Youth sport coaching as social contribution: Exploring developmental pathways to community service


The concept of Contribution – a thriving individual giving back to their community and society – is posited as the ultimate stage of Positive Youth Development (Lerner, 2005). In youth sport, coaching is a direct example of such “giving back”, whereby former youth sport participants devote their time and energy to providing positive sport experiences for the next generation. Yet pragmatically, recruiting and retaining coaches remains one of the biggest challenges faced by youth sport organizations . This research examines the developmental experiences and pathways by which youth sport participants develop into adults who contribute back to the youth sport community via coaching. This qualitative study used a critical realist Grounded Theory approach (Kempster & Parry, 2015). Semi-structured interviews were conducted with current youth sport coaches who had personally experienced the successful developmental pathway from youth sport athlete to coach, seeking to identify key youth sport experiences, relationships, and program characteristics that facilitated their transitions into coaching. Results indicate a transitional pathway from athlete to coach that is broadly guided by a three-step developmental process: 1) Opportunities to practice leadership and coaching skills as a youth athlete, 2) Engagement in a wider sport community during or after youth sport participation, 3) A personalized invitation to coaching, with positive recognition of an individual's potential to be an effective coach. This research provides insight into tangible steps that organizations can take to increase the likelihood that athletes will contribute back to youth sport through coaching.