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There are many methods which one can rely on in order to undertake policy research. Often we will see policy makers undertaking primary research by way of observations and experimentation, resulting in a first-hand account of the effectiveness of a certain policy in a given context. However, such primary research is not always available or easily accessible, and often persons need to rely on secondary accounts of information to base their decision making processes on. It is this reliance upon secondary information that can lead to problems as to quality and reliability, which may contribute to the lack of effectiveness of a certain implemented policy.
The purpose of this essay is to explore the principle of concept models and their effectiveness in relation to the formulation of policy as regards sports development. In doing so, it will attempt to identify what concept models actually are, what sports development is defined as, how the two areas interrelate, and finally the advantages and limitations of relying on concept models as a form of research. It is important to note at the outset that relying on secondary research is arguably fraught with danger in any case, however this essay also recognises the fact that primary sources or material may not always be available, and will consider whether concept models make a valuable alternative form of research.
What are ‘Concept Models’?
Concept models are a logical form of data collection, which researchers and academics often use to gauge and measure certain aspects of a sample of a population, so as they can form general conclusions based on the results. Often a concept model is the result of laborious analysis and experimentation, which uses scientific data collection methods to formulate and test hypotheses, so as a person studying a particular area can gain knowledge and intuition in a logical manner. Clearly there is a significant difference between the application of a reasoned hypothesis to a particular set of circumstances, as opposed to the application of theoretical principles, and this is perhaps where the conflict arises between these two methods of research in particular areas of study.
It is important to understand the fact that there may be times where a concept model is perhaps the most appropriate method of research in a particular matter. However, other situations will require a more theory-based approach. This is the difficult issue that the study of society and culture presents to the academic and researcher: society and social values are often not accountable to rhyme or reason. They cannot be justified by the application of facts and figures, but rather one must attempt to understand the underlying rationale of a social context so as to have an idea as to what conclusions can be drawn about that particularly sample’s behaviour. The purpose of this essay is to highlight the tension which concept models bring to a social issue such as sports development.
What is ‘Sports Development’?
Sports development cannot be defined by one singular term. It can have a variety of meanings depending upon the context it is used. Perhaps the most succinct definition, but by no means definitive, is the following:
Sport development deals with the opportunities available for people to progress to their potential in sport, from taking part for fun and health to competition and also encompasses the provision of opportunities for addressing the social issues of the day through participation in sport.
Furthermore, it is important to note that:
As a profession sport development needs to justify the claims made for it by politicians and practitioners alike by providing an evidence base for the claims made for its value as a legitimate social service.
Therefore, sports development is regarded as having a role in society in general, and is not limited just solely to participation in sport itself. It can relate to health, in the sense that participation in sport and physical activity can lead to a reduction in obesity levels and cases of coronary heart disease and the like. It can link to crime, in the sense that sport can be used as a method of implementing structure and rigidity into a person’s life, with the theory being that a person is less likely to offend as a result. It can even delve as deep as other social issues such as gender equality, in relation to the access to top competition sporting events and activities being geared more towards men than women. All these different concepts are important, and all need to be understood in order to truly grasp the overall concept of sports development. But how does one teach this to others? How does one understand the relationship between these very different entities, in a user-friendly way?
How are Concept Models used in Sports Development?
Concept models can be a useful tool in sports development, and in fact have been in discussion and policy research since the 1970s. Since first being coined as a term in the 1960 Wolfenden report, sports development has undergone somewhat of a development in itself. New concepts have arisen, that need to be explained to scholars, researchers and laypeople alike. This is where concept maps may serve a valid purpose. They visually represent how various aspects of areas interrelate and flow on from one another. For example, the area of sports development has traditionally been associated with the ‘pyramid model’, whereby a person begins at the bottom of the pyramid with many others at the foundation level, and gradually moves up the pyramid to the excellence level, which is only reached by much fewer people. This brief pyramid concept basically tells the reader in a visual way the overall principle of sports development, and what its ultimate goal is. However, this does promote limitations. Firstly, it implies that the only way a participant in sport can move is up, and does not allow for the frequent occurrence of participants having to drop down one ‘level’ and attempt to climb up again. Secondly, it also imposes a quite rigid framework, and does not allow for the individual or unique nature of each and every participant. These issues will be discussed in further detail in due course.
Concept models are also useful in the sense that sports development is an area which has been identified as severely lacking in empirical and scientific data to justify any other major form of modelling. Riddoch also goes on to say that, as a result of this lack of ‘hard evidence’, we must rely more so on “theory, common sense, observation and expert opinion as on hard evidence”. This essentially proves the usefulness of concept models in the context of sports development; however it also signifies the need that we need to begin developing a ‘bank’ of hard evidence so as to support the faith the government shows in this area. Essentially then, concept models are useful as an introductory tool, however one should seek to qualify these concepts with rigid empirical data.
What are the Advantages of using Concept Models?
The overwhelming benefit that concept models play in relation to the design, planning and delivery of the sports development process is that fact that is essentially simplifies the concepts and the relationships between various aspects of sports development and the wider community. It can essentially explain otherwise complicated topics quite clearly and reasonably, while also guiding the policy development process as a whole, given that it can highlight specific target ideas and values that a policy may wish to address. An excellent example of a concept model for sports development can be found in the PAT 10 report entitled ‘Sport and Social Exclusion’ (1999) at page 10 thereof, which attempts to represent the relationship between sport (or physical activity generally) and the wider economic benefits to the community as a whole. On the basis of this concept model, one can trace the path of consequences that a specific activity or outcome can carry. For example, an increased time in sprints can lead to an increase in sports injuries, and then an increase in costs to the NHS. However, the same outcome could also result in an increased achievement in sporting activities, then an increase in one’s health, and accordingly a decrease in costs to the NHS. This diagram maps out this particular issue quite well, although it is still quite ambiguous, in the sense that it does not indicate which path is more likely than the other to occur, and implies an even chance of either (or even both) occurring.
What are the Disadvantages of using Concept Models?
The above discussion in relation to the advantages of concept models also perhaps highlighted what some of the disadvantages are. A person who seeks to rely on a concept model in developing sports policy may be making a decision based on misleading information. This is primarily due to the fact that concept models can imply ambiguity in the data they represent. As mentioned above, the example in relation to the PAT 10’s concept model does not give any indication as to what event is more likely to occur than the other, meaning that the policy makers cannot accurately measure their issues as against the consequences due to the lack of empirical data in support. Therefore, it is important for policy makers to make their own enquiries into the reliability of the information, and they also should seek to support it with some ‘hard’ evidence before drawing a conclusion and formulating policy to guide the sport development process. Also, a pre-existing concept model may not cater for the policy maker’s particular circumstances, and therefore it would be important to have further information available to tailor the concepts to fit the situation. Concept models may also only prescribe one manner of ‘moving’ through the various concepts, which does not cater for all eventualities, and therefore one must exercise caution when relying on them, and perhaps only rely on concept models which might allow a certain amount of flexibility in their guidance.
On the basis of the above discussion, it would be reasonable to conclude that concept models can be a valuable tool in guiding the design, planning and delivery of sports development policy, however they should be relied upon with caution, and the policy maker should make an effort to familiarise himself with other ‘hard’ evidence so as he can make policy in the best interests of achieving the objectives he has set for the policy. It is the unique objectives of the policy that should come first, and it is the role of the policy maker to design and implement policy which will achieve these goals otherwise it will be of no benefit. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the policy maker to make all reasonable enquiries so as to ensure that they are making their decision based upon reliable and sound evidence. While concept models are valuable resources, they are certainly not definitive, and should not be viewed as such by those who seek to rely on them.
Childhood obesity is becoming an ever increasing problem in today’s modern society. So often do we see advertisements for fast food, junk food and other unhealthy habits and lifestyles, such as video games, on the television which are predominantly aimed at a younger audience. This places significant pressure on the sports industry as a whole, as children who become disillusioned with sport may suffer consequences not only to their own health, but the heath of the industry overall. After all, children are the future of our society, and it is in the interests of sport into the future to promote its values to the younger generation. The purpose of this case study is to highlight ways that sport is used at a younger level, such as school age and the like, in order to promote the positive message of health and fitness to children. This is often achieved through the implementation of social policy and activities which promote physical activity and are generally catered to the fitness and skill levels of younger children. It is difficult to rebut the proposition that obesity in general, let alone childhood obesity, it reaching epidemic proportions around the world, specifically in the United States. The purpose of this brief therefore is to identify the objects of school-based activity programs, and rationale which underpin these programs, the design and implementation of these programs as well as their implications for management. Specifically, given the writer’s residence in Australia, it will tend to focus more on Australian-based research based on the writer’s experience in after-school childhood sport programmes.
There is substantial evidence and policy in existence which supports the proposition that sport can promote a healthy lifestyle and decrease the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke at a later stage in life. In particular, the “PAT 10 report Arts and Sport (Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 1999) includes health as an area in which sport can contribute to neighbourhood renewal. The Value of Sport (Sport England, 1999) suggests that sport can make a contribution to “the new policy agenda” by assisting in the improvement of fitness and health – the reduction of risk of coronary heart disease, obesity and osteoporosis; psychological benefits (eg reduction of depression) and a range of more specific health benefits.” Therefore, sports development serves a vast social purpose from a health perspective, in the sense that encourages its participants to increase their physical activity in order to improve their health and not face as many potential health problems down the track.
In the Australian context, where the writer is based, there is clear evidence of a policy shift towards enforcing compulsory school-level sport within the curriculum for all primary school age students. In the state of Western Australia, this was recently introduced and, according to Education Minister Mark McGowan, “what I don’t want to see is us reach the obesity levels of the United States” and acknowledged that governments “can’t take all the responsibility here. Two hours a week in a school curriculum in which we’re loading up literacy and numeracy as well is a good outcome. What we need is after school and on weekends, parents to play their bit as well.” A Western Australian school principal remarked about the policy “It is certainly very popular with the students. The teachers like the fact that we can now program it rather than it just being an add-on to the curriculum and it seems a very good way for us to resource the problem that we’re facing.” What this demonstrates is the fact that the government only has a limited role in the decrease of the epidemic of childhood obesity. Its hands are effectively tied, in the sense that much of the encouragement and enforcement needs to come from the parents of the children rather than the government. Essentially, the government only has ‘control’ of children for about six hours per day, whereas parents are responsible for their children after school and on weekends, so there is a need for this value of childhood health and fitness to spread as a social value, rather than simply becoming an imposition by government.
Perhaps most relevant to the after-school programs that the writer was involved in was the key points in relation to health which were made by Coulter in his research report entitled “Realising the Value of Cultural Services: the case for sport” (2001), and the following seven conclusions on this report can be drawn:
- Much of the research evidence relates to the health benefits of physical activity, rather than sports per se…
- There is a need to focus on behaviour change rather than formal activity, promoting facility use and uptake of classes and sessions.
- Among sports participants, the frequency of activity is often less than that required to achieve and sustain health benefits.
- Qualitative evidence suggests that the greatest gains from involvement in activity relate to psychological health and increased feelings of well-being.
- It is important that such experiences are complemented by a recognition of the unique physiological benefits of exercise.
- Factors underpinning the success of activity provision have included appropriate and convenient local facilities; recognising the importance of participants’ friendship groups in getting involved and staying involved; providing reassurance that ‘people just like us’ are able to participate; acknowledging, particularly to older people, that some physical activity will be better than none; and recognising that if the activity has some intrinsic value (good fun, enjoyable, a change of environment etc), it may be more appealing and ensure adherence.
- There is a widespread absence of robust monitoring information on the health benefits of participation and little long-term monitoring of adherence to activity programmes. This reflects the short-term nature of many initiatives, the lack of funding for such monitoring and the lack of expertise to undertake such work.
The above points perhaps best capture the underlying rationale behind after-school sports programs. There is no need for a child to participate in sports per se, but rather in activities which result in an increase in physical activity. While the definition between sports and physical activity can appear clouded on occasions it is clear that, for the purposes of Coulter’s report, they are two entirely different concepts.
One of the key programs that the writer was involved in, in order to be able to comment upon this issue first-hand, is known as the ‘Active After-School Communities’ program, which is operated under funding provided by the Australian federal government. A documented case study has been undertaken in regards to the effectiveness of this program in encouraging younger children to participate in physical activity. Parents acknowledged the concerns in the current social environment in relation to obesity and later health problems, however sought to support the program where they were able to, having regard for barriers such as travel and distance, as well as time constraints in relation to parents being able to pick up and drop off children in line with their work commitments. However, in an attempt to promote maximum attendance and participation, it was important for the deliverer of the program at each venue to follow certain policies in relation to the activities that they organise. First and foremost, it needed to be an activity that the children would enjoy. This meant that it needed to cater to the wants of the children, rather than the deliverer simply imposing a certain program upon the group. The deliverer therefore needed to be flexible in terms of ideas and planning of activities, however needed to remain firm enough to impose a sense of order, control and structure to the activities, in order to ensure that the overall objectives of the program were still being met. Another key feature of the Active After School Communities program is the ‘non-exclusion’ policy behind all of its activities. In essence, this means that no child should be excluded from the activities, and activities which provide for a person being ‘out’ should provide another physical role for that child as part of the activity. For example, in a game of dodge ball, a person who is hit by a ball (in a safe manner) would ordinarily be out, however a good program deliverer could find an alternate role for these participants while they are waiting for a new game to start, such as throwing balls in from the sidelines as part of the game, which still keeps them involved and active. This often meant that the deliverer had to create unique games or activities within ‘their own rules’ in order to implement the policies laid down by the program. This required special training on the part of program deliverers, and thus all deliverers were required to complete accreditation in the delivery of the program before being able to conduct the program unsupervised.
Of course, the design and implementation of the program is not without its impact upon the management of the program. It is important for the Federal Government to have regard for the fact that many parents are somewhat unable to pay large amounts for this program, and hence the participants of the focus group expressed a desire for the program to be heavily, if not fully, subsidised by the government. This creates an issue, in the sense that the funding of the program is a significant concern given the associated expenses of program delivery. This is particularly due to the need to pay the deliverers for their services, but also that the program takes place outside of school hours. This means that supervision of the program often falls outside of the scope of a teacher’s ordinary duties, and thus often a casual employee (or a number of them) needs to be engaged in order to fill this role. Magnifying this issue is the need for a large number of sites to exist, especially in rural areas, in order to maximise participation by minimising the distance and travel factors. Additionally, the case study also highlights the lack of suitably qualified staff to fill these roles in any event. This means that the management need to outlay a substantial amount of funding to initially reach the required training and staffing standards that the policies of the program demand. Therefore, the management need to be mindful of the concerns raised by the parents of the children of the program, as they are reluctant to absorb any major costs associated with the program. As a result, the management need to ensure that the appropriate budgets and costings are obtained so as to meet the objectives of the program, and it is clear that these policies perhaps impose a great deal of pressure and responsibility upon the management.
In summary, it would appear that the Active After School Communities program which the writer was associated with serves a valid purpose. It recognises the need for children to become physically active, in a society which promotes generally unhealthy lifestyles and habits. The responsibility for this negative social shift would have to be shared between the government, parents and corporations; however the responsibility to fix the problem ironically sits with the same people. For example, the AASC program relies heavily upon funding from Nike, which provides clothing and equipment so the program can run efficiently. The government needs to put the framework in place, but ultimately it is the role of the parents to encourage their child to attend the program, and to ensure continued participation, so as the child can receive the full benefit of the program.
- Houlihan, B., and White, A., The Politics of Sports Development (2002), London: Routledge
- Hylton, K., Bramham, P., Jackson, D., and Nesti, M., Sports Development: Policy, Process and Practice (2007, 2nd ed), London: Routledge
- Coulter, F., ‘Realising the Value of Cultural Services: the case for sport’ (2001) LGA, London
- PAT 10, ‘Research Report: Sport and Social Exclusion’ (1999) Institute of Sport and Leisure Policy, Loughborough University
- Riddoch, C., ‘Relationships between physical activity and physical health in young people’ in Young and Active? Young people and health enhancing physical activity – evidence and implications’ (1998)
- Ruiz, J., ‘A Literature Review Of The Evidence Base For Culture, The Arts And Sport Policy’ (2004), Scottish Executive, Edinburgh
- The General Council of Physical Recreation, ‘Sport and the Community’ (1960), CCPR, London.
- ABC News, ‘Compulsory sport to tackle childhood obesity’ (2007), <http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200705/s1924710.htm> at 2 August 2008
- Colmar Brunton Social Research, ‘Evaluation of AASC Program: Community Case Study – Vasse Community’ (2008), Australian Sports Commission, <http://www.ausport.gov.au/__data/assets/word_doc/0004/200389/Evaluation_of_AASC_program_-_Community_Case_Study_-_Vasse.doc> at 2 August 2008
- Sports Development, <www.sportsdevelopment.org.uk> at 2 August 2008
 Sports Development UK, ‘Sports Development’ (2008) <http://www.sportsdevelopment.org.uk> at 2 August 2008.
 Janet Ruiz, ‘A Literature Review of the Evidence Base for Culture, The Arts And Sport Policy’ (2004), Scottish Executive, Edinburgh, 15; see also Chris Riddoch, ‘Relationships between physical activity and physical health in young people’ in Young and Active? Young people and health enhancing physical activity – evidence and implications’ (1998).
 ABC News, ‘Compulsory sport to tackle childhood obesity’ (2007), <http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200705/s1924710.htm> at 2 August 2008.
 These points are drawn from sportdevelopment.org.uk at <http://www.sportdevelopment.org.uk/html/rg_health.html> at 2 August 2008.
 Colmar Brunton Social Research, ‘Evaluation of AASC Program: Community Case Study – Vasse Community’ (2008), Australian Sports Commission, <http://www.ausport.gov.au/__data/assets/word_doc/0004/200389/Evaluation_of_AASC_program_-_Community_Case_Study_-_Vasse.doc> at 2 August 2008.
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