic analysis was applied to the data by looking for common phrases, ideas, experiences and opinions, and grouping them around a range of interim labels (over 50). Being qualitative in nature, it was possible to begin the analysis before all data was collected, and so a method of constant comparison was utilised to maintain the author's immersion in the material. As more data was collected, the analysis continued until the point that no new material appeared to be emerging, referred to by Strauss and Corbin (1998) as saturation.

Eventually, six major themes emerged from participants stories, which were labelled: Meanings of sport; Health and wellbeing; Identity; Belonging; Contribution; and Political pathways. The themes overlap to some extent and this interplay between should be acknowledged, but this article focuses on the connections between sport and health and wellbeing, with particular reference to notions of resilience and transition.

DISCUSSION

Not surprisingly, and in line with sports science literature (e.g., Allison, Dwyer, Goldenberg, Fein, Yoshida, & Boutilier, 2005: Cale & Harris, 2005), every participant described one of the benefits of being involved in sport was that it kept them active, healthy and fit. Most participants referred to physical health, generally alluding to sports participation making them more aware of choices about food, exercise (and how that makes them feel good), strength, muscle tone, smoking and laziness (for example, as one participant put it, "keeping my arse off the lounge"). Interestingly, apart from one comment about exercise being a way "to balance out the drinking," no one made a direct association between making healthy choices and curbing alcohol consumption, with some speaking of drinking regularly and sometimes to excess.

The broader definitions of health discussed in the literature review, such as mental health or social health, were not labelled as "health" or even as "wellbeing" by the participants. However, they did refer to them in other ways such as "feeling good," "confidence" and "coping with hard times." Furthermore, it was clear that the social dimension of sport was vitally important to participants, particularly when identifying their sense of belonging and the way in which they derived a "good feeling" from sport.

Acting as a thematic bridge between activity/fitness and feeling good was a small number of comments about looking good (i.e., physical appearance), in that sports contributed to fitness and muscle tone, resulting in them being noticed by others and, as one felt, being more attractive to girls. The other aspect of looking good was more aligned with the spectacle of the performance, for example in making a "big hit" in rugby or in accomplishing a major trick on a mountain bike. That people would see it and think it looked good was also related to recognition and reward. In this context, though, the findings appear to match Daley's (2002) findings that, for boys, sport contributed to a higher sense of physical self-worth and attractive body adequacy.

Participants also said that being able to look good gave them a good feeling, although feeling good through sport was achieved in a number of other more significant ways. For example, simply being active had the effect of lightening their mood, as they acknowledged the internal bodily effects of adrenaline and endorphins. Furthermore, winning made them feel good, but of equal importance was the feeling experienced from knowing that they had done all they could to achieve their goals, even if they did not win. Feeling good was also derived from helping others to play their best, and commonly from the sensation of being part of a team. The sensation of feeling good also seemed to have an ongoing effect, in that many of the participants were able to recall great moments from the past of playing well, winning or having an impact on their team or on the game. For one participant, the memory of a past moment actually appeared to produce a similar sensation even when recounting it during the interview. Pedro (who interestingly isolated this feeling to Rugby union as distinct from other sports he had played) said:

The team just really pulls together and you go out there ... like one game that always sticks out in my head when I think back is the game we played against Campbelltown. We played 'era like four other times and we lost and we played them at the stadium and we finally beat them. That game was just one of the best games, just awesome. The thing that sticks out is not that like you did this mad try, whatever. It was the way the team pulled together and the way that everyone just believed in each other. Those are the things, and they give you that tingly feeling. It's like a rush. (Pedro, 20 years)

For some participants, the team environment also provided opportunities to feel good by playing well and "earning the respect of the older guys." The recognition and respect of peers, both within the team and with the broader peer group, was an important source of feeling good.

I like getting praise, like, 'cause you put in a lot of hard work to be good at playing footy and when you get, "Oh you did really well when you did such and such .... " you always get a buzz out of it. (Mungo, 19 years)

The health implications of feeling good and having fun are quite relevant to the enhancement of wellbeing and the development of resilience. Aspects of resilience emerged through participants' thoughts about confidence, pushing through pain and coping with hard times.

There was consensus amongst the participants that being involved in sport had significantly increased their confidence. Participants were keen to point out that this increased confidence from sport affected their broader lives as well. For example:

It brings out so much confidence. I mean I wouldn't be where I am today without sport, because I just feel like I've got so much confidence over where I am, today, and doing what I'm doing. (Maverick, 18 years)

The nuances of this increased confidence added some richness to its meaning in this context. First and foremost was the notion that they had greater verbal confidence. Almost all the participants said that being involved in sport had given them, for example, confidence to speak in front of other people, to express their opinions, confront others with whom they disagreed, problem-solve by talking through issues, motivate others, and to speak easily about themselves in job interviews. Below are some samples of sport acting to build confidence:

It's just something I find I feel a lot more confident. Like, if I look back, when I was 13 or 14, I was a pretty quiet kid. Around friends and family I was loud, but not around people I didn't know or weren't particularly associated with. But now I'm happy to get fight into it and get involved in discussions and that type of thing. (Fisher, 21 years)

Through playing a lot of team sports, I have become much more extroverted and easier to talk to people. I've definitely learned a lot of communication skills through like different types of sport and different levels, and, like, even different positions and how much you have to talk. (Stretch, 20 years)

I think sport makes you more confident; it makes you more confident in life; it makes you get up and say what you want to say; you're not scared of what people think, not scared of what people see, just you want the eyes on you. People that don't play sport I think they're a little bit less confident. (Maverick, 18 years)

Another element of verbal confidence was that some of the participants would use sporting analogies in other types of discussion. For example, in debates or tutorials at university, Fisher said:

It's weird because I find that all my analogies in anything are related back to sport. Like, it doesn't matter what. I did debating and I got criticised because there'd be a political topic and somehow I'd use an analogy to relate it back to sport. (Fisher, 21 years)

Participants also reported having less fear because of their involvement in sport. Because of the confidence gained through sport, they were not so afraid of the opinions of others, or of being in the limelight. This confidence is related to resilience, but also to the increased sense of control that they had gained. Having more control helped them to feel that they could achieve anything, whether that came from control over the equipment (like a mountain bike) or from a position of leadership.

On the bike, it's just like you've got control over the bike and you can go where you want. I reckon it's good to be in control. Makes you feel a lot better. (Rookie, 15 years)

I built a lot of confidence up with footy like being able to talk in front of people or get everyone's attention, like make everybody be quiet and listen because that's something you get taught when you're captain. (Pedro, 20 years)

The lessening of fear also related to an increased level of interpersonal confidence, that is, the self-assuredness to meet new people. Joining sports teams inevitably means having to meet new people, so the increased exposure to unknown social situations led them to develop their confidence in building relationships. The building of social networks is central to developing a sense of belonging and a means of contributing to community. It is also a key ingredient for developing resilience. This aspect of interaction with, and control over, their surrounding environment is, according to Macdonald (2005), central to the meaning of health. Resilience was something that almost all the participants felt that they had taken from sport into general life. They felt that sport had made them stronger and more able to handle hard times or adversity. In other words, it had built their resilience. For example:

Go in and give it everything you've got. If you get knocked off at least you can say, "Well, I tried." (Pedro, 20 years)

I can lift my head up higher and not be afraid of other things .... I've been used to going through pain or hard training and that helps with everyday life, to accomplish obstacles that are in your path. I've always felt that I can overcome battles and that, but the sport has helped me physically do it. (Sonny, 20 years)

They all sort of bring the same thing, like they bring the character out of you; they bring things out of you that you didn't know you had. (Maverick, 18 years)

You take the sports mentality out with you in life. You just keep going. (Mungo, 19 years)

A few participants had experienced loss or hard times during their teenage years and felt that their involvement in sport had helped them cope with these times. For example, involvement in outdoor and adventure sports gave one participant, as already noted, a way of handling his ADHD, by having the freedom to move rather than having to sit still in formal education. Another participant experienced the loss of his mother when he was in Year 9, and felt that his sports team and coach were very supportive. He felt that their support, and the opportunity to redirect his energies into sport, had helped him through this time.

Atwool (2002) and Worsley (2005) both conclude that, for young people, resilience is derived from characteristics such as high self-esteem, self-confidence, communication skills, conflict resolution skills, cultural pride, easy temperament, a sense of belonging, or any kind of skill that a young person has learned that they can rely on and contributes to their ability to survive adversity. Furthermore, broader factors such as a supportive family, a regular peer group (even if it is characterised by violence), and a supportive person, network or agency outside the family also contribute to resilience. The findings of this study show, in line with the factors that contribute to resilience as understood by Atwool (2002) and Worsley (2005), that sport has proved to be a source of these factors for the young males in developing their resilience, since almost all the factors listed were cited by the participants as part of their sport experience.

The findings of this study do mesh nicely with the theoretical understanding of resilience, and show that sport is indeed a source of its development, not the least of which is that it helped the young males to feel good. The importance to the participants of feeling good also uncovered something of the thrilling and risky nature of sport, and their resilience displayed their capacity for handling the risk. This feeling primarily related to the sensation experienced from the rush of adrenaline, or the effect of endorphins being released during exercise. The terms "release" and "natural high" were used a number of times. Extreme sports such as downhill mountain biking and jumping, and adventure sports like abseiling, were most associated with thrills and sensations arising from adrenaline, although some of the rugby players also spoke of "the rush of pulling off a big tackle."

There were various perspectives on the operation of these hormones, with some saying that they "calm you down," "rev you up," "release your stress" and "help you think straight." Whatever the variant, the general attitude was that the "natural high" was preferable to, for example, an alcohol or drug-induced one. Blue, who had experienced both, was particularly adamant that sport gave him:

[A] natural high. It eliminates having to go out and do stupid stuff. You can have fun doing stuff that's good for you and doesn't hurt anybody else. You have heaps more fun, you don't get in trouble for it and you get heaps more out of it. (Blue, 18 years)

This aspect was developed further by others, in terms of sport being a preferable replacement for other risk-taking behaviours. It seems that they felt the period of adolescence-wherein risk-taking is most common--is made easier by the managed risk involved in sport. This finding concurs with Booth (2000), who argued that young people value "risk-taking behaviour" (that is, behaviour that is likely to jeopardise health and wellbeing, and where there is poor or no risk management) as a release from an otherwise boring routine. Sport was important for the young males in this study, particularly in terms of the goal of managing risks and therefore minimising harms associated with adolescent behaviour through such active pursuits. This finding also reflects the findings of Hall and Banno (2001), and Morris, Sallybanks, Willis, and Makkai (2004) that sport, as one activity that reduces boredom and the amount of unsupervised leisure time, has a function in reducing the "anti-social" behaviour of young people. So, in effect, sport becomes pro-social almost by default, although for the participants in this study there was something more intentional about their involvement, and therefore something possibly more intentional about their pro-social behaviour, despite their risk-taking.

Taking risks and seeking thrills sometimes lead to levels of harm and injuries. Participants had no qualms talking about injuries that they had received from sport, taking it for granted that it was part of the game. For some, bad injuries meant being out for the season and for a few serious injuries meant the end of their playing days in their particular sport. Some mentioned that because of injuries they had learned ways of treating them which they had then been able to administer to other athletes, and apply to other areas of their life as well (for example, at work). At the same time as the disappointment about getting injured there was, in some of the young males, almost a sense of pride about the types of injury received. One participant was awarded an endof-season trophy for being knocked down so often during his rugby league season, and so the injury almost became a badge of honour. Additionally, "stacking it" in mountain biking, for example, added to the fun and the entertainment of the activity, although serious injuries were never laughed at.

In these findings on risks and thrills there is nothing out of step with the literature on adolescence as a life stage (e.g. Eriksson, 1968) with its goals of identity and independence, although the connection between the findings and aspects of Hegel's perspective on subjectivity is less convincing. Hegel (1971) describes youth as regarding themselves as representing all that is true and good, consumed in their own subjectivity. To some extent, this analysis accounts for the participants' pursuit of feeling good and their dissatisfaction with sports clubs that don't meet their ideals of inclusion and fairness, but it does not sufficiently explain the often altruistic nature of their values systems. It is conceivable, of course, that this balance is an indication of their having moved beyond the stage of adolescence. Although Hegel does not set any age limit on the life stage, the age of the sample--and their preoccupation with feeling good and the element of risk--would suggest that this is probably not the case.

Discussion and policy on risk in the context of the health and wellbeing of young people often settles upon the topic of alcohol use and the concerns about adolescent binge drinking (e.g., NSW Health Youth Action Plan, NSW Police Safe Party Strategy). Some participants in this study regularly referred to their own alcohol use as part of the social nature of their sport. All but two of the participants were over 18, and there was no mention of frequent drunkenness or binge drinking on their part, but that "a drink after the game" was an expected and welcome aspect of being involved, especially in a team sport. The pub offered a site for reflecting on the highs and lows of the game, putting aside differences and conflicts, and enjoying the company of friends. For some, this company regularly included opponents as well. However, the "drinking culture" of sports such as rugby league and rugby union was identified by a number of participants. The expectation to drink large quantities of alcohol was seen as a risk factor for deterioration of health and wellbeing, and further supports the Morris et al (2004) position that sport can be used to avert this situation:

One of my mates, he was playing for Jersey Flegg sides, and came into C-grade and then got with the drinking culture and all that sort of stuff within rugby league and just started to go downhill, like he's still ... but he's not nowhere near what he used to be. (Stretch, 20 years)

In an additional dimension of drinking, some participants alluded to the connection that a team or club may have with "the local" (i.e., the favoured public venue to meet and drink alcohol together). This connection was seen not just as a place to meet but also a way of engendering a sense of belonging to the local community. For example:

The cricket club's close affiliation to the "local" leagues club helps to create a sense of belonging to the community. In our area the local bowling, RSL and leagues clubs are often both a community meeting point and symbol. Meeting in the team colours after the game at the local best reflects that feeling of belonging. (Skipper, 25 years)

The participants' opinions on alcohol seemed to be less related to physical health and much more to do with socialisation, which was spoken of commonly as mateship or friendship. Mateship was, in fact, the second most common response about the benefits of sport (after "fun"). All participants related the experience of positive social relationships as the best part about playing sport. Terms like "mates," "mateship," "social," "networks," "being with friends" and "camaraderie" were frequently used in describing their sport experiences, and indicated the level of importance that was placed on friendship as part of their experience, whether by playing sport with existing friends or by making new friends through sport.

Interestingly, many participants intimated that they had developed qualitatively different types of friendships through sport, acknowledging the positive experience of meeting new people but keeping such encounters at a fairly shallow level. They discussed the social networks formed through sport that were slightly deeper than "introductory," and finally they spoke of bonding and the closeness of friendships that had, for them, gone beyond sport and moved into other life experiences. Many felt that the friendships that they had gained through sport were much closer than those that they had developed in other ways. The following quotes provide some examples of sport's contribution to making friends:

A lot of my friends have been met playing sports, when I look at it. A lot of my mates are from footy, and athletics, and a lot of my good friends I've spent time with doing sport. You see them more often; you learn to work as a team with them. I talk to those blokes almost every day. (Mungo, 19 years)

There's things to do with union and league that you don't get from any other sport, nowhere near. Like the mateship you get from playing. The thing you get from footy you can't replace with it anything. (Pedro, 20 years)

There's a lot of people who I'm really close to because of sport. (Maverick, 18 years) You're just playing with your mates. And if you don't play with your mates, you make mates in about a week. You know you go to a new club, and someone's gunna come up and introduce themselves, in one week you almost know the whole team, and there's another group of mates. (Link, 20 years)

It is this affirmation of the social dimension of sport that most closely relates to the health/wellbeing dichotomy discussed by Woodman (2004) and Easthorpe and White (2006). They found that young people viewed "health" and "wellbeing" as separate concepts. Health was determined by eating well, exercising, and avoiding behaviours like smoking, drug-taking, binge drinking and major risk-taking. The participants in this study similarly spoke of sport contributing to health along these lines. Wellbeing, according to Easthorpe and White (2006), is more related to social networks and a supportive family. In this study, the prominence of friendship, social networks and feeling good (which sometimes involved risk) shows that sport was not just a source of health but also a source of wellbeing. Whilst, there was also a large number of comments about belonging, there was no obvious connection made by the participants in this study between belonging and health or wellbeing. Despite this lack of conscious connection, it would still be fair to argue--as supported by other literature (e.g., Berkman & Glass, 2003; Konopka, 1973; Macdonald, 2006; Wilkinson, 2006; Wilkinson & Marmot, 2003)--that, for these participants who overwhelmingly found their sense of belonging through sport, their health/wellbeing was enhanced. Furthermore, as Woodman (2004) proposed, young people are trying to balance responsibility for their future and having time to enjoy the present, parallelling the tension in the health and wellbeing dichotomy. Some sense of this balancing act also emerged in this study, in that the young males rated enjoyment as a highly important element of their sporting experience, and yet also displayed a concern for their health together with a concern for broader social issues. Although the participants in this study were not specifically surveyed about their understanding of the terms "health" and "wellbeing," it is important to note that in their descriptions of sport, the two terms--as understood via Easthorpe and White (2006) and Woodman (2004)--find a "playing field" in which to meet and merge.

CONCLUSION

In summarising the place of health and wellbeing as a major theme emerging from the findings it has been established that, for these young males, sport is a source of factors promoting both health and wellbeing (as defined earlier by Easthorpe and White (2006). Sport was clearly seen as a healthier and more civically committed alternative to anti-social risk behaviours, and an obvious source of physical health and fitness. Furthermore, their sports experiences contributed to the development of confidence, accomplishment, self-esteem, relaxation and feeling good as key aspects of mental and emotional health. The social nature of sport and the centrality of friendships in their sports experiences show that it is also an important contributor to wellbeing, in terms of building support networks and encouraging a significant level of reliance on teammates, friends and family through different life course events.

These experiences forge a direct connection, through increased self-esteem, confidence, communication, and social networks, to the development of resilience. Sport was the most significant contributor for the young males in this study, to almost all the dimensions of resilience outlined by Atwool (2002), Daley (2002), and Worsley (2005). Individual characteristics (self-esteem, self-confidence, communication skills, conflict resolution skills, perceived physical competence and a sense of belonging) were heightened through sports participation. Many participants rated supportive family as a leading factor in their sport, and almost all the participants were able to identify a significant adult (outside the immediate family system) from their sporting world that added to the strength of their support system. Additionally, all the participants reported learning new skills as a motivating factor for playing sport, and were able to name ways in which they could rely on some sport-based learning in other areas of their lives.

It was also very clear how dimensions of the participants' sports experiences ran in parallel with identified social determinants of health and wellbeing. For example, community recognition of participation and achievements (Hall & Banno, 2000, Wilkinson, 2006; Woodman, 2004) salutogenic approach to strengths of males in developing resilience and interacting/developing control within their surrounding environment (Macdonald, 2005); reduced stress, social inclusion and support (Wilkinson & Marmot, 2003); and fair and egalitarian community/group experiences (Wilkinson, 2006), were all developed and sustained through sport participation.

The findings not only add to an understanding of the health and wellbeing of young males, but also provide something of a challenge to policy makers, health practitioners and youth service providers on a number of levels.

The experiences of the young males indicated that sport was a form, and facilitator, of belonging, due to, for example, the feelings associated with being in a team of club, or the camaraderie and shared effort that form part of memorable team performances. Sport is also a facilitator of belonging in that, for example, it enables the participants to develop broader social networks, and also provides them with a means of recognition, reward, and being valued by their local communities. A sense of belonging is a significant social determinant of health (Berkman & Glass, 2003).

The significant area of difference in the findings of this study from other research in the area was that, for the participants, contribution took on many forms. Altruism was at the core of their contribution, whether that was helping team-mates, friends or others in the community, but the most significant aspect was in the participants' self-defined notions of participation that incorporated contribution by playing sport, contribution to community through sport-affiliated activity, and broader contribution to community as a result of what they had learned/developed through sport.

There are some pivotal findings that enable revised conceptualisations of youth participation, and have particular relevance for youth work practitioners. A major point to highlight here is related to the participants' own definition of contribution. These young males felt that they contributed to community life simply by playing a sport in, or for, their local community. For some, playing sport was enough for them to be sufficiently engaged in community life. That is not to say that young males should not be encouraged to move to a deeper level of civic participation, but that the youth-defined level of participation needs also to be appreciated. This process also begins to connect with a young male's sense of identity. If their identity is derived substantially from sport, and their contribution through sport participation is unappreciated or even mocked, they can be left with the impression that they as people--as men in the making--are, in fact, unappreciated, the result of which may detract from their health and wellbeing, and perhaps become more marginalised.

The revised viewpoint of youth participation leads to a consideration of the implications of this thesis for human service delivery to young males, and to young people in general. Apart from self-determination and passion, another implication centres on life balance. As Woodman (2004) has argued, to attain wellbeing, young people require a balance between responsibility for the future and time to enjoy the present, both of which are also important features of a civically engaged person. The implication of this struggle for balance is that researchers and policy-makers need to make provision in service planning and priorities to accommodate this process. At the face-to-face level of service delivery, workers need to be conscious that the activities in which young people are being encouraged to participate (whether educational, recreational, developmental or civically oriented) do not detract from a young person's experience of responsibility and enjoyment. The findings of the study indicate that sport is conducive to achieving this balance of responsibility and enjoyment for young males, which adds not only to their individual resilience, health and wellbeing but also potentially to the health, wellbeing and resilience of the communities in which they live.

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Neil Hall (a)

(a)School of Social Sciences, University of Western Sydney.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Neil Hall, Lecturer in Social Work, School of Social Sciences, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797 Penrith, NSW, 2751, Australia. Email: N.Hall@uws.edu.au

DOI: 10.3149/jmh.1001.65
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