The PAPA project will further develop, implement and evaluate the impact of a theoretically grounded and evidence-based coach education programme. In five European countries, grassroots coaches will be trained how to make the sporting experience more empowering. As a consequence, it is anticipated that children will have a more positive sport experience and will be more likely to sustain engagement in physical activity.
The rise in childhood obesity is a global epidemic with immense consequences for public health (WHO, 2007). One key contributor to the increased prevalence of young people being overweight or obese is an insufficient level of physical activity engagement. Sport may be a tool for the provision of health-enhancing physical activity (White Paper on Sport, 2007) and is recognized to contribute towards the emotional, social and physical well-being experienced by children, adolescents and young adults (Gagne & Blanchard, 2007).
However, positive health-related consequences are not automatic by-products of playing sport. Sport participation can also lead to undesirable physical/psychological effects, and eventual dropping out of the activity (Duda, 2001). The quality of the sport experience is recognized to be a critical determinant of whether sport engagement leads to positive or undesirable behavioural and psychological outcomes (Duda & Balaguer, 2007).
Over the past two decades, a growing and compelling body of work has emerged that has been grounded in contemporary theories of motivation and holds relevance for how coaches are trained and what should be the content of that training. Drawing from this theoretical and evidential foundation, the Empowering Coaching™ programme was designed to help coaches foster quality motivation and make youth sport more engaging, empowering, and enjoyable.
PAPA set out to further develop the Empowering Coaching™ programme for the context of grassroots football in five European countries, and to formulate and apply a multi-method approach to rigorously evaluate this programme. PAPA also involved the development of a protocol for training coach educators to deliver Empowering Coaching™ workshops. Via the implementation of Empowering Coaching™ training for grassroots coaches, PAPA aimed to address the physical and psychological health challenges experienced by many young Europeans.
The delivery of the Empowering Coaching™ programme in the PAPA project pilot and main trial activities will have potentially impacted over 12,000 children. In the main trial, 393 coaches participated in the training (sixty-three 6-hour workshops delivered in total). Our expectations, based on the theoretical and empirical foundations upon which this project is founded, is that the workshop will have a positive impact upon the health and well-being of those children whose coaches have attended the pilot or main trial workshops.
Specifically, we hypothesize that the coaches will have become more empowering (i.e., more task-involving, autonomy and socially supportive) as a result of participating in the workshops. Via their participation in sport in this more adaptive environment, we anticipate that the children will experience an increased sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness satisfaction, and in turn will report more autonomous or self-determined reasons for participating in football. Aligned with theoretical predictions, these children should be less likely to drop out and the quality of their engagement in sport and ensuing well-being are expected to profit.
The potential societal and socio-economic impacts of this project are considerable. Specifically, the delivery of this programme within and beyond the lifespan of the PAPA project has the potential to reduce inactivity and promote physical activity participation and well-being among European’s youth. This renders these young people as less likely to be at risk of the profound health-related costs of physical inactivity, such as being obese or overweight, as well as associated indicators of compromised psychological functioning such as depression and low self-esteem. Thus, the PAPA project is helping to realize the potential of sport as a solution to the obesity crisis and rising health costs of treating an inactive population as well as a means to combat the mental health issues facing our youth.
The evidence base emanating from the PAPA project is anticipated to prompt the permanent adoption of the Empowering Coaching™ programme in the training of grassroots football coaches and set the stage for the adaptation and exploitation of the programme to other sports and physical activity contexts, such as physical education. Further, as the motivational climate created by parents also has an impact on young people’s motivation to play sport and the impact of sport on their emotional and physical health, the PAPA project provides a sound foundation for extending Empowering Coaching™ training to parents in subsequent work.