An in-Depth Investigation of a Model Sport Program for Athletes with a Physical Disability


While previous research highlights the important benefits that sport participation can have for youth development, limited research has examined the sport experiences of athletes with disabilities (Martin, 2006). The purpose of this study was to describe the sport experiences of athletes with physical disabilities in a model swim program that has been widely recognized for the development of positive values in athletes. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight athletes with a physical disability. Participants were both male (n = 3) and female (n = 5), between 9 - 19 years of age, and averaged 5.9 years of swimming experience. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and were subjected to a content analysis procedure in which raw meaning units were grouped into salient themes (Coté, Salmela, Baria, & Russell, 1993; Tesch, 1990). Athletes’ responses regarding the outcomes derived from this program revealed four themes: 1) Redefined capabilities, 2) affirmed sense of self, 3) strengthened social connection, and 4) enhanced acceptance. Social and contextual processes facilitating the development of these outcomes are also discussed. Practical implications for programmers, coaches, and athletes are presented along with recommendations for future sport research.

Share and Cite:

Turnnidge, J. , Vierimaa, M. & Coté, J. (2012). An in-Depth Investigation of a Model Sport Program for Athletes with a Physical Disability. Psychology, 3, 1131-1141. doi: 10.4236/psych.2012.312A167.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Banack, H. R., Sabiston, C., & Bloom, G. A. (2011). Coach autonomy support, basic need satisfaction, and intrinsic motivation of Paralympic athletes. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 84, 722-730. doi:10.5641/027013611X13275192111989
[2] Coté, J. (1999). The influence of the family in the development of talent in sports. The Sport Psychologist, 13, 395-417.
[3] Coté, J., Bruner, M. W., Erickson, K., Strachan, L., & Fraser-Thomas, J. (2010). Athlete development and coaching. In J. Lyle, & C. Cushion (Eds.), Sport coaching: Professionalism and practice (pp. 3-83). Oxford: Elsevier.
[4] Coté, J., & Fraser-Thomas, J. (2007). Youth involvement in sport. In P. R. E. Crocker (Ed.), Introduction to sport psychology: A Canadian perspective (pp. 270-298). Toronto: Pearson.
[5] Coté, J., Salmela, J. H., Baria, A., & Russell, S. J. (1993). Organizing and interpreting unstructured qualitative data. The Sport Psychologist, 2, 127-137.
[6] Cregan, K., Bloom, G. A., & Reid, G. (2007). Career evolution and knowledge of elite coaches of swimmers with a physical disability. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 78, 339-350. doi:10.5641/193250307X13082505158147
[7] Damon, W. (2004). What is positive youth development? Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591, 13-24. doi:10.1177/0002716203260092
[8] Fontana, A., & Frey, J. H. (2000). The interview: From structured questions to negotiated text. In N. K. Denzin, & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 645-672). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
[9] Fraser-Thomas, J. & Coté, J. (2009). Understanding adolescents’ positive and negative developmental experiences in sport. The Sport Psychologist, 23, 3-23.
[10] Fraser-Thomas, J. L., Coté, J., & Deakin, J. (2005). Youth sport programs: An avenue to foster positive youth development. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 10, 19-40.
[11] Giacobbi Jr., P. R., Stancil, M., Hardin, B., & Bryant, L. (2008). Physical activity and quality of life experienced by highly active in dividuals with physical disabilities. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 25, 189-207.
[12] Gifford-Smith, M. E., & Brownell, C. A. (2003). Childhood peer relationships: Social acceptance, friendships, and peer networks. Journal of School Psychology, 41, 235-284. doi:10.1016/S0022-4405(03)00048-7
[13] Goodwin, D. L., Krohn, J., & Kuhnle, A. (2004). Beyond the wheelchair: The experience of dance. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 21, 229-247.
[14] Goodwin, D., Johnston, K., Gustafson, P., Elliott, M., Thurmeier, R., & Kuttai, H. (2009). It’s okay to be a quad: Wheelchair rugby players’ sense of community. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 26, 102 117.
[15] Groff, D. G., & Kleiber, D. A. (2001). Exploring the identity formation of youth involved in an adapted sports program. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 35, 318-332.
[16] Guèvremont, A., Findlay, L., & Kohen, D. (2008). Organized extracurricular activities of Canadian children and youth. Health Reports, 19, 65-69.
[17] Holt, N. L., & Jones, M. I. (2008). Future directions for positive youth development and sport research. In N. L. Holt (Ed.), Positive youth development through sport (pp. 122-132). London: Routledge.
[18] Holt, N. L., & Sehn, Z. L. (2008). Processes associated with positive youth development and participation in competitive youth sport. In N. L. Holt (Ed.), Positive youth development through sport (pp. 24-33). London: Routledge.
[19] Holt, N. L., Tamminen, K. A., Tink, L. N., & Black, D. E. (2009). An interpretive analysis of life skills associated with sport participation. Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise, 1, 160-175. doi:10.1080/19398440902909017
[20] Horn, T. (2008). Coaching effectiveness in the sport domain. In T. S. Horn (Ed.), Advances in sport psychology (3rd ed., pp. 239-268). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
[21] Hutzler, Y., Fliess, O., Chacham, A., & Van den Auweele, Y. (2002). Perspectives of children with physical disabilities on inclusion and empowerment: Supporting and limiting factors. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 19, 300-317.
[22] Hutzler, Y., & Sherrill, C. (1999). Disability, physical activity, psychological well-being and empowerment: A life span perspective. In R. Lidor, & M. Bar-Eli (Eds.), Sport psychology: Linking theory and practice (pp. 281-300). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
[23] Jelicic, H., Bobek, D., Phelps, E., Lerner, R., & Lerner, J. (2007). Using positive youth development to predict contribution and risk behaviors in early adolescence: Findings from the first two waves of the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 31, 263-273. doi:10.1177/0165025407076439
[24] King, G., Law, M., Hanna, S., King, S., Hurley, P., Rosenbaum, P., Kertoy, M., & Petrenchik, T. (2006). Predictors of the leisure and recreation participation of children with physical disabilities: A structural equation modeling analysis. Children’s Health Care, 35, 209-234. doi:10.1207/s15326888chc3503_2
[25] Kristén, L., Patriksson, G., & Fridlund, B. (2002). Conceptions of children and adolescents with physical disabilities about their participation in a sports programme. European Physical Education Review, 8, 139-156.
[26] Larson, R. (2000). Toward a psychology of positive youth development. American Psychologist, 55, 170-183. doi:10.1037//0003-066X.55.1.170
[27] Lerner, R. M. (2002). Concepts and theories of human development (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
[28] Mageau, G., & Vallerand, R. (2003). The coach-athlete relationship: A motivational model. Journal of Sport Sciences, 21, 883-904. doi:10.1080/0264041031000140374
[29] Martin, J. J. (2006). Psychosocial aspects of youth disability sport. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 23, 65-77.
[30] Martin, J. J., & Choi, Y. S. (2009). Parents’ physical activity-related perceptions of their children with disabilities. Disability & Health Journal, 2, 9-14. doi:10.1016/j.dhjo.2008.09.001
[31] Martin, J. J., & Mushett, A. C. (1996). Social support mechanisms among athletes with disabilities. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 13, 74-83.
[32] Martin, J. J., & Smith, K. (2002). Friendship quality in youth disability sport: Perceptions of a best friend. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 19, 472-482.
[33] National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
[34] Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
[35] Petitpas, A. J., Cornelius, A. E., Van Raalte, J. L., & Jones, T. (2005). A framework for planning youth sport programs that foster psychosocial development. The Sport Psychologist, 19, 63-80.
[36] Reinboth, M., Duda, J. L., & Ntoumanis, N. (2004). Dimensions of coaching behavior, need satisfaction, and the psychological and physical welfare of young athletes. Motivation and Emotion, 28, 297 313. doi:10.1023/B:MOEM.0000040156.81924.b8
[37] Sandelowski, M. (2000). Whatever happened to qualitative description? Research in Nursing and Health, 23, 334-340. doi:10.1002/1098-240X(200008)23:4<334::AID-NUR9>3.0.CO;2-G
[38] Shapiro, D. R., & Martin, J. J. (2010). Athletic identity, affect, and peer relations in youth athletes with physical disabilities. Disability & Health Journal, 3, 79-85. doi:10.1016/j.dhjo.2009.08.004
[39] Spencer-Cavaliere, N., & Watkinson, E. J. (2010). Inclusion understood from the perspectives of children with a disability. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 27, 275-293.
[40] Strachan, L., Coté, J., & Deakin, J. (2011). A new view: Exploring positive youth development in elite sport contexts. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise, and Health, 3, 9-32. doi:10.1080/19398441.2010.541483
[41] Taub, D. E., Blinde, E. M., & Greer, K. M. (1999). Stigma management through participation in sport and physical activity: Experiences of male college students with physical disabilities. Human Relations, 52, 1469-1483. doi:10.1177/001872679905201106
[42] Tesch, R. (1990). Qualitative research: Analysis types and software tools. Hampshire: The Falmer Press.
[43] Ullrich-French, S., & Smith, A. L. (2006). Perceptions of relationships with parents and peers in youth sport: Independent and combined prediction of motivational outcomes. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 7, 193-214. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2005.08.006

Copyright © 2024 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.