Maureen Ellen Hakala
Sports and Children with Special Needs: Socially Constructed Experiences of Volunteers
In this research, I studied how the volunteers who work with children in structured sports events made meaning of their experience in a relational context, as viewed through the lens of social constructionism. In the literature review, several themes emerged that were the foundation for the conceptual framework and informed the research question: “How are the experiences of adult volunteers who work with children with special needs in structured sports events constructed?”
This study was qualitative in nature and used the Dynamic Narrative Approach research method. This method applies narratives and includes aspects of social constructionism. Ten participants that met the criteria were selected for this study. Two rounds of interviews were conducted through the use of technology including computer assisted video conferencing. I coded the responses and a number of themes emerged.
Since I was looking at the volunteer experience through the lens of social constructionism, I explored how participants spoke about relations with others and the language they used to describe their interactions. The key focus areas emerged as the participants described: a process for getting and staying involved; motivation for getting and staying involved; meaningful volunteer experience; and suggestions and ideas about encouraging future volunteer recruitment. Themes that corresponded with these focus areas were also discussed. Discourse is generated in relation with others, so I also examined the various discourses that impacted the volunteers’ experiences, which included: the discourse of disability, the discourse of altruism/service, and the discourse of sports.
The results displayed that the participants’ language evolved from describing the children as “a kids with disabilities” to “athletes,” a demonstration of the social construction of a shift in the identity ascribed to the children. The participants told stories that described their own evolution as one of developing confidence and growth. The participants also offered ideas to encourage recruitment of volunteers. The results of this study contribute to the literature in volunteering, children with special needs, and structured sports events. In addition, information was provided that is useful for practitioners, volunteers, and others involved in serving children with special needs.