“Putting kids first”: An exploration of the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility model to youth development in Eswatini


Zenzi Huysmans1, Damien Clement1, Meredith A. Whitley2, Matthew Gonzalez1, Tammy Sheehy3

1 West Virginia University, USA
2 Adelphi University, USA
3 Central Virginia Community College, USA


Huysmans, Z., Clement, D., Whitley, M., Gonzalez, M., & Sheehy, T. (2019). “Putting kids first”: An exploration of the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility model to youth development in Eswatini.” Journal of Sport for Development, 7(13), 15–32. Retrieved from https://jsfd.org/

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This exploratory study examined the potential of using sport as a creative and engaging context to facilitate life skills development in socially vulnerable youth in Eswatini, who face major context-specific challenges to their healthy development. The sport for development program was designed using the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility model with adaptations made to fit the cultural context. Participants in the program were local coaches (N=3 males) and socially vulnerable youth (N=48, 25 females and 23 males) aged 11-15 years old, recruited from a community-based organization. Coaches were trained as the primary implementers of the program. Data collection employed a mixed-methods approach that triangulated data from surveys, learning quizzes, focus groups, and interviews. Findings supported the potential value of the program in cultivating the development and possible transfer of personal responsibility (e.g., self-direction skills such as goal setting and decision making) and social responsibility (e.g., interpersonal skills such as respect, self-control, conflict resolution, and caring) behaviors. The study provided preliminary support for the contextual utility of engendering these developmental outcomes in an environment where youth are facing a major health threat (i.e., HIV/AIDS) and community challenges (e.g., gender-based violence, poverty). Continued investment in long-term sport for development programming in Eswatini is warranted.


Adolescence is a formative period in the healthy development of youth and can lay the foundation for future well-being and fulfilment when the appropriate social and structural support systems are provided (Holt, 2008; Fatusi & Hindin, 2010). In developing countries, this youth demographic (aged 10-24 years old) makes up the largest proportion of the population (UNFPA, 2015). However, young people in these areas are facing significant health-related challenges as well as limited resources to support their development (Fatusi & Hindin, 2010). In the Kingdom of Eswatini, a small country in Southern Africa, youth comprise 36% of the population (WHO 2013; Mavundla, Dlamini, Nyoni, & Mac-Ikemenjima, 2015). While youth in Eswatini struggle with the more universal challenges associated with adolescence (e.g., social identity development, peer pressure), these youth are also faced with major context-specific challenges. These include economic and resource concerns, such as high poverty rates (63%), low school attendance (only half of youth attend school), and unemployment (42.6% for youth aged 15-24) (Mavundla et al., 2015; Ministry of Sports, Culture, and Youth Affairs, 2015).

Eswatini has the highest global prevalence of HIV/AIDS, with almost 30% of adults infected (UNAIDS, 2016). This not only puts youth, and especially young females, at significantly higher risk for infection (AVERT, 2014; Underwood, Skinner, Osman & Schwandt, 2011), but also has psychosocial and economic effects, including caring for sick parents, experiencing increased financial pressure, and dropping out of school to earn a living (AVERT, 2014; Foster & Williamson, 2000). Furthermore, high adult mortality rates due to the HIV epidemic have resulted in a youth population composed of almost 50% orphans and vulnerable children (AVERT, 2014). Many Eswatini youth therefore lack guidance and mentorship from adult role models to support their healthy development, which is concerning as it occurs within a context of health and resource challenges and exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as parental neglect or substance use, death of a parent, and child abuse. Thus, investing in youth development and mentorship initiatives in Eswatini should be prioritized.

Sport as a Tool for Youth Development in Eswatini

Although there are government-led youth development policies and initiatives in Eswatini, youth buy-in is limited (Mavundla et al., 2015; Ministry of Sports, Culture, and Youth Affairs, 2015), suggesting a need to engage young people in their own development through creative, fun, and intentional programs. Sport for development (SFD) programs may be one innovative, practical, and well-liked avenue through which to achieve this goal (Beutler, 2008). Although evidence-based practice is not yet the norm, given the limited efficacy data (Langer, 2015; Whitley, Massey, Camiré, Blom et al., 2019), extant literature supports the potential role of sport as a vehicle for youth development (Schulenkorf, Sherry, & Rowe, 2016; Svensson & Woods, 2017). Sport for development initiatives are conceptualized as contexts where youth can actively engage in their own development and create meaningful learning outcomes for themselves (Coakley, 2011; Côté & Hancock, 2016). Moreover, when youth have access to positive peer connections and empathetic coach-youth relationships, sport participation can result in positive developmental outcomes (Danish, Forneris, Hodge, & Heke, 2004; Hermens, Super, Verkooijen, & Koelen, 2017; Whitley, Massey, & Wilkison, 2018). Through the creation of constructive and positive environments, sport participation may buffer the negative impacts of ACEs and developmental traumas (Hughes, Ford, Davies, Homolova, Bellis, 2018; Whitley et al., 2018), build resilience (Bellis et al., 2018), and help youth grow into civically engaged and conscientious adults (Coakley, 2011). For socially vulnerable populations, sport participation can also help youth develop the life skills needed to overcome the challenges of everyday life and “succeed in the different environments in which they live, such as school, home, and in their neighborhoods” (Danish et al., 2004, p.40). Thus, SFD programs may be a potential vehicle through which to support the healthy development of youth in Eswatini.

Several studies in Eswatini indicate a large percentage of youth hold positive attitudes toward sport and its benefits on health and well-being (Ndlangamandla, Burnett, & Roux, 2012; Toriola, 2010). However, only a small percentage of youth actually participate in sport or physical education in school, with half of youth not even attending school (Ndlangamandla et al., 2012; Toriola, 2010). Further, female engagement is lower because they feel less competent, particularly during secondary school. This is partly affected by a culture of male dominance combined with a lack of female role models in sport (Toriola, 2010). In addition, financial, structural, and equipment barriers also limit higher overall youth sport participation levels (Ndlangamandla et al., 2012; Toriola, 2010). Therefore, despite youth enjoyment of sport and awareness of its benefits, there are significant systemic and cultural barriers that limit youth sport participation, especially for young females. Further, there is limited programming that utilizes sport as a context for youth development in Eswatini.

Successful implementation of SFD initiatives in South Africa suggests potential for these programs to create meaningful developmental outcomes for Eswatini youth. South Africa, which borders Eswatini, is a comparable youth context, with 66% of the population below the age of 35 and similar developmental challenges (e.g., high unemployment, poverty, HIV, youth-led households) (UNFPA South Africa, 2011). Extant literature indicates that sport participation helped South African youth develop valuable intrapersonal and interpersonal life skills as well as overcome significant community challenges through the creation of a positive, supportive climate (Whitley, Hayden, & Gould, 2013; Whitley, Hayden et al., 2016). Research with a coaching club in eastern South Africa demonstrated positive program experiences (e.g., social connection with peers, sense of safety and belonging) and life skill acquisition (e.g., confidence, self-discipline, decision making, communication) (Draper & Coalter, 2016). Burnett’s (2014) work also emphasizes the positive impact SFD programs can have on youth prosocial behavior within an environment of trusting teacher-learner relationships. These South African findings are consistent with North American studies supporting the potential for youth sport participation to facilitate cognitive, emotional, and social life skills outcomes, with a specific focus on socially vulnerable youth (Hermens et al., 2017; Holt et al., 2017; Martinek & Hellison, 2016). Therefore, SFD programs may be an effective approach in Eswatini to create positive youth experiences and support meaningful life skills outcomes.

Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility Model

Within SFD, a well-established life skills instructional model is Hellison’s (2011) Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) model. The TPSR model is designed to help youth develop the necessary life skills to take more responsibility for their well-being and for the welfare of others. A multitude of SFD programs have used the TPSR model in various contexts (e.g., in-school, after-school, community-based), with socially vulnerable or at-risk youth as the primary beneficiaries (Caballero-Blanco, Delgado-Noguera, & Escartí-Carbonell, 2013; Gordon & Doyle, 2015; Martinek & Hellison, 2016). Studies (primarily qualitative) have reported outcomes related to self-control, effort, reaching goals, leadership, and helping or cooperative behaviors (Bean, Kendellen, & Forneris, 2016; Cryan & Martinek, 2017; Escartí, Gutiérrez, Pascual, & Marín., 2010; Whitley, Massey, Camiré, Boutet, & Borbee, 2019). Further, qualitative accounts of participant experiences indicate high levels of enjoyment, caring adult relationships, and feelings of safety and belonging (Escartí et al., 2010; Hellison & Walsh, 2002; Whitley, Coble, & Jewell, 2016; Whitley, Massey, Camiré, Boutet et al., 2019). Some research, albeit inconsistent, also supports the transfer of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills such as self-control, emotional regulation, effort, respect, and social skills to other domains (e.g., school, home, peer groups) (Bean et al., 2016; Caballero-Blanco et al. 2013; Hellison & Walsh, 2002; Hemphill & Richards, 2016; Whitley, Coble et al., 2016). Hellison (2011) also recognized that the life skills foci of any TPSR program are social constructions, which should be modified to adapt to the cultural context as long as the core TPSR spirit is retained (Martinek & Hellison, 2016; Gordon, 2009).

Despite the potential for TPSR programs to support youth development, there are concerns with the methodological rigor of research related to TPSR program efficacy (Caballero-Blanco et al. 2013; Whitley, Massey, Camiré, Boutet et al., 2019). Further, the majority of TPSR programs have been implemented in Western contexts where youth challenges are culture-specific (Gordon & Doyle, 2015), with a recent TPSR program in South Africa lacking efficacy data (Whitley, 2012). Thus, the implementation and evaluation of an SFD program guided by the TPSR model in Eswatini could add to the growing evidence base, particularly given the collaborative and methodologically rigorous approach. Additionally, this may meet the need for more creative and effective platforms to address the developmental challenges facing youth in Eswatini.

Current Study

The current exploratory study was a part of a larger examination of youth participation experiences, developmental outcomes, and implementation successes and challenges of a short TPSR-based SFD program for socially vulnerable youth in an Eswatini community. The findings were intended to inform the design of longer term and more sustainable SFD programming in Eswatini. The current manuscript focused on the following research question: What are the immediate life skills and developmental outcomes of a short SFD program in Eswatini observed across the five responsibilities levels of the TPSR model?


This exploratory study was guided by a social constructionist paradigm (Crotty, 1998), which posits that we create and construct meaning through our interactions with our social and cultural context. A central aim of constructionist research is to understand the lived experience of the research participant as expressed from their viewpoint (Ponterotto, 2005). This epistemological stance was chosen because this study was exploring the application of a Western-derived model in a non-Western context, where youth life experiences and SFD program experiences would be shaped by the social and cultural context.


The emphasis on co-construction of meaning in social constructionism necessitates the examination of the primary researcher’s background that may influence the research process (Creswell, 2007; Ponterotto, 2005). The primary researcher was born and raised in Eswatini, but her ethnic heritage is European. Consequently, she was raised in a home environment that subscribed to European belief systems and a social environment rooted in Swazi culture. Her educational background ranges from a local primary school to an international high school to university education in the United States. These experiences shaped her approach to the research process including her choices related to methodology, program implementation, and data analysis, which reflect an emphasis on including multiple perspectives in data collection, collaborating with the local community in program design, and honoring the social construction of knowledge and truth. From the participants’ perspective, she was likely considered both an outsider, given her ethnicity and researcher identity, as well as an insider, due to her ability to speak conversational SiSwati and her Eswatini background.


The study took place at a nonprofit youth organization operating in a small community in the Lobamba region of Eswatini. This community is characterized by high levels of poverty, limited employment opportunities, and many orphans and vulnerable youth. The organization provides psychosocial services and school funding support for socially vulnerable youth, with access to a vegetable garden, sheltered outdoor play area, and soccer field. The organization also facilitates skill-building workshops on various topics (e.g., HIV/AIDS, abuse, grief, health). To assist with literacy development, the organization provides preschool education and afternoon classes for primary school-aged children.


Participants were youth and local coaches in the Lobamba region of Eswatini. Forty-eight youth (N=48, 25 females and 23 males), all single or double orphans (as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic), aged 11-15 years old (M=12.6 years old) participated in the SFD program, with a subset (N=33, 22 females and 11 males) also agreeing to participate in the research component. Although the group size for the SFD program was intended to be 15 youth based on recommendations for TPSR group activities and the creation of caring climate (Cryan & Martinek, 2017), all youth who expressed interest were allowed to participate, given the program’s ethos. Eligibility criteria included: (a) attendance at an afternoon literacy class at the youth organization, (b) conversational English language proficiency, (c) 10-15 years old, and (d) signed guardian consent and youth assent. The organization suggested English language proficiency as a criterion, given it is the primary instruction language in school and is needed for professional success in Eswatini. Youth participation in the program did not require involvement in the research component.

Coach participants (2 Eswatini, 1 Zimbabwe; all male; M=27.3 years old, range=25-30) had an average of 5.67 years (range=2-12) of coaching experience in basketball, soccer, volleyball, athletics, badminton, and aerobics. Coach eligibility criteria included: (a) at least two years of experience coaching a youth sport team, (b) at least 18 years old, (c) both English and SiSwati language proficiency, and (d) participation in both the program and research components. Although one coach disengaged from the program after the first week due to a full-time employment opportunity, he was still included in the research component. Two coaches had no prior training in positive youth development, while the third coach had partially completed a course in positive youth development.

Coaches were recruited by the primary researcher using purposive and snowball sampling through email and phone and from the coaching connections established during the needs assessment (see below). Coaches of a similar ethnicity, gender, age, socioeconomic status, and background were recruited, as the literature suggests they are more likely to be viewed as mentors, which is an important predictor of positive youth development outcomes (Gould, Collins, Lauer, & Chung, 2007). While every effort was made to recruit a female coach, this was not possible given the limited number of female coaches in Eswatini. During recruitment, the trusted adult role model position of the coaches in the lives of socially vulnerable youth was emphasized. Only coaches who seemed invested in this mentorship and educator role were asked to participate. Coaches received a financial incentive ($120), reimbursement for travel costs, and a certificate for program participation.

Needs Assessment

To involve the community in the systematic planning and design of the sport program, a needs assessment was conducted in Eswatini the preceding year (Porter, 2015). Data were collected using focus groups with youth (N=12 groups, 6 groups of males and 6 groups of females) and interviews with youth coaches (N=9, female=2, male=7), community members (N=6, female=4, male=2), and key informants (N=6, female=3, males=3). The following findings from the needs assessment guided the development of the SFD program: (a) sport is beloved by Swazi youth, so using sport to engage youth in development was identified as an appropriate platform; (b) a range of life skills (i.e., self-belief, social and personal responsibility, goal setting, decision making, self-efficacy, emotional expression) were identified as valuable to include in programming to address the most salient youth challenges; (c) youth between 15-24 years old have already developed a strong set of social beliefs that impact their behavior, so it would be more effective to engage younger ages in programming; and (d) Swazi youth lack caring and empathetic adult mentors, so coaches could be valuable adults to engage and integrate into youth programming.

Sport for Development Program

The SFD program took place for 75-100 minutes every weekday for three weeks, with a total of 15 sessions. Although three weeks was a short amount of time to achieve sustainable program outcomes (Bean et al., 2016), this SFD program was intended to explore potential program outcomes and implementation approaches in order to inform more long-term programming in Eswatini. Sessions were run after school either on the youth organization’s soccer field or outdoor play area. Key programmatic features of the TPSR model guided the development of a standard curriculum (See Table 1), along with the information gathered during the needs assessment. Specifically, the SFD program used the standard TPSR daily structure: (a) relational time (10 min), (b) awareness talk (25-40 min), (c) physical activity (35 min), (d) group reflection (10 min), and (e) individual reflection (5 min). The standard responsibility levels were also incorporated into programming: (a) respecting others (level I), (b) effort and cooperation (level II), (c) self-direction (level III), (d) helping and leadership (level IV), and (e) transfer (level V) (See Table 2). Each session focused on a specific responsibility level and life skill. As the weeks progressed, the responsibility level increased in behavioral complexity (i.e., moving from respect to effort to self-direction to helping and leadership). The final level, transfer, was included in every session as it is an integral component of the TPSR model and previous programs have recommended its integration into as many sessions as possible (Bean et al., 2016; Whitley, Coble et al., 2016; Walsh, Ozaeta, & Wright, 2010).

Table 1 – Overview of SFD program curriculum

Table 1 - Overview of SFD program curriculum

Note – Relational time: brief period dedicated to building the relationship between the coaches and the youth. Awareness talk: coaches engage youth in discussion and active learning activities centered on responsibility level and life skill focus of the day. Physical activity: structured participation in sport where youth learn sport-specific competencies and integrate life skills lessons into sport. Group reflection: youth and coaches gather to discuss life skills lessons of the day and how they can be transferred to everyday life. Self-reflection: youth briefly self-reflect on how the life skills lessons applied to their own life and what they enjoyed about the day’s activities.

Specific design elements from successful TPSR programs also informed the development of the SFD program, along with implementation adjustments to align with the cultural context. These included an extended awareness talk due to the slow-paced and deliberate manner of conversation in Eswatini (Nwosu, 1988), structured and active learning activities during the awareness talk (Bean, Forneris, & Halsall, 2014; Bean et al., 2016), visual learning aids (Whitley, Coble et al., 2016; Whitley & Gould, 2010), and primary instruction in SiSwati as opposed to English. Based on the needs assessment findings, a logic model (Figure 1) was also developed to theoretically ground the program, which supports stronger youth development outcomes (Whitley, Massey, Camiré, Boutet et al., 2019). Social cognitive theory (Bandura, 2001) and the positive youth development (PYD) framework (Holt et al., 2017) informed this logic model. The former emphasizes human agency and youth actively engaging in their own development, while the latter stresses the value of creating positive sporting environments with empathetic adult-youth relationships where youth are treated as inherently capable of becoming successful.

Table 2 – Responsibility levels of the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) Model

Table 2 - Responsibility levels of the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) Model

Note – Adapted from Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility Through Physical Activity, by Don Hellison, Copyright 2011 by Don Hellison.

Local coaches were trained as the primary program implementers and were responsible for all aspects of SFD program implementation, with the primary researcher available for assistance if necessary. Coaches were chosen for this role given their sport skill expertise and ability to connect with youth as insiders and relatable mentors. A train-the-trainer approach (Blom, Gerstein et al., 2015) was used where the primary researcher trained coaches on program implementation over three days (Bean et al., 2014; Cryan & Martinek, 2017). This training utilized a multi-method learning approach that integrated several learning strategies (e.g., experiential learning, discussion, self-reflection, didactic presentations; Blom, Judge, et al., 2015; Pearce et al., 2012), with topics including positive youth development principles, TPSR core values, themes, teaching strategies, and TPSR program examples. Coaches also reviewed the proposed session outlines for the SFD program, revising its design to ensure contextual relevance.

Figure 1 – Logic model (PRECEDE) guiding program design

Figure 1 - Logic model (PRECEDE) guiding program design


All instruments (i.e., coach and youth focus groups, teacher interview) developed for the study were reviewed by an SFD professional with significant experience in TPSR programming and qualitative methodologies. All written instruments were translated into SiSwati and were back-translated by three youth in the same age bracket as the program participants.

Personal and Social Responsibility Questionnaire: The Personal and Social Responsibility Questionnaire (PSRQ) (Li, Wright, Rukavina, & Pickering, 2008) is a 14-item self-report measure of personal and social responsibility composed of two scales (i.e., personal responsibility, social responsibility) with seven items each. Items are scored on a 6-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree) with total scores ranging from 14 (low social and personal responsibility) to 84 (high social and personal responsibility). It is a psychometrically valid instrument with adequate internal consistency (0.79-0.81) in Western settings (Li et al., 2008).

Multidimensional Scales of Perceived Self-Efficacy: The Multidimensional Scales of Perceived Self-Efficacy (MSPSE) (Bandura, 1990) is a self-report measure of personal and social self-efficacy and is composed of 57 items and nine subscales representing Bandura’s nine proposed domains of self-efficacy. A 7-point Likert scale is used to rate responses to each item from 1 (not well at all) to 7 (very well). For each self-efficacy domain, scores are summed and averaged to yield a minimum score of 1 (low self-efficacy) and a maximum score of 7 (high self-efficacy). For the current study, the five most relevant subscales (32 items total) were chosen that aligned most strongly with the research question and study objectives (Escartí et al., 2010): enlisting social resources, self-regulated learning, self-regulatory efficacy to resist peer pressure, self-assertive self-efficacy, and social self-efficacy. The MSPSE has demonstrated adequate validity and internal consistency (α>0.70) for all subscales (Choi, Fuqua, & Griffin, 2001).

Student learning quiz: The student learning quiz (Hellison, 2011; Wright & Burton, 2008) is a brief assessment of three life skills or responsibilities that the youth learned during the SFD program. Youth are first asked to identify three life skills they may have learned during the program and then give examples of how each life skill might be applied in a domain outside the SFD program.

Coach focus group: A focus group was conducted with the coaches to explore their observations of youth learning during the SFD program as well as their experiences implementing the program. The focus group guide was developed using previous studies exploring implementation processes and outcomes of TPSR programming (Bean et al., 2016; Wright, Jacobs, Ressler, & Jung, 2016).

Youth focus groups: Youth focus groups centered on youth reflections of personal development, including what they may have learned in the program, and how they may have applied those skills in other life domains. The youth focus group guide was developed from questions used in previous studies (Bean et al., 2014, Bean et al., 2016; Whitley, Coble et al., 2016).

Teacher interview: A semistructured interview was conducted with the afternoon class teacher. The interview objective was to gather information on any transfer of learning observed in the youth after program participation and was developed from previous TPSR research assessing transfer (Bean et al., 2016).


Study approval was obtained from the Institutional Review Board of West Virginia University and the Ethics Board of Eswatini. Permission was also obtained from the director of the Eswatini youth organization. All participants in the research component of the study completed consent and/or assent procedures (in English or SiSwati) prior to participation.

Prior to data collection, the primary researcher conducted a three-day training for the coaches and a separate training for the two staff members of the youth organization who would assist with data collection. These two individuals spoke fluent SiSwati and had established relationships with the youth, which has been found to promote more honest feedback from youth (Heath, Brooks, Cleaver, & Ireland, 2009).

Data collection employed a mixed-methods approach. Pre- and post-program, youth participants completed two surveys: the PSRQ (Li et al., 2008) and the MSPSE (Bandura, 1990). The primary researcher and teacher jointly guided this 30-minute survey administration process, with the teacher explaining (in SiSwati) the survey instructions and orally administering the surveys by reading each item out loud due to the youths’ low reading comprehension levels.

During the SFD program, youth completed a weekly written student learning quiz, administered by trained coaches. After the program, two single gender focus groups were conducted (17 females and 15 males) with the youth participants, which lasted 25 and 27 minutes respectively. Two coaches also participated in a 58-minute focus group with the primary researcher, and the coach who left the program took part in a separate interview due to scheduling conflicts. The collaborative approach adopted throughout the SFD program facilitated a comfort level between the primary researcher and the coaches, which contributed to open and critical evaluation feedback from the coaches before, during, and after the program. Two weeks after program completion, the afternoon class teacher participated in a 20-minute interview with the primary researcher to reassess youth program outcomes. All focus groups and interviews were audio-recorded and conducted in SiSwati or English dependent on participant preference.

Data Analysis

Quantitative data was analyzed using t-tests to examine pre- to post-program changes in personal responsibility, social responsibility, and dimensions of self-efficacy. Content analysis was employed to analyze the focus groups, interview, and learning quizzes (Elo & Kyngas, 2008). Two researchers (including the primary researcher) independently conducted the content analysis after all audio-recordings were transcribed verbatim and translated back to English (Flick, 2014; Hsieh & Shannon, 2005). This began with each researcher familiarizing themselves with the data, followed by careful re-examination in which key initial thoughts were highlighted. This was followed by open coding of themes and the identification of meaningful quotes (i.e., raw data). These themes were then categorized and organized into lower and higher order themes reflecting their relationships (Flick, 2014). A combined inductive and deductive approach was used to allow for new themes to emerge but also to identify specific themes related to the TPSR responsibility levels (Flick, 2014; Wright et al., 2016). Iterative consensus validation allowed the researchers to compare their initial thoughts, open codes, and lower/higher themes, along with reaching consensus and resolving any differences that arose (Whitley, Hayden et al. 2016). A third researcher served as a “critical friend” (Smith & McGannon, 2018) with the primary role of prompting reflection on alternative data interpretations. On completion of the content analysis, all analyzed data (quantitative and qualitative) was triangulated and integrated in a process of iterative consensus validation involving all three researchers.

Methodological Rigor

Methodological rigor was enhanced using a relativist perspective (Sparkes & Smith, 2009) and included the following strategies. First, the study topic was identified as one of social significance and worth (Sparkes & Smith, 2014; Tracy, 2010), as the demonstrated youth need in Eswatini is high. Second, the selection and triangulation of the data collection sources was reviewed and approved by a leading researcher in SFD youth programs. Third, consistent with the emphasis in constructivist approaches on understanding participant construction of meaning (Morrow, 2005), the primary researcher’s familiarity with the cultural context of the participants supported deeper understanding of reported experiences. Fourth, the data analysis process included a “critical friend” to promote critical interpretations of qualitative data (Smith & McGannon, 2018). Fifth, an audit trail tracked significant researcher dialogue and changes during the coding process (Tracy, 2010). Finally, credibility was enhanced through thick description of data in the results section (Tracy, 2010).


Twenty-eight of the 33 youth (84.8%) completed both pre- and post-surveys. Quantitative analysis indicated that average life skills scores increased from pre- to post-program across all surveys (i.e., all five domains of the MSPSE and the total PSRQ score) (Table 3). However, paired t-tests indicated that only the increase in personal and social responsibility (PSRQ) from pre- (M=68.04, SD=4.95) to post-program (M=72.75, SD=5.57) was statistically significant (t (21)=-2.891, p=0.009). Changes in self-efficacy scores in the domain of self-assertive self-efficacy from pre- (M=4.10, SD=1.26) to post-program (M=4.52, SD=1.22) approached significance (t (20)=-1.958, p=0.064).

Table 3 – Youth pre- and post-program descriptive statistics on the PSRQ and MSPSE

Table 3 - Youth pre- and post-program descriptive statistics on the PSRQ and MSPSE

Note – Although 33 youth participated in the research component of the program, complete data was only available for 27 and 28 youth respectively. This was due to incorrect or partial completion of the measures.

Content analysis of the qualitative data yielded 361 raw meaning units related to youth life skills and developmental outcomes. These coalesced under six higher order themes that were organized according to the five responsibility levels of the TPSR model as well as one general theme: (a) level I – respect for others; (b) level II – effort and cooperation; (c) level III – self-direction; (d) level IV – helping and leadership; (e) level V – transfer; and (f) sport-specific outcomes (Figure 2). The following section addresses each of these higher order themes.

Figure 2 – Qualitative youth outcomes from program participation organized across the responsibility levels of the TPSR

Figure 2. Qualitative youth outcomes from program participation organized across the responsibility levels of the TPSR

Level I – Respect for Others

Level I of the TPSR model is characterized by youth outcomes and life skills that reflect respect for the rights and feelings of others (e.g., self-awareness, behavioral and emotional regulation). When youth described their learning as a result of the program, several spoke about the value of respect as an interpersonal skill because it allows you to “receive the same treatment,” and “makes it easy to work and get along with other people.” Youth were also able to give examples of respectful behaviors in educational settings: “At school, I can show respect by listening to other people before speaking,” and by “waiting for your teacher to finish speaking before you answer.” Notably, some youth were also able to identify that self-respect is equally necessary as, and is often a precursor to, respect for others.

Specific to emotional regulation and self-control, several youth were able to accurately define these terms in the learning quizzes as well as discuss in the focus groups how these skills can be applied. For example, one youth defined emotional regulation as “the ability to control your emotions when there are difficult situations at home or at school,” while another youth stated that “[self-control] is important in situations where somebody gets you upset. Instead of reacting with violence and hurting them, it is better to just calm yourself down and fix things with dialogue.”

Level II – Effort and Cooperation

Effort and hard work, teamwork, and communication were the most frequently identified program outcomes identified in responsibility level II. In the learning quizzes, youth defined effort and hard work as “putting effort in whatever you are doing even when you are going through difficult times,” while teamwork was defined as “working well with other people at home, school, and in the community.” In the focus groups, some youth were also able to demonstrate an understanding of the value of effort, teamwork, and communication in creating positive personal and social outcomes. For example, one youth stated that “we work as a team in class in order to solve problems,” while another explained they learned that “when doing something, you have to put in a lot of effort in order to succeed.” Another youth described the value of communication in working well with others.

Level III ­­– Self-Direction

Level III outcomes (i.e., self-direction) for the current program incorporated life skills related to creating and progressing toward goals (i.e., planning) and demonstrating confidence and perseverance in meeting challenges or making good decisions related to reaching goals (i.e., resilience). Under the theme of planning, which encompassed goal setting and making healthy decisions to progress toward goals (i.e., decision making), youth defined goal setting in their learning quizzes as “choosing what you want to become in the future” and “setting goals for yourself and working hard until you reach those goals.” Decision making was described as “the ability to choose between multiple choices” and “controlling your decisions such as deciding not to succumb to peer pressure.”

In addition to understanding these concepts, several youths spoke in the focus groups about the application of these planning skills in their lives. One youth referenced “[setting] goals at school and at work,” while another explained that “when [my] friends invite [me] to be involved in mischief, now I have the ability to decide for myself whether I want to be involved in those activities or not.”

Under the theme of resilience and overcoming obstacles to goal attainment, the most frequently cited outcomes were confidence and perseverance. Youth defined confidence as “having faith in ourselves” or being “confident when doing things that I do not trust myself in.” Perseverance was defined by one youth as “the ability to keep going when things are not looking good.” Several youths also described in the focus groups how resilience-related skills applied to their lives. One youth discussed facing challenges head-on rather than running away from them. Another youth described “working hard to realize your goals despite challenges.” Other youth described using confidence “when you are in front of people” or “believing in your own ability when playing soccer with friends.”

Level IV – Helping and Leadership

This higher order theme was characterized by responsibility level IV outcomes demonstrating the interpersonal skills of caring and compassionate responses to others, conflict management, and leadership behaviors. Youth provided a range of responses related to compassion, highlighting genuine care for others and specific examples of compassionate behavior. For example, one youth stated, “I learned that to be compassionate means you should feel sorry for others, which includes people who are going through suffering.”

Under the theme of conflict management, youth identified conflict resolution as well as the STAR acronym (Stop, Think, Anticipate, Respond) as program outcomes. During the program, four different animals (i.e., teddy bear, turtle, shark, dove) and the STAR acronym were used to teach youth effective conflict resolution approaches. After the program, some youth were able to define conflict resolution and identify conflict resolution behaviors. One youth defined conflict resolution as “solving problems when they arise as opposed to letting people destroy each other,” while another explained,

There is a teddy bear, shark, turtle, and a dove. You can use it to understand someone’s personality. A teddy bear is soft and always listen to other people’s opinion, a turtle hides from problems, a dove is a peacemaker, while a shark has no compassion and is aggressive.

In reflecting on the STAR acronym, several youth presented two different ways they applied the concept. Some youth applied it as a strategy to find a more effective response to an unpleasant situation such as when someone angers you, while other youth used it as a reminder that they were worthy and valuable despite being subjected to challenging situations. In one youth’s words, “you should tell yourself that you are a star in your community and whenever someone mistreats, you should tell yourself you are a star.” For the last theme of leadership, youth described their understanding of leadership as follows: “That we should care for other people and help them out if we are to become leaders.”

Level V – Transfer

Level V of the TPSR model focuses on the youth’s ability to apply what was learned from the first four responsibility levels to life outside of the sport context (i.e., at home and at school). Youth, coaches, and the afternoon class teacher all highlighted the transfer of learning from the sport program to everyday life. One coach stated the following about transfer:

Yes, it is happening at home and at school. [The youth] tell you, “Hey today I did this at school, and I didn’t shout at that person. Instead I just took a moment . . . breathe in, breathe out.” And someone said that when they were writing an exam that day and they didn’t get an answer, they did the breathing exercise!

Specific to transfer of level I responsibility behaviors, one youth described how he applied the life skill of emotion regulation: “In high stress situations, I place my hand over here (pointing to his chest), breathe in, hold my breath for three seconds, and then release.” The afternoon class teacher also described these behavioral changes: “Having participated in the program has made them aware of how they should conduct themselves. For respect it’s something I’ve seen quite a tremendous change in.” Further, the teacher explained that on a more general level of personal responsibility behaviors, responsibility-taking had improved, with youth being more organized, doing their homework on time, and taking more responsibility for consistently attending the afternoon class.

Some transfer of responsibility level II outcomes was also reported by the youth and teacher. In the words of the youth, “we just recently took a test in class and I really applied myself to get good grades,” “I am now able to study well when I am in a group with other students,” and “I use [teamwork] in class when learning and discussing in a group setting.”

A handful of youth also reported transferring level III responsibility behaviors such as goal setting, decision making, and perseverance to their everyday lives. One youth stated, “I now know my purpose/goal for going to school” and “I know how to make better decisions in my life.” Specific to level IV outcomes, some youth identified transferring their care for others into nonsport domains. One youth described “showing remorse to a friend when they have lost a loved one or when someone falls.” The afternoon class teacher spoke about the transfer of caring for others in the following excerpt:

Previously they wouldn’t come to me telling me about someone else [a peer] having a problem with uniform or something but now they are much more comfortable in coming to me and telling me such things.

Finally, some youth were also able to demonstrate an understanding that different life skills can be applied simultaneously to contribute to success: “I am able to set my goals. Now I know that to achieve these goals, I must have confidence and perseverance and respect.”

Sport-Specific Outcomes

This final higher order theme was a theme that emerged outside of the TPSR responsibility levels and referred to outcomes related to sport knowledge, sport-skill development, and learning how to be physically active. Several youth described their sport-skill development: “I learned how to play soccer well” and “I learned how to play netball.” Another participant explained, “I liked how when the coaches gave us a lot of information when they introduced us to a new sport, making us more knowledgeable about that new sport.” Transfer of sport and physical activity behaviors to nonsport domains was not identified.


Overall, the developmental outcomes from this exploratory study suggest that despite the SFD program’s short duration, youth gained some life skills outcomes from their participation. Within the context of Eswatini, where youth are facing a major health threat (i.e., HIV/AIDS) and community challenges (e.g., gender-based violence, high teenage pregnancy rates, poverty), the development and transfer of personal and social responsibility behaviors are meaningful program outcomes.

Program Outcomes and the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility Model

The present findings suggest potential for the TPSR model to cultivate outcomes across all five TPSR responsibility levels. Quantitative results supported a statistical increase in overall personal and social responsibility from pre- to post-assessment. In addition, qualitative findings identified some outcomes related to level I (respect and self-control), level II (effort, team work, communication), level III (goal setting, decision making, perseverance), level IV (compassion and helping, conflict resolution, leadership), and level V (transfer). Specific to responsibility levels I-IV, these findings support North American and Western research demonstrating the utility of TPSR programming in cultivating personal and social responsibility behaviors (Bean et al., 2016; Caballero-Blanco et al., 2013; Cryan & Martinek, 2017; Escartí et al., 2010; Hemphill & Richards, 2016; Walsh et al., 2010; Whitley, Coble et al., 2016). These findings also contribute to extant TPSR literature as they present preliminary support for the utility of the TPSR model in non-Western contexts, where there is a scarcity of methodologically rigorous research and where community challenges facing youth may differ from Western contexts. The current findings therefore have implications for the potential value of employing a framework such as the TPSR model in the design of SFD initiatives in Eswatini and beyond.

Specific to level V of the TPSR model (“Transfer”), the findings from the current study suggest that this type of programming may have some efficacy in facilitating transfer of developmental outcomes to domains outside of the sport context. This is noteworthy because there is limited contextual utility of the current study’s outcomes if they cannot be transferred to everyday life (Gould, Carson, & Blanton, 2013). The current study identified a range of outcomes (e.g., respect, emotion regulation, effort, teamwork, goal setting, perseverance, decision making, caring for others) that youth applied to their home life, to their school context, and to their interactions with peers. Within extant TPSR research, there is limited and inconsistent research on whether these personal and social responsibility outcomes successfully transfer to nonsport domains (Bean et al., 2016; Cryan & Martinek, 2017; Gordon & Doyle, 2015; Walsh et al., 2010; Whitley, Massey, Camiré, Boutet et al., 2019). The identification of several transferred outcomes in the current study suggest that the TPSR model has the potential to cultivate life skills that can transfer to nonsport domains.

Notably, the current study also identified sport-specific outcomes as an important program component, which is not originally a responsibility outcome within the TPSR model. During the earlier needs assessment, youth in Eswatini reported high sport enjoyment and a desire for exposure to and knowledge of multiple sports. This suggests that the physical outcomes from the current study are valued outcomes and may justify continued investment in SFD programming in Eswatini. For youth who have experienced developmental traumas, sport’s physicality can help reintroduce physical stress to the body in a socially acceptable and safe way (Whitley et al., 2018). Experiencing visible physical progress may also help youth develop a stronger sense of competency, which facilitates long-term sport involvement and a greater likelihood that youth may accrue life skills through sport participation. Although the current program did not measure changes in sport-specific skills due to the short program duration, future programs may consider including a psychomotor assessment component or a physical fitness test.

Contextual Utility of Program Outcomes in Eswatini

The findings from the current study are consequential because these developmental outcomes have contextual utility in addressing the major challenges facing youth in Eswatini. Specifically, this type of SFD programming may support outcomes that are valuable in the efforts to lower youth’s—and particularly adolescent females’—susceptibility to HIV. Results across both genders supported youth outcomes related to respect, self-control, communication, and decision making (TPSR levels I and III). This is notable because research in Eswatini has indicated that, to address the HIV epidemic, both female and male youth need to be included in prevention efforts. Female youth need to be taught sexual negotiation, decision making, and communication skills that will allow them to effectively advocate for their own right to use condoms and develop healthy intimate relationships (Buseh, Glass, & McElmurray, 2002; Jones, 2006). For male youth, understanding the impact of one’s actions on others (e.g., family members, peers) and learning to self-regulate one’s own behavior are key components of HIV/AIDS reduction (Buseh et al., 2002; Jones, 2006; Mofolo, 2011). This suggests that SFD programming, when implemented in the long term, has the potential to cultivate personal and social responsibility behaviors, which are valuable for HIV prevention efforts.

Results from the current study also suggested that SFD programming may support the development of life skills centered on persistence in the face of barriers, cooperation with others to create change, and civic contribution to the community (i.e., TPSR levels II – IV). In challenging environments such as those experienced by Swazi youth, cooperating with others and taking personal ownership of one’s future are pivotal skills for youth (Whitley, Hayden et al., 2016). Further, learning outcomes that reflect a future orientation (e.g., goal setting, decision making) are foundational skills for adults who make healthy decisions for themselves (Gordon, Jacobs, & Wright, 2016). Extant literature in Eswatini also indicates the necessity of self-efficacy, confidence, and resilience for socially vulnerable youth in Eswatini to lead happy and meaningful lives (Motsa & Morojele, 2017).

Additional contextually relevant findings from the current program include the cultivation of social and interpersonal skills (i.e., TPSR level IV), which are necessary precursors to developing a sense of social responsibility and civic engagement (Gano-Overway, 2014). Social and emotional learning outcomes such as interpersonal skills are valuable educational outcomes that help youth become emotionally intelligent adults who can build lasting and positive social connections (Gordon et al., 2016). Further, the development of conflict resolution skills may have significant contextual utility in Eswatini, as aggression (i.e., fighting, bullying) is the most prevalent behavioral challenge in Swazi schools (Mundia, 2006). Aggressive behaviors are disruptive to the educational process, so the development of positive conflict resolution skills through SFD programming may be consequential. Finally, the cultivation of leadership through the current SFD program may be meaningful as leadership is central to developing compassionate and civically engaged young people who are able to navigate increasingly challenging environments (Martinek & Hellison, 2009; Gould & Voelker, 2012). Overall, the developmental outcomes identified in the current exploratory study are meaningful, as the contextual reality in Eswatini necessitates the ability to work hard despite the presence of challenges, be resilient in the face of hardship, care for the well-being of others, and take initiative in creating community change.


Methodological limitations begin with the short duration of the program. Although some significant outcomes were identified, three weeks may not have been enough time for changes to occur in constructs such as self-efficacy or for the transfer of outcomes to be sustained over the long term. While TPSR program length has ranged from several weeks to nine months, longer term programming (approximately nine months) is optimal for transference to occur (Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, & Hawkins, 2004). However, extant literature also identifies 10 sessions as the minimum required for transference, with the current program comprising 15 total sessions. Nonetheless, these findings should be cautiously interpreted as assessments of transfer also relied on youth self-report and the afternoon class teacher’s observations. Further concerns included the use of quantitative measures that had not been previously applied in the sub-Saharan context (highlighting potential validity issues), along with no control group to provide comparative results, suggesting a need for caution in interpreting the study findings. Nevertheless, this was an exploratory study in Eswatini, with the findings designed to inform the development of more rigorous, long-term, and sustainable programming.

The study was also limited by one coach dropping out and the large number of youth participants, which was more than twice the intended group size. The high ratio of youth to coaches reduced the number of opportunities for quality one-on-one interactions between the youth and coaches, which may have altered the youth participation experience, the coach-athlete relationship dynamic, and the potential for developmental outcomes to occur. Future programs should reflect on the question of what is more important: to provide a positive youth development opportunity to as many youth as possible or to provide a higher quality opportunity to fewer youth who may be most able to develop and benefit? In a low resource context such as Eswatini where youth need is very high, this is not a simple question to answer. Increasing the number of coaches involved in the program may be the best way to meet the youth need. In addition, future programs should consider more effective ways to include female coaches who are pivotal role models for the female youth. These female coaches might be recruited from local club sport leagues or universities. Alternatively, the program could include a peer leadership component where older female students could assist with program implementation and serve as role models while simultaneously developing their own leadership abilities.

A final study limitation was the individual focus placed on the youth to develop life skills. This approach is limited as a young person’s ability to become successful and “transform themselves” does not lie completely within their own control (Coakley, 2011). Future programming may consider adopting a systems approach, which recognizes the role of macrolevel societal structures (e.g., community norms, organizational structures, policies) in both enabling and preventing long-term changes in youth development (Hartmann & Kwauk, 2011; Massey, Whitley, Blom, & Gernstein, 2015). Ultimately, the individual development of young people must be combined with broader efforts in community development (Coakley, 2011; Coalter, 2015). Extending SFD programs to include partnerships with organizations that engage parents in collectively working toward changing school and community contexts (Collective Parental Engagement) may be one useful approach (Jacobs, Ivy, Lawson, & Richards, 2017). Research with socially vulnerable youth in Eswatini emphasizes the necessity of developing social relationships within the community and engaging teachers and the larger institutional structures surrounding these youth to effectively support their educational and life aspirations (Motsa & Morojele, 2017).


The current exploratory study provided preliminary support for the value of using the TPSR model in the implementation of an SFD program in Eswatini. Findings validated the potential of this type of SFD programming in eliciting developmental outcomes that align with all five of the TPSR responsibility levels. This further supports the use of the TPSR model as a framework for the design of SFD initiatives on a global scale as well as in a novel context such as Eswatini. The program outcomes suggest that, when implemented in a longer term and sustainable format, the model may facilitate developmental outcomes that meet local contextual challenges. Future long-term programs should strongly consider including female coaches, integrating a peer leadership component, and involving the community (i.e., teachers and parents/guardians) in a collective effort to create supportive and empowering social contexts for youth in Eswatini. These programs may also consider assessing long-term transfer of life skills outcomes and measuring psychomotor and sport-specific skill development.


Sport equipment was purchased for use in the program thanks to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) Gualberto Cremades International Research Grant. This included volleyballs, basketballs, soccer balls, netballs, Frisbees, scrimmage vests, cones, a volleyball net, and a video camera. This equipment was gifted to the youth organization after completion of the sport program.


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