Open Up the Vault of Black Box and Beyond: An Evaluative Study of Sports-based Life Skills Activities for Socially Vulnerable Youth: Implementation, Processes and Effectiveness


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date14 Dec 2017


Purpose. Historically, sports training for youth development was believed to provide fertile ground for positive personal growth. Mixed literature showed different results about whether sports training was positively conducive to youth’s life goal and their learning. Research findings showed that there were sparse studies which have evaluated complex sports programmes that included life skills training with socially vulnerable youth. Method. A multi-level document content analyses conducted with major programme implementers was initially used to investigate a programme logic model and components of a Hong Kong (HK) programme “Basketball Flame”. This qualitative evaluation approach was complemented by one-on-one face-to-face in-depth interviews, conducted with eight key programme stakeholders namely, social workers, youth workers, coaches and participants. Subsequently, a series of nine qualitative focus groups were conducted with average eight participants in each of them. The interviews ranged from 45 to 60 minutes, to investigate their shared and unique experiences about programme learning, and to voice their perceptions and feedback on programme effectiveness. A match-fit evaluation model using a critical realist approach was used to guide this evaluation. Data analyses were conducted using an “a priori” hypothesis approach with iterative inductive and deductive procedures associated with thematic analysis construction. Findings. Main results showed: a) that youth generally benefited from the basketball sports training and foremost, the programme was compatible with their life goals and learning purposes; b) overall the sports training effects were more explicit, than were the life skills learning; c) scant literature about this topic impeded the discussions about the effectiveness of programme design and implementation; d) insufficient details of various programme components were unable to guide the meticulous processes, guiding the how-and-what of the programme implementation; and, e) the need to better combine sports and life skills learning together was a major finding. The overall effectiveness of this programme was found to reside in six mechanisms: 1) the literature informed knowledge base; 2) programme implementation; 3) the annual tournament as a major motivator for participants; 4) the working philosophy and its context; 5) the recruitment process and needs assessments; and, 6) the application of learning in wider social context. Several qualitative themes emerged and were used to answer five overarching research questions anchoring the entire study. It was clearly noted that from these findings, that each theme had both enabling and disabling factors, which influenced programme implementation and its effects. Conclusion. Three hidden mechanisms were unveiled from these evaluative findings: a) the major programme motivator, the tournament competition, both facilitated and impeded overall programme effectiveness, b) life skills learning were welcomed by those youth who demonstrated good performance in basketball training, including being prepared, and being older with impending life task demands, and c) a noted outclassing of attractiveness of the sports training than the life skills learning was found. This study offered recommendations to make complex sports-based life skills training programme more effective. Further, future intervention and evaluative studies are sorely needed to effectively assess such youth programme in HK and abroad.

    Research areas

  • Sports-based life skills training, Complex social work interventions, Social work evaluation, Qualitative study, Life skills training