The Swedish sport association are built on democratic principles and fundamental values, which means that children and youth should be able to have impact and exert influence. The emphasis on influence can be linked to the fact that the sport club activities of the Swedish state are seen as an important arena for the civic education of young people. Though official reports and policy documents state that sport associations should give youth power and influence, research about youths’ influence in the sport association has been scarce.
The aim of the study is to explore young coaches’ possibilities and experiences of influence in the Swedish sports movement with a focus on young people's own voices to influence.
Theory and method
We use Bourdieus’ theories on social fields to understand which youths are chosen to be coaches and their possibilities to influence. His theories make it possible to investigate both the habitus and the capital required for young coaches to be able to participate in the struggle for positions in the sport association. The data in this study consists of ten focus group interviews conducted with 37 participants. When selecting respondents, we have sought a geographical spread, a variety of sports, and both male and female participants.
The results show that for young coaches to have influence, both their habitus and capital are required to ‘match’ the social context into which they are entering. The results also show that the youths feel they have little opportunity to influence. Even if they would like to have influence, there are structural barriers hindering them. The formal way of working on the board and at the annual meeting is a hindrance which worked against the youths possibilities to influence.
Those who hold leading positions in the sport association, the orthodox, hold onto their power and are afraid to let the young coaches in. Holding a committee post becomes a sort of self-generating system, which means that symbolic capital is assigned to those who are on the committee and already have capital. In order to win a position and get the opportunity to influence certain strategies are more successful than others. One way is to attend coach training that function as a springboard for reaching higher positions. Another is support of a club member who has a position of responsibility within the club or work on the club’s youth council.
The conclusion of the study is that if sport associations shall live up to the objectives that youths shall be able to influence and have real access to power “the rules of the game” need to change. Change is required of who is invited to a meeting and how, and who may express oneself and how. Even if the present recruiting process means the sport associations are able to keep youths that perhaps otherwise would have left, it also means the existing traditions are passed on and the orthodox routine is seldom challenged.