Abstract: Social Justice Life Skills Among College Student-Athletes: Reimagining Positive Youth Development through a Critical Perspective (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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458P Social Justice Life Skills Among College Student-Athletes: Reimagining Positive Youth Development through a Critical Perspective

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Tarkington Newman, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH
Stéphanie Turgeon, PhD, Professeure, Université du Québec en Outaouais, Gatineau, QC, Canada
Levone Lee, MSW, Student, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH
Irmgard Stiehl, BS, Assistant Professor, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH

To meet the diverse needs of youth (ages 10-24) in contemporary society, positive youth development (PYD) scholars (e.g., Gonzalez et al. 2020) have proposed a new critical PYD perspective to integrate traditional PYD approaches with critical theory and critical consciousness. This novel perspective contends that to promote social justice, youth should engage in critical reflection and develop political efficacy. Within sport, Camiré et al. (2021) furthered critical PYD by reimagining what constitutes PYD and life skills in contemporary society and forwarded that social justice life skills refer to actions and behaviors (e.g., activism, allyship, antiracism) that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Although the link between life skills and social justice behaviors is theoretical, the movement to reimagine life skills should be of interest to sport social workers who seek to promote social justice in all sport settings. The current study takes an initial empirical step towards understanding the relationships between life skills learned in sport and social justice.


In total, 218 student-athletes from nine universities participated in the study. Participants were on average 21 years of age (SD=1.3) and the majority identified as female (n=163). A total of 17 sports were represented, including track/field (n=53), swimming/diving (n=32), and soccer (n=26). The Life Skills in Sport Scale (Cronin & Allen, 2017) was used to measure the development of life skills through sport. The Social Justice Scale (Torres-Harding, 2012) was used to assess attitudes and behavioral intentions pertaining to social justice. The main analyses included eight moderation analyses, testing the cross-sectional moderation effect of individual life skills on the relationship between social justice attitudes and behavioral intentions. When a significant interaction effect was found, a probing procedure was applied to assess the interaction effect within a linear model (Hayes, 2018) for three levels of the moderator: low-, average-, and high-level of the life skill.


Three life skills (emotional functioning, interpersonal communication, and social skills) were found to positively moderate the relationship between student-athletes’ social justice attitudes and social justice behavioral intentions. The probing procedure revealed that, for high-levels of life skills, attitudes became a stronger predictor of behavioral intentions. In contrast, non-significant interaction effects of decision-making, problem-solving, time-management, goal-setting, teamwork, and leadership suggest that these life skills did not moderate the direct relationship between attitudes and behavioral intentions.


College student-athletes have long utilized their positionality as a platform to advocate for social justice. However, as societal consciousness continues to rise, student-athletes are engaging in athlete activism. Activism moves beyond advocating for change and implies the existence of concrete actions and behaviors that seek to influence the values and structures of society. To better serve athletes, coaches and sport social workers—when teaching life skills to student-athletes—should progress past the meanings of “traditional” life skills (e.g., goal-setting, teamwork) to be inclusive of what social justice life skills can be (e.g., activism, antiracism). Sport administrators also should establish policies that encourage athlete activism and create programs designed to educate sport stakeholders on the importance of promoting a socially just society.