Lessons Learned From a Multi-Level Intervention Program to Reduce Swedish Female Floorballers’ Dropout Rate: A Summary


Stefan Wagnssona, Henrik Gustafssona, Johan Libäcka
and Leslie William Podlogb
a Department of Educational Studies, Karlstad University, Karlstad, Sweden;
b Department of Health, Kinesiology, and Recreation,
The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, U.S.A.


In Sweden, where sports are mostly volunteer-based, more than two-thirds of all children between 7–12 years of age participate in organized sports. However, as in many other countries, the dropout rate increases rapidly between 13–14 years of age and continues steadily until early adulthood, when attrition rates typically level off. This trend is particularly evident among girls. In floorball, the second most played sport among Swedish youth, approximately 30–35% of the athletes drop out annually prior to early adulthood at age 20. Evidence also suggests that fewer Swedish girls than boys start playing sports and that the former are more likely to cease their sport participation at an earlier age. Given the recognized health related benefits of sport participation, there is a clear need to prevent adolescent girls from withdrawing.

In order to curtail female adolescent dropout from floorball we collaborated with a floorball club consisting of 700 members. The project involved 85 female athletes aged 13–18 years (participating on six separate teams), 15 coaches (all males) and 80 parents. The overarching purpose of the project was to implement a program designed to reduce female youth floorballers’ (13–18 years) dropout rate over the course of a 2-year period. The purpose of this paper is to (1) describe the development of the intervention program, (2) to present a description of the implementation of the program, and (3) to reflect on the implementation process and the outcome of the intervention program.

The design and theoretical foundation of the project

Researchers have repeatedly called for more theoretically oriented and integrated approaches when studying dropout issues. The need to conduct interventions over an extended period of time has also been highlighted. In addition, since an athlete’s decision to drop out of sports is not taken in isolation but is also influenced by several contextual factors existing at multiple levels, it has been suggested that there is a need to use multi-level models to frame correlates of sport attrition. In line with the suggestions mentioned above, we developed a two-year longitudinal intervention program using a multi-level approach of sport attrition. Moreover, the intervention was informed by key assumptions of Achievement Goal Theory (AGT), Self Determination Theory (SDT) and Caring Climate concepts (CC). In addition, we included basic principles from the model of Long-Term Athletic Development (LTAD), Parent Involvement Model (PIM), and coaching effectiveness training (CET), when structuring the intervention program.

Project leader and revised policy

At the start of the project, a project leader was recruited for a two-year, .20 position, in order to run the project and implement the required administrative tasks. Thereafter, the club policy document was revised so that it became more compatible with the Swedish Floorball Development Model (SIU) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Some of the most central revisions were to promote participation in several different sports, avoid early specialization, and to avoid selection processes (e.g., permanently move players between different teams) until the year they turn 16.

Youth sports committee

In order to increase the likelihood that the revised policy was followed by coaches, athletes and parents, a youth sports committee was formed including nine members (seven males, two females), who were recruited from parents and coaches involved in the club. Above all, strategies were discussed to ensure that the policy was complied with, but also what measures would be taken in the individual cases where infringements took place. In addition to this, the project leader was instructed to attend selected matches to observe whether parents and leaders had adopted the values expressed in the policy.

Youth sport group

A youth sport group was also formed, including eight athletes recruited from all five girls’ teams. The purpose of the group was to create a forum where members could address club-specific topics, for example, how to best structure and conduct practices and team activities (e.g., social activities, tournaments), and to discuss challenges or areas in need of improvement in order to prevent female athletes from dropping out of the club. Issues that arose in these discussions could then be addressed in the youth sport committee.

Liaison officer

In addition to the project leader, we recruited a liaison officer tasked with maintaining communication between various stakeholders (e.g., coaches from different teams, coaches and athletes, coaches and parents). The liaison officer assumed various responsibilities such as facilitating decisions to allow players to train with athletes at a higher level (for youth 16 years and above), engagement with athletes identified as at risk for dropout, and service on the youth sport committee.

Education program

One of the most central measures in the project was to implement various educational initiatives for coaches, parents and the athletes. These training initiatives were carried out by the project leader, in connection with the training facilities, and were mainly based on AGT and SDT – two empirically well-tested and validated theories used to study people’s motivation in different performance environments. The coach education program was conducted on six different occasions, where each training session lasted between 45 and 60 minutes. Among other things, risks with early specialization and the benefits of adopting a late specialization strategy, as well as the importance of considering the relative age effect were discussed. In addition to this, suggestions on how to provide feedback to create a safe, task-oriented, and autonomy-supportive motivational climate were discussed.

In addition, since an athlete’s decision to drop out of sports is not taken in isolation but is also influenced by several contextual factors existing at multiple levels, it has been suggested that there is a need to use multi-level models to frame correlates of sport attrition.

The education program for the parents was also carried out on six occasions and was spread out evenly over the project period. To attract as many parents as possible, each session was held approximately 60 minutes before their own child’s games. Each training session lasted between 40 and 45 minutes and dealt with issues related to the benefit of doing multiple sports and the potential risks with early specialization and selection processes. Moreover, how to create a mastery oriented and autonomy-supportive motivation climate were highlighted. Parental education also focused on highlighting the importance of being a properly involved parent (reacting to misconduct, cheering and supporting the child in adversity and maintaining good relations with the leaders, avoiding putting pressure on the child). In addition, the concept of parental pressure and suggestions on how this can be avoided were also discussed.

The athlete education program took place on two occasions and lasted between 45 and 65 minutes each, in which for example the importance of concepts such as bullying, discrimination, abuse and harassment, suggestions on how to create a permissive and safe group climate were discussed. In addition, the players were informed about the updated policy and who to turn to if they experienced abusive or unfair treatment. A practical valuation exercise called “Four Corners” was conducted during the second training session, with the overall goal of practicing the players’ ability to dare to take a stand, to express their opinions and motivate their positions for each other, but also to listen to and value the opinions of others.

Evaluation

The evaluation of the project showed that after two years, only 11 percent (9 out of 85 girls) of those who were initially part of the project had dropped out. Based on our experience gained from this project, it may be advisable for practitioners to use a multi-level approach and validated motivational theories in guiding the development, planning and implementation of interventions and incorporating athlete and coach perspectives into the process.

Copyright © Stefan Wagnsson, Henrik Gustafsson, Johan Libäck
& Leslie William Podlog 2022

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