ERIC Identifier: ED477729
Publication Date: 2002-12-00
Author: Beller, Jennifer
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teaching and Teacher Education Washington DC.
Positive Character Development in School Sport Programs. ERIC
Sportsmanship and the development of positive character have long been
explicit goals of school sports. A strong belief exists that sport programs have
the power to promote the development of "...sportsmanlike behaviors, ethical
decision-making skills, and a total curriculum for moral character development"
(Stoll, 1995, p. 335) and provide a social environment to acquire personal and
social values and behaviors contributing to good character and good citizenship
(Arnold, 1984; Sage, 1998). The arena of sport can provide one of "the greatest
opportunities for a student to learn honesty, integrity... and ethical behavior"
or it can provide "one of the greatest opportunities in school for a youngster
to learn how to be dishonest...or how to be hypocritical" (Sabock, 1985, p.
271). Little empirical research exists supporting that mere participation in and
of itself leads to the development of moral character. In fact, the opposite
appears true, that sport participation may be more likely to negatively affect
moral character (Bredemeier, 1984; Priest, Krause, & Beach, 1999; Stoll
& Beller, 2000). Whether positive or negative, "[s]ports have immense power
to shape consciousness, values, and beliefs of athletes and to pass on selected
aspects of the dominant culture" (Sage, 1998, p. 264). This digest discusses the
formal and informal processes of moral character development, in light of the
types of programs that have shown to improve moral character, sportsmanship, and
Two different types of character values exist
and are evident in sport: social and moral. Typical social character values
include loyalty, dedication, sacrifice, teamwork, and good citizenship (Lumpkin,
Stoll & Beller, 2002), while moral values include honesty, fairness, fair
play, justice, and responsibility. Social values, which are highly esteemed in
our society, are about the real world and how society views the importance of
social character. Moral values are first principles, meaning that they stand by
themselves; if we violate any one of these, we violate people directly. Social
values are positive assets but must be tempered by moral values. A person who
has strong social character may have little or no moral character. An individual
can be highly dedicated and loyal to an immoral cause. Because sport may foster
social values, character development through sport should help athletes learn to
weigh a social value against a moral value and then act on that moral value
(Lumpkin, et al., 2002).
Sportsmanship/fair play means playing as a good sport and following the moral
values of honesty and justice (Lumpkin et al., 2002). The player plays by the
rules and is fair and honest to his/her opponents.
"Character education refers to the deliberate and intentional activity of
cultivating, modeling, and teaching moral growth and moral judgment" (Stoll,
2000, p.3). The goal of this process is for individuals to build moral habits
with a disposition to act upon moral judgment (Kohlberg, 1981).
COMPONENTS OF MORAL CHARACTER
Moral character development
is a combined lifelong formal and informal educational process (Stoll & Beller, 1999) with three interrelated dimensions: knowing, valuing, and doing
the right thing (Lickona, 1989), with the result being moral character.
INFORMAL CHARACTER EDUCATION PROGRAMS
The informal process of moral character development is highly influenced by
the environment ("...all of life's lived experiences, which begins with our
immediate families, family traditions, family values, religious training, and
family history...school work and play,") as well as television, newsprint,
sports, and movies (Stoll & Beller, 1999, p. 2). While individuals learn
from their family, traditions, friends, and religious groups, when they enter
the world of sport, they tend to be heavily influenced by what their peers value
and practice. Societal norms, values, and practices in general and in sport also
shape the environment as does the media through television, movies, and
newsprint (Stoll, 2000). In order to affect character positively, environmental
character education programs attempt to shape the groups that influence the
athlete's thinking and behavior to encourage the athlete's moral actions so they
are more respectful to others.
The typical program involves taking advantage of teachable moments
(http://www.nfhs.org), discussing scenarios (Spencer, 1996), hanging posters,
lettering marquees, and making verbal announcements using "word of the
day/week/or month" (Fisher, 1998) or viewing motivational sportsmanship videos.
Some programs involve rewarding good behavior on the playing field where game
officials award teams points for wins, losses, ties, and good sportsmanship
(Butler, 2000). Teams with as many sportsmanship violations as wins do not fare
well in the final league standings. Character education programs for fans
frequently involve team captains standing before spectators discussing
expectations for fans as well as their own and their opponents play (Nelson,
1992). The goal is for fans to treat each other and all participants with
respect and dignity.
Codes of Ethics attempt to address the environment through prescribing
player, coach, and parental behavior. These codes are grounded in principles
that concern ethical conduct towards colleagues, athletes, and the community
(Lumpkin et al., 2002). For codes to be effective in shaping the environment,
education about the organization's values and code must occur.
Role modeling as an informal process of character education holds that
leaders take responsibility for their actions and demonstrate good character.
Any person can serve as a role model and teach through actions and words.
Significant people in an athlete's life such as teachers, coaches, parents,
administrators, other athletes and boosters teach through verbal and nonverbal
instruction, including body language, gestures, and facial expressions (Docheff,
1998; Lumpkin et al., 2002). These individuals, whether aware or not, are in a
position to assist young people in the development of their character. If they
are leaders of moral character, the outcome of this endeavor is generally
Each of these informal educational programs, while relatively easy to
implement, provides limited empirical evidence indicating that individual moral
character actually improves. They may, however, help create a moral awareness
that leads to the development of formal educational programs.
FORMAL CHARACTER EDUCATION PROGRAMS
"The formal process of
character education is a direct and purposeful intent to affect character
development" (Stoll & Beller, 1999, p. 2). Individuals are challenged to
reflect upon moral issues, values, and principles in relationship to others and
society, translating those reflections into good moral action. This process
involves three parts: knowing and valuing the right which should lead to doing
the moral right (Lickona, 1989). Knowing involves moral awareness, moral values,
perspective-taking, moral reasoning, decision-making, and self-knowledge. Moral
feeling involves self-esteem, empathy, loving the good, self-control, and
humility. Moral action involves competence, will, and habit. The three processes
work in concert since what athletes and coaches know and feel affects their
behavior and their behavior affects what they know and feel.
Formal character education can involve extensive study whereby athletes are
challenged by peers, instructors, and themselves through reading, writing,
discussion, and reflection on issues of honesty, fair play, responsibility and
decency towards others (Stoll & Beller, 2000). The goal is to develop a
consistent and impartial set of moral principles to live by. A workbook program,
Winning in Life: A Team Life Skills Program, challenges athletes to reason
morally by examining moral and social issues in sport in discussion sessions
(Stoll & Herman, 2002). This program is based on the belief that an ultimate
right exists. Teaching moral reasoning is not easy, but in the hands of skilled,
well-educated moral development specialists this type of methodology is highly
effective (Stoll & Beller, 2000).
Less time-intensive programs, with empirical research support, involve
education through training videos. The Fair Play Everyday video, using three
commonly occurring sport scenarios, challenges athletes and coaches to answer
three questions of right conduct when addressing fair play issues on the field:
Is it honest?, Is it fair?, and Does it promote cooperation (Hansen, Stoll,
& Beller, 1999; Hansen, Stoll, & Beller, 2000). The National Federation
of High School Activity Association's video, Sport, Ethics & Integrity,
involves athlete, coach, and administrator discussions about what makes a
sportsmanship practice acceptable or unacceptable (http://www.nfhs.org).
Other research-based programs use Haan's (1978) morality model in sport camp
situations, involving moral balance, moral dialogue, and moral truth
(Bredemeier, Weiss, Shields, & Shewchuck,1986; Shields & Bredemeier,
1995). Moral balance, an explicit or non-explicit agreement about rights and
privileges, means that individuals are basically in agreement. When out of
agreement, moral dialogue (direct or indirect, verbal or nonverbal) is used to
help restore moral balance. Studies using these programs have been effective,
especially in youth sport populations (Shields & Bredemeier, 1995).
In contrast to informal programs, formal moral education programs are more
difficult and time intensive to implement. These programs require personnel who
are educated in theories of moral development and ethics and able to challenge
students' personal values and beliefs as they relate to principles and societal
views (Stoll, 1995). Studies using formal moral education strategies have
demonstrated success in fostering and improving athletes' moral reasoning
(Beller & Stoll, 1992; Beller & Stoll, 2000; Hansen, Stoll, &
Beller, 2000; Shields & Bredemeier, 1995).
The development of character through sport can
be systematic or non-systematic and involve formal and/or informal processes.
Well-organized sport character education can provide powerful contexts for the
teaching and learning of good moral habits. Even though formal education
programs may be in place, informal education may conflict with what is
considered the right, good, and fair. These powerful tools can have a positive
or negative impact on athletes. The ideal would be sport programs that address
both formal and informal educational processes for character development. For
character education programs to succeed, athletes need both thinking and
reasoning programs, role models, a supportive environment, and the strong
moral/philosophical commitment of community members, parents, coaches, teachers,
students, boosters, and the media.
References identified with an EJ or ED number
have been abstracted and are in the ERIC database. Journal articles (EJ) should
be available at most research libraries; most documents (ED) are available in
microfiche collections at more than 900 locations. Documents can also be ordered
through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service: (800) 443-ERIC.
Arnold, P.J. (1984). Sport, moral education and the development of character.
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