This study explored the dynamics of how young people make decisions about their sport participation. In-depth semistructured interviews were conducted with 34 young men and 26 young women, ages 13–23 (only 3 were older than 18), from predominantly working-class families residing in an industrial area southeast of London. Interviews focused on descriptions of sport experiences, how young people defined and interpreted those experiences, how this influenced decisions about participation, and how participation was integrated into the rest of their lives. We found that young women and men shared concerns about their transition into adulthood and had common desires to develop and display personal competence and autonomy. However, these common concerns were significantly mediated by gender. Furthermore, gender differences were found in the ways sport experiences were defined and interpreted, in the ways that constraints related to money, parents, and opposite-sex friends operated, and in the ways that past experiences in physical education and school sports were incorporated into current decisionmaking about sport participation.
Jay Coakley is with the Sociology Department at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, CO 80933-7150. Anita White is with the Sports Council. 16 Upper Woburn Place, London WC1H OQP England.