Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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Exploring sport coaching and psychology

6 I could do that: role models

Who inspired you in your teenage years as a role model? Research shows that role models are particularly effective if they have regular contact with those who seek to emulate them. This begs the question: is fame and public recognition the most powerful type of role model?

Activity 4 Peers as role models in PE

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

The clip below features a radio interview with Ali Oliver, Chief Executive of the Youth Sports Trust, talking about how to inspire young girls in PE. Why does she think peer role models of a similar age can work well?

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Interview with Ali Oliver
Skip transcript: Interview with Ali Oliver

Transcript: Interview with Ali Oliver

Ali Oliver
So I was a PE teacher and I think I was a role model for maybe ten, fifteen per cent of the kids that I taught because I represented a certain, you know, way of engaging with sport. And young people themselves are now role models for each other and in fact they are probably the most powerful role models.
And does that reel in that other eighty-five per cent, do you think?
Ali Oliver
If we take our girls active programme, it is completely designed around finding the least active young women who potentially have the greatest impact on their peers. They’re the influencers, they’re the heart of the social group.
The cynics in the class.
Ali Oliver
Absolutely. But what we know is those young women are incredibly powerful in the peer groups. So we need to work intensively with them rather than ignoring them or viewing them as the problem, they are the solution.
So bottom-up role models rather than top-down?
Ali Oliver
Absolutely. Quite right. Well, you need both. You need both. Because of course there is young people with a whole range of interests. But we shouldn’t just assume that the role models have to come from the elite community.
End transcript: Interview with Ali Oliver
Interview with Ali Oliver
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Ali Oliver has a lot of experience of working with teenagers, and she makes the distinction between role models such as a PE teacher or elite sportsperson, who represent a certain way of engaging in sport, and bottom-up peer role models. She thinks the latter have far more of an influence over teenagers. Interestingly, research supports her opinion: those who are ‘like us’ are far more powerful role models.

Have you ever seen someone like you achieve something and thought ‘I could do that’? Read Box 1 for detailed advice about how behaviour is often modelled by others.

Box 1 The power of modelling

The academic evidence shows that the power of behaviour and attitude from ‘someone like me’ means that often the most influential role models are those with similarities. For instance, someone:

  • from your locality
  • doing the same sport event
  • who plays the same position in a team sport
  • of your generation (i.e. up to a few years older)
  • of similar ethnicity
  • who attended the same school or club.

If you want to find out more about this, read I could do that: why role models matter [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

The modelling of behaviour, attitudes and beliefs can be very powerful in adolescence. Consider how you react to public errors that you make (whether that’s in your role as a coach, teacher or parent). You may not realise it, but you are showing a possible way of responding to mistakes. What happens if a similar behaviour is reinforced again and again as a teenager watches? Do not be surprised if they respond in a similar way.

This suggests that we all need to be careful to practise what we preach as a parent, coach or trainer: modelling has powerful effects.


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