Exploring Elements of Quality Sport Participation for People with Limb Deficiency

Baudinet, Olivia
Ferkins, Lesley
Rowe, Katie
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Disabled people are often discriminated against, stereotyped, and socially excluded, resulting in reduced access to services (Babik & Gardner, 2021; Patel, 2015; Spaaij et al., 2014). As a way to combat this, disability sport is promoted with the potential to mitigate marginalisation (Howe & Silva, 2016), and empower disabled people, to create a sense of community and connectedness (Forber-Pratt, 2018; Hoogsteen, & Woodgate, 2010; Shapiro & Martin, 2014). For these reasons, sport, health, and disability stakeholders have an interest in encouraging disabled people to participate in sport, where increasing participation forms a major focus.

Efforts to increase participation in disability sport are primarily targeted at improving access through the removal of barriers (Bragaru et al., 2013; Littman et al., 2017). However, it is argued that access alone does not necessarily lead to enhanced engagement, nor increased or sustained participation in sport (Banack et al., 2011; Evans et al., 2018). This is because a focus on objective aspects of participation has been found to minimise subjective experiences for disabled people in some instances (Dijkers, 2010; Hammel et al., 2008; Häggström & Lund, 2008). As an alternative, an emerging quality-based participation perspective is dedicated to improving experiences of sport by facilitating meaningful and satisfying involvement, thereby rendering sport more attractive and enjoyable (Martin Ginis et al., 2017a).

Participant experiences have recently been highlighted as central to fostering participation and desired outcomes (Evans et al., 2018; Martin Ginis et al., 2017a), and may motivate continued involvement in sport (Shirazipour et al., 2017). For these reasons, understanding the participation experiences of disabled people is argued as being central to managing sport and enhancing participation (Sotiriadou & Wicker, 2014). Therefore, the present thesis aims to explore elements of quality sport participation for people with limb deficiency. The research questions consider: 1) how people with limb deficiency and sport providers perceive quality experiences in sport, 2) how people with limb deficiency navigate toward quality experiences in sport, 3) how sport providers support quality sport experiences for people with limb deficiency, and 4) how sport experiences can be enhanced for people with limb deficiency.

To support the proposed investigation, relevant conceptual frameworks and concepts are used to frame the research focus on quality participation experiences in disability sport. In doing so, a social relational model of disability (e.g., Thomas 1999, 2004), the Quality Parasport Participation Framework (e.g., Evans et al., 2018) (with roots in rehabilitative studies and the discipline of psychology), and sport development concepts (e.g., Green, 2005; Gulbin et al., 2013; Sotiriadou et al., 2008) guide the research. The study engages a basic qualitative design, informed by a constructivist-interpretive perspective. This perspective embraces reality as socially constructed and highlights the complex variances in individual experiences. Data collection involved capturing the perceptions and experiences of sport participants with limb deficiency and disability sport providers. A total of 20 semi-structured interviews (10 sport participants and 10 sport providers) and one focus group (4 sport participants and 3 sport providers) were undertaken. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.

In order to draw comparisons between the two participant groups, the experiences of sport participants and the perceptions of sport providers were examined with respect to barriers, facilitators, outcomes, and elements of quality experience. Influences on sport participation and quality experiences were largely consistent with existing research on barriers and facilitators to sport. Positive influences on sport participation included supportive attitudes, access to funding for equipment, and increased opportunities for participants on a high performance pathway. However, participation in sport was found to be constrained by a number of factors that were intimately connected to notions of access and equality such as disparities in access to equipment, unfairness in the classification system, a lack of recognition, inequality of power, and a fragmented disability sport system.

Sport participants were found to navigate toward quality experiences through four key approaches. Firstly, participants described an achievement-based approach where they either challenged themselves by competing against others or, improved their personal performance by setting and achieving goals. Secondly, participants sought opportunities to minimise their disability and maximise their ability by seeking support, exercising autonomy, and using sport to feel ‘normal’. Next, participants connected socially with others, casually and as part of a sporting community, to satisfy feelings of belonging. Finally, participants advocated for disability sport and disabled people by facilitating access to sport and raising awareness to educate others.

Disability sport providers engaged in five key approaches to support quality, meaningful participant experiences in sport. Three approaches were directly aimed at supporting quality experiences, where providers were well intentioned in fostering inclusion and empowering participants, as well as using education to enhance the system. Two further approaches reinforced these but more effectively supported performance objectives by growing participant numbers and transitioning participants to parasport pathways. A key finding was that as participants moved towards a performance pathway, there was a distinct shift, where the focus of providers changed from prioritising quality experiences to supporting performance objectives by growing and feeding the ‘disability sport system’.

The present research contributes to the theoretical body of work in sport management by examining the differences between sport participants with limb deficiency and disability sport providers in the approaches that they utilise to navigate and support quality experiences. Application of the Quality Parasport Participation Framework (e.g., Evans et al., 2018) on a population with limb deficiency, has helped to advance thinking on disability sport participation and to better understand the complexities associated with subjective experiences in sport, including how these may relate to sport development objectives. Most importantly, this study advances research within the field of disability sport by proposing the use of the quality participation construct in sport management research.

The Quality Parasport Participation Framework offers a position from which to extend existing sport development models, or to develop new models that take into consideration the intricacies of disability sport. Specifically, findings that link quality experience to continued engagement in sport provide a way to advance knowledge within the sport development literature. Further to this, an agenda is proposed for sport managers, with the goal to offer sport opportunities to disabled participants that promote quality experiences, whilst meeting sport development objectives. Implications for practice relate to opportunities to review the ways in which disability sport practitioners and managers support quality sport experiences for disabled participants.

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