Exploring connectedness and self-esteem in a girls sports-based youth development program: how the ingredients fit together

Markowitz, Ellen S., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Deutsch, Nancy, Cu-Leadshp Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia
Lawrence, Edith, Cu-Human Svcs, University of Virginia
Williams, Joanna Lee, Cu-Leadshp Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia
Whaley, Diane, Cu-Leadshp Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia

Connectedness and self-esteem are significant developmental processes for adolescent girls. Moreover, both connectedness and self-esteem are complex, multidimensional, and difficult to measure. One context in which girls' experiences have not been explored at great length is out-of-school time programs, particularly those focused on sports-based youth development. To better understand the nature of connectedness and self-esteem for girls in sports-based youth development programs, a mixed methods inquiry involving ethnographic observations, participant interviews, relational maps, connectedness worksheets, and surveys of 13 ethnic minority high school females, ages 14-16, was undertaken.

Findings revealed a connectedness typology consisting of six overall ingredients that were present in relationship formation between girls and their peers, and program staff. These ingredients were: commonalities, physical proximity, collaboration, humor, talking and listening, and trust. These ingredients coalesced into a pyramid, referred to as the "dyadic pyramid" consisting of three levels: 1) shared environments, 2) shared experiences, and 3) shared emotions. At the first level, shared environments, girls reported commonalities or physical proximity as the key ingredients. Some relationships remained at this level, while many progressed to the second level, shared experiences. At this level, girls described stronger perceptions of collaboration, humor, or talking and listening with others. Fewer relationships advanced to the third level, where trust was the salient ingredient.

The program was a context for the development of many new relationships, with both peers and adults. Staff members played a prominent role in participants' connectedness and self-esteem development. They supported the girls through instrumental and relationship scaffolding, as well as providing encouragement, support and validation to enhance participants' perceptions of competence. Girls reported increasing their skills and perceptions of competence. particularly in three domains: sports and fitness, career and future self, and global self-worth. They shared extensively about skills gained and how they used these new competencies in their lives after the program.

Findings support out-of-school time program relationships as fertile contexts for growing the ingredients of connectedness and self-esteem. Both connectedness and self-esteem independently and jointly contributed to girls' positive development. Implications for promoting connectedness and self-esteem in out-of-school time programs are discussed.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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