Date of Award


Degree Type

Creative Project

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Kinesiology and Health Science

Committee Chair(s)

Matthew Vierimaa


Matthew Vierimaa


Travis Dorsch


Diana Meter


While participation in youth sport is often linked with positive psychosocial and physical outcomes (Holt et al., 2017), this context can also cultivate ideals that lead to the development of unethical beliefs as well as unsafe sport practices (Al-Yaarbi & Kavussanu, 2017). The sport ethic is described as the deviant overconformity by an athlete to fit societal expectations of a sport’s high-performance culture (Hughes & Coakley, 1991). Strong beliefs in the sport ethic can lead to moral disengagement, antisocial behavior, and viewing sport like warfare (Shields, Funk, & Bredemeier, 2015). Although the sport ethic has been examined in competitive adult sport (Coakley, 2015), the development of this belief system among youth remains relatively unexplored. Utilizing Bronfenbrenner’s (1986) ecological systems theory of development, the present study employed a case study approach to investigate the cultivation of the sport ethic in a recreational youth lacrosse team over the course of a four-month competitive season. Data were collected through 109 hours of naturalistic observation (during seven games and 27 practice sessions) and semi-structured interviews with four athletes and one parent. Data were analyzed using a general thematic analysis approach (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Key themes from the microsystem level (i.e., athletes, parents, peers, coaches) highlight that an overemphasis on masculinity, specialization, and sacrifice may predispose athletes to internalize deviant ideals of the sport ethic, even if one’s mesosystem (i.e., the sport’s organization) discourages such behavior. Findings draw attention to the social factors (e.g., promoting lacrosse as a “man’s game” or encouraging violent play) in youth sporting contexts that may impact the development of unsafe practices (e.g., playing through injury, hurting opponents), and provide practical implications for youth sport coaches, parents, and athletes by creating an environment where safe sport practices are encouraged.