The Makings of a Meaningful Sporting Experience for Young Pasifika Girls in Junior Rugby
Sotutu, Susana Jillian Loloma
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Involvement in Sport and Active Recreation (SAR) is known to offer a host of possible benefits to engaged participants over time. These participants may engage for a range of reasons, attaching different meanings to their involvement. Within Aotearoa New Zealand, SAR pursuits are endorsed as an integral part of the nation’s culture and way of life, resulting in strong social encouragement and facilitation from an early age. Given the numerous physical, mental and social developmental outcomes associated with positive sporting participation, more scholars in sport have turned their attention to the methods and approaches which most effectively engage youth in quality SAR opportunities. Within the last decade, research has shifted from focussing on understanding motivations for participation to considering the underlying meaning attached to participation. Meaningful sporting experiences are likely to lead to sustained participation and positive holistic development, not only in sport but in life more generally. Literature on this topic has largely been drawn from youth and youth SAR facilitators in Western sporting contexts. Some studies have more recently been published drawing from indigenous youth coaches and youth SAR deliverers, however, there is a notable lack of the indigenous youth participant voice. This study sought to explore the makings of a meaningful sporting experience for young Pasifika girls in rugby, and was grounded in a Pasifika paradigm, ethic and methodology, known as talanoa (Vaioleti, 2006). Data was drawn from multiple talanoa (free-flowing sharing / story-telling sessions) with three groups of Pasifika girls who are actively engaged in secondary rugby. This data was then processed using reflexive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2021a). The talanoa were oriented by research sub-questions that explored the girls’ own definitions of meaningful experiences, along with their current experiences of their rugby contexts, and their perceptions of empowering interactions in the sport. The subsequent findings provide an insightful perspective at both a conceptual and practical level drawn from the talanoa with indigenous youth SAR participants. Specifically, the findings of this study present a deeply integrated relational perspective by highlighting that relational connections (past, present and future) form the heart of meaningful sporting experiences for young Pasifika girls in rugby. The most significant connections that were highlighted by the girls were firstly, with family, secondly, with rugby community in the forms of friends (peers, old girl role models) and coaches, and finally, connecting more with oneself. Other key factors of meaningful experiences (such as fun and enjoyment, increased self-confidence and self-esteem, identity formation) may be considered by-products of the quality, tenor and strength of the relational connections developed through rugby participation. This study makes a conceptual contribution by amplifying Pasifika youth voices and presenting an insider Pasifika perspective to a Western-dominated body of literature. Overall, this knowledge serves decision-making adults with helpful insights to interact and engage Pasifika girls with greater understanding, which may have significant implications for Pasifika youth, families and the evolving state of SAR engagement and participation in Aotearoa.