How Sport can impact on Self-Esteem: – A Disability Perspective1 Opinion
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Scope’s argument (29/8/13 http://www.scope.org.uk/news/paralympics-legacy-0) that the Paralympic legacy ‘hangs in the balance’ signifies a challenge to all interested in sport as therapeutic and sustaining influence in people’s lives. It had been hoped that the Paralympics would improve the lives of disabled people by changing attitudes and increasing participation in sport and the community. The survey of over a thousand disabled people including Paralympians, experts and ordinary disabled people complements a “big picture analysis” of progress since the Games opening on 29th August 2012. This article reveals the importance as to why sport is an opportunity in building better lives for people.
Regular participants in sport frequently understand the many benefits sport has on their own lives and will see its effect on others’ lives-their well-being, friendships, mental ability and self-esteem. Self-esteem and self-worth are concepts which are repeated across many aspects of sports and exercise psychology literature; the question being, is there are any apparent difference in that experienced by people with disabilities and the typically developing?
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is simply a reflection of our competence and our self-worth. Are we happy or sad about ourselves?
Do people with disabilities suffer from lower self-esteem in sport?
Being hearing impaired myself and growing up with typically developing friends, there have been many moments in sport where my confidence has taken a knock. This could be because I haven’t heard a call or shout, or perhaps there’s an opponent I should have been marking but I simply haven’t heard him approaching. If it has been hard for me sometimes, I wonder how hard it must be for someone with a more impacting disability, such as cerebral palsy, to involve him/herself amongst typically developing children in sport.
A lot of research into this area suggests that disabled sportspeople have lower self-esteem than those who are typically developing. One study by Bredahl (2013) found that 75% of disabled adults have negative experiences in sport. These experiences were ‘not being included in games’ and ‘the fear of failing’ and not performing to a standard they think they should be at. When mixing disabled with typically developing people in sport, it could be that the coach does not have the suitable knowledge in order to accommodate everyone involved. This is why for a disabled individual it is always a good idea to search and join sporting groups appropriate to their requirements.
Self-esteem in sport is very much considered a multi-dimensional concept consisting of strength, conditioning, bodily attractiveness and sporting competence (Fox & Corbin, 1989). With the focus on sporting competence in disabilities, most would consider a disabled person to have less sporting competence when being compared to a typically developing person. Research has shown that a higher perceived sporting competence achieves a higher self-esteem. So does this mean that disabilities have lower sporting self-esteem? Some would say that a disabled person would have a higher drive in order to succeed which, in turn, would suggest their self-esteem is higher.
Do disabilities achieve similar or higher self-esteem in sport?
Let me clarify that a person’s self-esteem isn’t set in stone. One’s self-esteem can fluctuate over a period of time, and certainly amongst children self-esteem varies greatly from time to time in their development. Anyone who recalls their own childhood can understand this occurrence. From my own experience with disabled children and adolescents, many become ‘hardened’ from their difficulties and either end up being content with themselves or are more driven to succeed in sport. Children with autism have been found to have no difference in their self-esteem when compared to typically developing children in an outdoor challenge scheme (Langsner & Anderson, 1987). In addition to this, intellectually disabled adolescents who took part in swimming programme showed significant improvements in their sporting self-esteem (Wright & Cowden, 1986). It may be the case that a disabled person will experience higher sporting self-esteem when they are practising with or competing against their own disability group. Certainly when regarding disabilities who are at a disadvantage in sport, their competence should be judged by their own disability groups.
Many organisations recognise this and are putting schemes into place to adapt to particular disability groups. For example UK Deaf Sport has teamed up with England Squash and Racketball to produce ‘Deaf-Friendly Squash’. A main aim of this partnership is to improve the “confidence and self-esteem” of deaf children. The ‘Sky Sports-Living for Sport’ campaign is a fantastic example of the link between sport and self-esteem; where a large number of high-profile athletes in ambassadorial roles are interacting with young people in effort to inspire and create inspirational links for schools. The aim of the programme is to boost the self-esteem and well-being of children from all walks of life, from sporting to non-sporting, typically developing to disabled.
Being involved in sport is an important factor in improving one’s self-esteem; being involved myself I have seen that it can have just the same impact among disabled groups. Gold medal winning Paralympian Richard Whitehead’s comments are telling following Scope’s survey. He said: “The 2012 Paralympics sent a powerful message that a disability shouldn’t stop you from achieving your goals”; absolutely.