Beyond the Game

Preventing Dropout in Youth Athletes through Leadership Empowerment

1. Interdisciplinary Strength of the Research Team

    This project leverages the unique and complementary expertise of its three promotors to address the critical issue of youth sports dropout. Katrien Fransen brings extensive knowledge in athlete empowerment and leadership development. Her research, particularly on the 5R Shared Leadership Program, has demonstrated significant enhancements of athlete empowerment on team identification, confidence, perceived social support, and athlete health within adult sports teams, which shows promise for adaptation in youth sports. Jan Seghers contributes his deep understanding of youth sports participation and dropout, informed by his involvement in projects like the Erasmus+ project “Keep Youngsters Involved” and the Sport Vlaanderen project “Geef Tieners een Stem.” His work emphasizes that youth athletes need to be empowered in order to reduce drop-out. Filip Boen provides critical insights into the social-psychological and motivational processes underlying behavior change related to physical activity. His research highlights the importance of supporting participants' autonomy, which is crucial for sustained engagement in sports. Together, their combined expertise will ensure a comprehensive approach to understanding and mitigating dropout rates in youth sports through leadership empowerment and a tailored intervention.

    2. Alignment of the Project with Departmental Policy

      This project aligns seamlessly with the departmental policy plan, integrating expertise from multiple research domains and addressing key themes outlined in the scientific blueprint.

      Katrien Fransen's work in Coaching and Sport Psychology plays a crucial role in understanding and developing leadership within sports, which we consider essential for maintaining youth engagement and reducing dropout rates. Her research aligns with the department’s focus on enhancing sports performance while simultaneously nurturing athlete well-being. This project bridges the gap between traditional adult-focused research in the Coaching and Sport Psychology research theme by concentrating on youth sports dropout prevention.

      Jan Seghers' expertise in promoting physical activity and health in the youth population spans both the Physical Activity Epidemiology domain and the Sport and Society domain. His involvement in projects such as “Keep Youngsters Involved” enhances the understanding of contextual and social factors that influence youth sports participation and retention. By collaborating with key policymakers like Sport Vlaanderen (e.g., in the project “Geef Tieners een Stem”), Jan Seghers ensures that the research findings are effectively translated into practical applications, enhancing their impact on real-world youth sports environments.

      Filip Boen, specializing in Sports and Exercise Psychology, brings expertise that spans both the Coaching and Sport Psychology domain and the Physical Activity Epidemiology domain. He provides critical insights into the motivational and social-psychological processes underlying behavior change. His research on autonomy and participants' motivation is essential for developing interventions that support sustained engagement in sports.

      The unique expertise of the three promotors is pivotal as this project addresses the three overarching research themes identified by the department. Firstly, by investigating the underlying psychological mechanisms of athlete leaders’ impact on dropout, we aim to deepen our understanding of how social identity principles apply to leadership in the context of youth sports. This contributes directly to the "Mechanisms of Movement" research theme.

      As the departmental policy plan outlines, “Understanding these influences is essential for designing effective training programs, promoting inclusive participation in sports”. Therefore, in a next step, we leverage these insights to design an athlete empowerment program. Building on our previous findings in adult sports, we anticipate that this leadership program will positively impact both athletes’ performance and their well-being, thereby significantly reducing dropout rates. As a result, this project not only aligns with the "Sport and Performance" theme but also contributes to the "Active Living and Health" theme by promoting long-term physical activity.

      In summary, this project’s multidisciplinary approach reflects our department’s mission to enhance health and quality of life across the lifespan, fostering a culture of active living through sustained engagement in sports and physical activity.