Youth sport participation often provides the most salient forum for connecting sport with local communities. In this phenomenological examination of preteen youth sport participants, we consider the experiences and attendant meanings derived from participation in both organized and unstructured youth sport settings within a community. Phenomenology offers a paradigm for understanding youth sport participation, not in terms of the dialectical differences between the settings, but in terms of how the experiences in the different settings inform one another in the creation of meanings for participants. The analysis reveals that playing in unstructured settings actually changes the way participants think about their experiences playing organized sports (and vice versa) with both settings providing meaningful experiences capable of connecting participants to the community. Therefore, taxonomically separating the experiences engendered in the organized and unstructured settings creates a false dichotomy that fails to account for the important meanings to emerge from their synthesis.
Matthew T. Bowers and B. Christine Green are with the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, University of Texas at Austin.