Principles-of-action used by an eductrainer to create social bonds through sport in a psychosocial intervention program


Luc Parlavecchio1, Nicolas Moreau2, Brice Favier-Ambrosini3, Tegwen Gadais1

1 University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada
2 Ottawa University, Canada
3 Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, Canada


Parlavecchio, L., Moreau, N., Favier-Ambrosini, B. & Gadais, T. (2021). Principles-of-action used by an eductrainer to create social bonds through sport in a psychosocial intervention program. Journal of Sport for Development. Retrieved from

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This article utilizes the theories of social bond and carnal sociology to analyze the role of the eductrainer in the sport-based intervention program DesÉquilibres. Methodologically, an action research study was carried out with three cohorts of adolescents. Our qualitative data collection was based on (a) interviews with 27 adolescents aged 14 to 17 years (cohorts 1 and 3), (b) a focus group of five eductrainers (paired with cohort 1), and (c) observant participation of cohorts 2 and 3. A thematic analysis revealed four principles-of-action constituting the social bond where risk-taking and its staging play an essential role: (a) a risky proposition to create the social bond, (b) recognition of the adult-in-the-making to anchor the social bond, (c) organization of the risky proposition to scaffold the social bond, and (d) physical commitment of the eductrainer to embody the social bond. Research has shown the potential of risk-taking to create and strengthen social bonds in the context of sports-based interventions.


Although sport has long been used to address social problems (Gasparini, 2008), scientific literature is unclear regarding its impact on psychosocial development (Caillat, 2014). Indeed, psychosocial effects depend on contextual and intervention factors (Gasparni & Vieille-Marchiset, 2008). Moreover, some authors noted the lack of scientific literature concerning the mechanisms by which sport can foster participants’ personal development (Green, 2008; Hartmann, 2003; Levermore, 2008). Consequently, this study aimed to identify the principles-of-action implemented by the eductrainer to create social bonds for the psychosocial development of young people. More specifically, this study focused on the notion of risk, which is central to the creation of social bonds.

Ambiguous Impacts of Sport

In the West, sport seems to be a common response to individual and collective malaise. Using sport for development is not new. The emergence of sport in English public schools in the 19th century presented sport as an educational lever for a society that is morally, physically, individually, and collectively healthy (Verchère, 2012). More recently, Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) has been defined as “the intentional use of sport, physical activity and play to achieve specific development goals in low- and middle-income countries and disadvantaged communities in high-income areas” (Richards et al., 2013, p.1) and included “all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction, such as play, recreation, organized or competitive sport, and indigenous sports and games” (United Nations Inter-agency Task Force on Sport for Development Peace, 2003, p. 1).

Nowadays, in addition to remaining an educational tool, sport can be used as an instrument of psychosocial intervention with vulnerable youth. Researchers investigating SDP programs have described various benefits of sport participation, including individual development, health promotion and disease prevention, gender equality, social integration, peacebuilding or conflict prevention/resolution, and post-disaster/trauma assistance (Chawansky & Holmes, 2015; Kidd, 2008). According to Lyras and Peachey (2011), sport-based projects use sport as a medium “to exert a positive influence on public health, the socialization of children, youths and adults, the social inclusion of disadvantaged, the economic development of regions and states, and fostering intercultural exchange and conflict resolution” (p. 311). More specifically, from a psychological standpoint, participation in sport is a protective or even preventive factor (Pascoe & Parker, 2019). Some sports programs help develop self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as combat depressive disorders and suicidal ideation (Babiss & Gangwisch, 2009; Doré et al., 2015; Iannotti et al., 2009; Jerstad et al., 2010). On the social level, the practice of sport can provide safe spaces and reduce antisocial behavior among children belonging to minority groups (Stodolska et al., 2014). It can also develop citizenship, cooperation, leadership skills, mobility, social cohesion, community integration, and positive peer relationships (Edwards, 2015). In addition, it may encourage pro-social behavior (Carreres-Ponsoda et al., 2012) and broaden social horizons by linking participants with various institutional actors (Spaaij, 2012).

Despite the potential benefits of sport, these positive social impacts do not accrue automatically. Indeed, scientific studies also revealed negative impacts related to the practice of sport. On the psychological level, studies have shown that participation in sport can reinforce feelings of incompetence (Erickson & Côté, 2016; Leblanc, 2016), create dependence on the coach (Lévêque, 2015), and promote depression in the event of overtraining (Flore & Juvin, 2005). In addition, external pressure from parents, coaches, and teammates can be detrimental to psychological development and self-esteem (Gerbelli-Gauthier, 2019; Tofler & Butterbaugh, 2005) and can sometimes lead to the cessation of sports practice, described as sport drop-out by Leblanc (2016). On the social level, there are reports of increased rates of delinquency and aggression (Faulkner et al., 2007; Gardner et al., 2009; Lemieux & Thibault, 2011), behavioral and functional problems (Endresen & Olweus, 2005), and socially inappropriate attitudes reinforced by an authoritarian context (Wright, 2006).

Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the ambiguous nature of these results. One hypothesis suggests an overestimation of sport’s ability to respond to psychosocial issues (Coalter, 2015). According to Coalter (2015), this overestimation is linked to the weak theories on which studies are based on, and to the difficulty of systematizing an approach to intervention through sport given the wide range of contexts in which it is practiced. Another hypothesis is that there is a faulty postulate that sport naturally encourages positive values in response to social issues, such as inclusion and social cohesion (Caillat, 2014).

Sports’ potential benefits require professional and socially responsible interventions that are adapted to the social and cultural context, prioritize developmental goals, and are carefully designed to be inclusive (Gardam et al., 2017; Hartmann & Kwauk, 2011; United Nations Office of Sport for Development and Peace, 2017). In addition, authors from the Sport for Development (SFD) field have called for greater integration of theory and practice to better understand the issues at stake (Gadais, 2019; Schulenkorf, 2017; Peachey et al., 2019). To do this, this study aimed to give participants a voice in describing how they experience the program and what they learn from it in relation to the crucial role of the facilitator. This approach is rarely used in SFD literature (Shin et al., 2020; Whitley et al., 2019). Finally, we noted a lack of consensus on the definition of the word sport. Coalter (2015) noted that it is often used in a generic manner that can lead to bias in both evaluations and the formulation of hypotheses.

Risky Social Bond as a Tool and Goal of the Psychosocial Intervention by Sport

Several works in psychology and in educational sciences define social interactions as a set of mutual influences exerted by the actors, on each other, engaged in a joint, conflictual, or cooperative action (Amade-Escot et al., 2007). Such works have shown that social belonging is a fundamental element of adolescents’ motivation (Durand, 1987). These studies, which did not support the idea that sport was inherently positive, formalized the didactic principles that contribute to the psychosocial, interpersonal development of young people (Legrain & D’Arripe-Longueville, 2010; Zanna, 2015).

Within the related field of situated cognitive anthropology, studies have shown that the establishment of processes can systematize this type of relationship by developing social bonds between participants. Thus, Lave and Wenger (1991) showed that including individuals in a community of practice (a collective united by shared experiences) fostered solidarity, mutual assistance, and common expectations among students. Saury et al. (2013) summarized this work in the field of school postulating that these principles would develop a collective of students united by a strong social bond. Several avenues to facilitate the establishment of a community of practice have been identified: to maintain stable group-teams over time (Siedentop, 1994), to propose ambitious collective projects (Ubaldi, 2004), and to cap the learning cycle with a significant event (Delignières & Garsault, 2004). The social bond, from these perspectives, becomes both the tool and the goal of intervention.

Considering two of the principles mentioned above (collective projects and significant events), the concept of risk is particularly important to promote the creation of social bonds between youths to develop their psychosocial behaviors. Indeed, ambitious collective projects with meaningful culminating events are likely perceived as risky and may evoke strong emotions, thus promoting the development of solidarity within the group (Crance et al., 2014; Delignières & Garsault, 2004; Ubaldi, 2004). Although the notion of risk is particularly difficult to define (Pesqueux, 2011; Petiot & Delignières, 2019), we define it in this article in its classic sense – that is, engaging in an action that could bring an advantage or a benefit, but which involves the possibility of danger. More specifically, we distinguish between an objective risk—also known as real risk, which is the result of rational analysis identifying and quantifying the risks associated with social situations to reduce or eliminate them—and a subjective risk, which is based on the interpretations of the individual in terms of their psychological characteristics. The subjective risk, with reference to the homeostatic theory initially forged by Wilde (1988) in the cognitivist paradigm, is itself situated at the confluence of preferential risk (i.e., the level of risk that the individual considers having to take in each situation) and the perceived risk, which refers to the dangerousness of the situation. Creating a social bond, decontextualized regarding studies on communities of practice, requires individuals to experience events that they perceive as risky, either physically (sleeping in the forest in negative temperatures; Gargano & Turcotte, 2018) or emotionally (performing a choreography during a show in front of a large audience; Crance et al., 2014). For example, Gargano (2020) showed that the presence of risk in the context of interventions through nature and adventure allowed for the development of several social skills, such as altruism, group cohesion, and the development of socialization techniques. In other words, the manipulation of risk as an educational variable is linked to the development of social skills. Social bonds and (objective and subjective) risks are at the heart of the didactic and pedagogical mechanisms of the DesÉquilibres program, located in the province of Quebec, Canada.

Variety of Stakeholders and Contexts of Sports Practice in Quebec

In the Quebec context, many stakeholders implement sports activities: coaches, specialized educators, facilitators, recreation technicians, etc. As a result, the varied purposes of sport (e.g., competition, recreation, training, and fitness), the many contexts in which it is practised (e.g., schools, associations, sports clubs, and public institutions), and the great diversity of participants and their recruitment methods (Morgan & Costas Batlle, 2019) make it difficult to view sport as a homogeneous whole (Lemyre & Trudel, 2004). Sport can, therefore, be perceived as a process for a coach whose team is registered in competition, but also as a psychosocial intervention tool for a specialized educator or as part of a recreational program for a day camp facilitator. In this study, we used the generic term sport participation and present the various activities used within the DesÉquilibres program. Finally, we postulated that a positive sports practice depended on the practitioner’s ability to create social bonds between youths and between youths and adults.

The DesÉquilibres Institute and DesÉquilibres Program

The DesÉquilibres Institute, a Quebec non-profit organization, uses sports practice with the intention of psychosocial intervention, particularly for vulnerable youth1 from urban environments by developing social bonds. Participants are generally between 15 and 21 years of age (though some are younger) and may be confronted with various problems related to mental health, school adherence and graduation rates, behavioral problems, etc.

In 2009, the DesÉquilibres Institute set up the DesÉquilibres sports program. This program works with groups of roughly twenty young people, with an ideal composition of 50% vulnerable youth and 50% youth with no issues. This mix (vulnerable and non-vulnerable youth) aims to promote social inclusion and to counter potential stigmatization (Plante et al., 2016), in the sense that young people are not grouped according to their problems. Voluntary recruitment is carried out in youth centers (Centres jeunesse)2, youth houses, and schools. The DesÉquilibres program lasts 12 weeks and includes three trainings per week to work toward three challenges in total (

Training3 consists of invented or modified sports games aimed at achieving psychosocial (e.g., assuming leadership, developing confidence, and discovering others) and physical (e.g., improving running time and muscular endurance) objectives. Every four weeks, youth participants attempt an outdoor sports challenge. In week 4, the team walks an entire night in the forest over 10 to 15 kilometers. In week 8, the team completes a bike ride of 100 to 200 kilometers in two days. Finally, in week 12, the young people complete a relay race of 200 to 300 kilometers lasting 24 to 48 hours nonstop. Relays are run alone or in pairs. The training and challenges are not competitive but take place in an organized setting that encourages collaboration and mutual aid among the young people. Participants are given clearly identified, well-defined, collective objectives in advance (i.e., completion of three challenges). For youth to see their progress, a Cooper test is conducted every three weeks4. The results are confidential, and if there is no progress, the youth are met individually to ascertain the cause (e.g., lack of commitment, fatigue, or stress related to the test).

Coach or Educator? The Eductrainer

During the creation of the DesÉquilibres Institute and the DesÉquilibres sports program, the founders, Parlavecchio and Caillaud5, felt that the term coach implied physical preparation and competition and could have a repulsive effect on non-athletic youth. Similarly, the term educator could be associated with authority and coercion6. Thus, the DesÉquilibres Institute decided to create the term eductrainer to refer to the dual role of educator and coach within the organization. On the one hand, the eductrainer, like a coach, must be able to plan, develop, and facilitate training sessions to prepare young people for sporting challenges. On the other hand, as an educator, the eductrainer creates a space for mediation (Rouzel, 2014)—a sport, in this context—which supports young people psychologically and socially as they encounter difficulties on the field. In addition, the eductrainer uses sport as a metaphor for daily life and supports the transfer of learning beyond the playing field (Barbier, 1998; Rioux, 2016). In Quebec, coaches outside the DesÉquilibres Institute have also begun to implement this approach (Camiré et al., 2011). In addition, since the early 2000s, researcher-practitioners have been interested in psychosocial intervention through martial arts (Hébert, 2011), and Quebec organizations have specialized in the use of sport to address psychosocial development issues among youth. Such organizations aim to train coaches in a humanistic approach (Falcão, 2018) or intervene directly with young people in the school setting in organized and competitive sports, such as basketball (Lapointe et al., 2012; Simard et al., 2014). The role of the eductrainer, as it bridges the roles of coach and educator, involves the creation and development of social bonds.

DesÉquilibres and the Social Bond

Plante (2014) noted that the desire to socialize is the main motivating factor that leads young people to enroll in the DesÉquilibres program (Plante et al., 2016). According to school staff, family, and eductrainers, young people’s motivation to participate and complete the program is greater when the adults involved have a positive relationship with them, as demonstrated by works on pedagogical styles in educational psychology (Mosston & Ashworth, 2002) as well as those in critical philosophy of traditional education (Houssaye, 2014). However, promoting youth participation in psychosocial interventions remains a challenge that cannot be reduced to socialization alone (Anderson-Butcher, 2005; Bodilly & Beckett, 2005; Lauver et al., 2004).

If this socialization is linked to the desire to participate, it is also at the heart of DesÉquilibres program content. The study by Moreau et al. (2018) revealed that during training and challenges, eductrainers promoted four dimensions of social bonding to create a strong relationship with young people, in line with Hirschi’s (1969) proposals7. First, the eductrainers positioned themselves as significant adults throughout the project. Second, they promoted social bonds among young people through training based on games and collective challenges. Third, they used daily follow-ups (e.g., involvement on the field, telephone check-ins, use of social media) to ensure that the project remains a priority for youth participants and program partners. Finally, they encouraged adherence to social values and rules by having the youth sign a commitment contract and by maintaining an operating framework throughout the project.

Moreau et al.’s (2018) work focused exclusively on the second element, the development of social bonds among young people. The authors showed that training and related challenges contribute to the establishment of a supportive climate that promotes cooperation strategies and the collectivization of performance. Consequently, the DesÉquilibres program supports Spaaij’s (2012) proposal that the creation of social bonds must be a basic condition of sports intervention programs for vulnerable youth.

However, even though some studies have shown the positive impacts of the DesÉquilibres Institute’s programs on youth (Filion, 2011; Moreau et al., 2014) and emphasized the importance of social bonds in the DesÉquilibres program specifically (Lévêque, 2015; Plante, 2014; Plante et al., 2016; Thibault-Lévesque, 2014), the eductrainer’s practical role of fostering social bonds has only been partially studied (Chartrand, 2012). Therefore, we set out to explore this question in greater depth: How can this social bond be initially established and subsequently strengthened?

Aim of the Research

This article, therefore, aimed to identify the principles-of-action implemented by the eductrainer to create social bonds for the psychosocial development of young people during DesÉquilibres program. More specifically, this study focused on the notion of risk, which is central to the creation of social bonds.


The Research’s Epistemological Stance

This study reports on a program-in-action that has its own epistemological approach, which is separate from our present research stance. The program-in-action draws on a positive stance (functionalist) by working from a psychosocial perspective, while our present research takes a constructivist perspective (Blumer & Riot, 2004). Our theoretical framework (symbolic interactionism) falls within this constructivist perspective. This epistemological gap between the program-in-action and the present research is due to the research team’s desire to respect the posture of the eductrainers who claim a psychosocial approach.

Research-Action Partnership

The DesÉquilibres program was the subject of a partnership-based action research study conducted by Moreau et al. (2013) with three school-based cohorts of vulnerable and non-vulnerable youth aged 14 to 17 who present a diverse psychological and social profile. Action research gave primacy to participant-practitioner-researcher interactions (Rhéaume, 1982) and aimed at the emergence of new knowledge that would potentially (a) modify practice from one cohort to another and (b) enrich the knowledge of practitioners and researchers.

The partnership component of this research consisted of (a) the co-development (practitioner–researchers) of the research objectives; (b) the co-development of the research methodology, including types of interviews, questionnaire development, analysis process, and observant participation (Moeran, 2007); and (c) knowledge sharing before, during, and after the three cohorts (Fontan, 2010). This approach made it possible to combine expert and lay knowledge (Blais, 2006) and co-construct participant-practitioner-researcher research results. All of the scientific articles and research reports were thus co-authored (Moreau et al., 2013, 2018; Plante et al., 2016). Generally, partnership dimensions of research aim toward social transformation by developing new knowledge, changing practices, structuring the environment (through development of training), and potentially enriching public policies (Fontan, 2010).

Posture of the Practitioner-Researcher

As part of this study, the principal investigator, who was the founder of the DesÉquilibres Institute, also acted as an eductrainer. He adopted a practitioner-researcher posture defined as a professional and a researcher who conducts his research in his professional field, or in a field close to it, in a professional world with similarities or links to his environment or field of activity (De Lavergne, 2007). This posture generates a constant interaction between the research field and the professional practice field. Thus, beyond the question of research and the objectives sought, we wish to bring out an alternative understanding of the world of sport by witnessing from the inside while giving young people a voice in the research.

In this context, and to ensure methodological rigor, all team members interacted with each other during the different phases of the action research. This co-construction made each researcher a critical friend to the other (Smith & McGannon, 2018). Thus, the main author was regularly questioned on issues relating to the research, the results, and the youths even though we did not use a specific methodology as a bracketing technique (Tufford & Newman, 2012).

The principal investigator, like the other authors of this article, strongly believes in sport as a tool for psychosocial development. Although we acknowledge sport is not the silver bullet for all societal ills (Coalter, 2015), the fact remains that we commend sport for youth. Moreover, we believe that the body must play a more central role in social and psychosocial intervention, as well as in the field of the sociology of sport (Wacquant, 2015).


This study complements previous studies on the modalities of youth recruitment (Plante et al., 2016) and the nature of the training and challenges of the DesÉquilibres program (Moreau et al., 2018). This action research is based on semi-structured interviews, observant participation, and a focus group.

Semi- structured interviews

We conducted 27 semi-structured individual interviews with youth, from which we obtained empirical data saturation (Pires, 1997). All youth in cohort 1 were asked to participate in the interviews (n = 20), while only youth who had dropped out of the program in cohort 3 were interviewed (n = 7). Of the 27 youths interviewed, 14 had completed the program, and 13 had dropped out. The first author conducted the training and challenges with cohort 1 and did not attend the interviews with the 27 youth. The interviews were made available to the him once they were transcribed and anonymized. The recruitment of participants was carried out in two phases. First, during the last training session for the cohort, the research team orally solicited interview participation. Those who were interested signed up. Second, we scheduled meetings by texting or calling those who had agreed to participate. Interviews were conducted in schools (outside of school hours) or at the DesÉquilibres offices, depending on the youth’s availability.

The individual interview frameworks were designed to pose general and open-ended questions, such as “Did this program do anything for you? Can you explain?” and “Have things changed for you (good or bad), with your friends or with others you know (school, family, neighbourhood or community)?” These open-ended questions came from an inductive stance because we had not initially chosen a specific theoretical framework. We adopted symbolic interactionism when coding and analyzing the data because this framework emerged. Thus, even though the eductrainers told us that they work in a social bonds perspective, we agreed together (practitioners and researchers) to maintain a inductive stance during the data collection.

Observant Participation

In cohorts 2 and 3, the research team made observant participation by taking part in training and challenges (Moeran, 2007). The goal was to favor a carnal sociology in which researchers would experience the program through the body in the same way as the young people in the program (Wacquant, 2015). We believe that participating personally and physically over a long period in this program allowed us to better understand the spirit and objectives of the program (Favier-Ambrosini, 2020), as well as what was not said (Quidu, 2014). This experiential and physical body-memory of our participation guided us throughout the research process and enabled us to (a) create strong social interactions with the young people and the eductrainers and (b) better understand the physical dimensions of young people’s speech. During the observant participation phase facts and anecdotes were noted in an observation book in the evening after each session. We did not take any notes or recordings during training sessions and challenges so as not to give the impression of evaluating or analyzing the sessions and youths.

Focus Group

A focus group with eductrainers was held at the end of cohort 1 in order to better understand the psychosocial goals of the DesÉquilibres program and how the workouts were built. The recruitment of eductrainers to participate in the focus group was carried out in two stages. First, during action research preparation meetings, the researchers informally mentioned to the eductrainers the relevance of and our interest in a focus group following the first cohort. Second, an email was sent formally asking them to participate, to which all of the eductrainers agreed.

Data Analysis

The thematic analysis of the material (semi-structured interviews, focus group, and field notes) was part of the big Q (Braun, Clarke, & Weate, 2016), which meant we adopted a flexible approach that allowed us to build our theoretical framework. More specifically, we opted for a horizontal thematic analysis which sought thematic inter-interview consistency (Blanchet & Gotman, 2006) among the youths’ interviews, as well as the different sources of data. In other words, we laterally compared data in order to identify commonalities. This type of thematic analysis develops a comparative and relational reading which identifies divergence and convergence between the discourse of youths and eductraineurs and the researchers’ field notes. The data analysis was carried out in three stages: (a) inductive floating reading of all the data around the theme of the eductrainer allowing us to clarify our research question and develop our framework; (b) more deductive analysis of the corpus, coding the material from the perspective of social interaction; and (c) grouping data into themes and sub-themes in consultation among the researchers under the supervision of the first author, who made the final decisions.

Quality of the Data

Horizontal thematic analysis of data from the focus group, youths’ interviews, and field notes allowed us to capture the complex web of social interactions that were conveyed across various modes of discourse. More specifically, the first author did the initial coding of the data (inductive floating reading). Then, the research question and the theoretical framework emerged during a series of meetings between the first author and the second and fourth authors. Deductive analysis of the corpus was also carried out by the first author. During this phase, the second and fourth authors played a supporting role rather than a critical one (Smith & McGannon, 2018). Grouping data into themes and sub-themes involved numerous discussions between the four authors on methodological and epistemological issues, in particular the naming of the final categories. Ultimately, the rigor of such qualitative methodology derived from discussion between all authors more so than from objective validation. More specifically, we were very careful to respect and listen to the perspective of the first author, an outsider to academia who discussed and argued with three academics (including two professors) in an attempt to reduce the epistemic injustice between academics and practitioners (Fricker, 2007).


This research received two ethics certifications, from University of Ottawa and from University of Québec in Montréal, according to the affiliation of the authors.


The results pointed to four risk-based principles-of-action to support social bonds. Principle 1: a risky proposal made to a collective that enables the creation of a social bond. Principle 2: the recognition of young people as adults-in-the-making and the achievement of extraordinary challenges that anchor them to the adult world. Principle 3: organization of the risky proposal and a clear framework within which social bonds are built. And Principle 4: the physical commitment of eductrainers that positions them as models who embody social bonds. Active ingredients and constituent values have been identified for each of these principles-of-action.

Principle-of-Action 1: A Risky Proposal Made to a Collective to Create a Social Bond

Figure 1 – Principle-of-action 1 of eductrainer

Figure 1 - Principle-of-action 1 of eductrainer

When I saw the videos they showed us at the beginning of the year of DesÉquilibres […] I didn’t know they were going to invite us to do something similar. I thought they were showing us their program and that was it. So I was like, “Imagine if I did that, if I did something that incredible.” (Kate)

Kate’s comments implied that the eductrainer made a proposal that striked the imagination (Figure 1). This was a key component of the risky proposition that the eductrainer shared during the recruitment phase, thereby inviting young people to an adventure with an uncertain outcome. More precisely, the eductrainer played on the relationship between the preferential risk and the perceived risk of youths to solicit a commitment. It is also this same proposal that gave the eductrainer a pretext for the participants to create social bonds between themselves to overcome the challenges. Thus, the eductrainer supported the birth of a community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991) where risk-taking was a constituent element of the collective. Ludovic highlighted this characteristic while reflecting on a challenge8:

There were students who were throwing up, all that, but then we would encourage each other. We would say: go ahead, we’ll make it, we’ll make it. We supported each other, all that. It was extremely cold on the bus. […] So we gave each other moral encouragement. We encouraged each other, as well. We said, we’re going to make it, and every time someone finished, we congratulated each other, and it went really well.

This risky proposal included solidarity trainings and the realization of non-standard challenges in which the eductrainers bet on (a) solidarity, (b) interdependence, and (c) diversity.


We were going to go up a mountain […] it was rougher than I thought. It was harder. There were times you really had to get down on all fours to get up there. That was it, I couldn’t imagine that, when I got to you, I was like “Oh, I didn’t plan that” [laughs]. I had to really [say] “Hey, give me your hand” and everybody had to ask for help. (Ramon)

Ramon’s words, shared during a winter-night walk in the forest, revealed the need for the group to show solidarity in the context of a situation where the ratio between its perceived risk and its preferential risk is high. In order to prepare the youth for these situations, the eductrainer built training activities around invented or adapted games in which the young people have to rely on each other. For example, in the game The Daisy, one team had to physically remove the players of the other team from a square of cones. At the beginning, the players within the square could not touch each other. Later, contact was allowed, and all the players realized that it took much longer to remove them from the square:

And they taught us that when you’re alone you’re weak, but when we’re all together we’re strong. In the beginning we were all relaxed, alone in every corner, and it was easy to get us all out. But as soon as we got all hooked up and held together, it was more complicated [for the opposing team]. (Claude)


The solidarity necessary to meet the prescribed challenges was, therefore, developed during training and were based on interactions that promote interdependence.

Performing feats that you won’t be able to do on your own later [about the final challenge]. We may think we can do it, but we won’t be able to do it alone […] We train as a team to be able to do it. All together, something that maybe we’ll never be able to do again if we’re on our own. (Steven)

As for Sergio, he mentioned feeling an obligation to persevere for the sake of his team. Through the achievement of extraordinary challenges, the eductrainer also fostered a bond of interdependence forged through necessity, a solidarity tied to successful completion of the adventure.

I almost felt obliged to come back and keep going […]. Obliged to everyone, to the whole group, because if I said to myself: “ah, if I let go of him, they’ll feel bad and they’ll have more kilometers to run”. (Sergio)


Mixing seemed to be an important element for the eductrainer to create social bonds. It was worked on upstream of the project (i.e., during the recruitment phase) and throughout the project. Thus, during the recruitment phase, the eductrainer ensured that the groups are made up of vulnerable and non-vulnerable young people (Plante, 2014).

While training, the eductrainer worked on the mix within the group in order to create novel encounters. For example, the young people might be asked to form their own teams. This allowed the eductrainer to identify the people who group together by affinity and then force the creation of new social bonds between young people who know each other less by breaking up the teams that have just been formed. This mixing was a risk both for the eductrainers (who would find it easy to work with groups that already know each other) and for the young people, who had to start the socialization process again.

In the same vein, Sydney’s comments seemed to imply that the different activities within the program facilitated interactions and supported the creation of bonds, even among people with no prior affinity. This seemed to allow the emergence of a community of practice (Saury et al., 2013) in which differences are accepted:

With DesÉquilibres, even if there were people you didn’t like at first, you learn to appreciate them more because you spend a lot of time with them. […] It was simple, it was good, there was no choice; you had to start to appreciate the other person. You just had to come to terms with it, you couldn’t stay angry for long. […] You learn to appreciate everything about people. […] You end up having really no one you don’t like. Then you learn to like people and not be prejudiced. (Sydney)

The eductrainer made a risky proposal to a collective, which relied on the achievement of extraordinary challenges and solidarity training. These challenges and trainings fostered the emergence of gestures of solidarity and situations of interdependence to support the creation of social bonds. This risk is necessary in the process of creating social bonds. The level of risk used by the eductrainer to create social bonds is a subtle balance between the preferential risk and the youths’ perceived risk. To play on this mix, the eductrainer can dramatize (Visioli et al., 2015) the perceived risk and/or increase the level of real risk.

Principle-of-Action 2: The Recognition of the Adult-in-the-Making to Anchor the Social Bond

Figure 2 – Principle-of-action 2 of eductrainer

Figure 2 - Principle-of-action 2 of eductrainer

Recognition of the adult-in-the-making was the second principle-of-action for which three active ingredients were identified (Figure 2): (a) recognition of potential, (b) egalitarian bonds, and (c) positive interactions. This positioning of the eductrainer toward youth was a risk in terms of intervention.

Recognition of Potential

The participants’ comments underscored the importance of having their potential recognized. In other words, the eductrainer took the risk of believing in the success of young people, which created a strong social bond between young people and the eductrainer, as shown in the excerpt below: They never gave up on us. Not even once. They’ve always pushed us to the edge of our limits. Even worse, they push us to go even further, because they know that we are capable of more. (Steven)

This belief in individual ability focused on the youth’s accomplishments and avoided comparisons with other team members, particularly in terms of athletic performance. For example, during physical tests, to ensure that the youth is committed to preparation, the eductrainer evaluated the youth’s performance based on previous results and emphasizes progress, as Sydney notes: “(There) is no evaluation. […] it’s not to evaluate the tests we do, it’s to see your progress. […] You were happy that you were going to improve.”

This youth-centered recognition of potential and progress was celebrated at the end of the project into a rite of passage (Thibault-Lévesque et al., 2017). In a meal organized by the eductrainer after the final challenge, parents, partners, and sometimes local elected officials were invited to celebrate the success of the participants. Ricardo noted that:

It was in front of everyone when we went to sign the guestbook. He [my father] said that he was proud of all the people, of what they did, and that it was quite out of the ordinary. Then he was proud, and my mother was very happy. […] Leaving his mark somewhere, especially in the city […]. Leaving my mark at 16, I thought it was remarkable.

The celebration symbolically confirmed a change of status in the eyes of the community and the young person, but also in the school environment, according to Ludovic: “It helped me at school, too, because there are people who didn’t believe in me. Now they say, ‘OK, now I believe you can do it.’”

Extraordinary challenges were, therefore, a testament to the ability of young people to fulfill their potential in a context where the risk of not doing so is real. This achievement occurred outside competitive frameworks and is recognized by the community. This recognition of potential was supported by an egalitarian relationship between eductrainers and young people.

Egalitarian Links

The development of egalitarian links between young people and eductrainers was the second active ingredient identified in the eductrainer’s interventions. This egalitarian bond was characterized by a reduced hierarchy and the involvement of the youth in project-related decision-making. From this perspective, Thibault-Lévesque et al.’s (2017) analysis, echoing Ricardo’s testimony, suggested that the eductrainer transformed the project into a place of learning where young people were no longer under the authority of their parents. This change in context helped create egalitarian social bonds outside the usual social hierarchies and relationships (Segalen, 2009).

When he puts himself on the same level as you, you don’t think of him as someone who will take you down and then lead you; you think of him more as someone who will teach you. […] “We felt like we were our own adults. We were deciding, making our own decisions. Sometimes they told us: “If you have a problem or something, we’re going to solve it with you because you’re the adults of tomorrow, so it’s going to start now.” (Ricardo)

Eductrainers also seemed to strengthen the egalitarian bond by sharing details of their private lives while encouraging the young people to do the same, according to Franck:

Eductrainers, they’re more comfortable with us. They share things with us; it’s as if they were sharing their own personal lives with us. […] Since we feel more comfortable, we feel more comfortable sharing our personal life with them too.

Positive Interactions

The third active component related to the eductrainer’s ability to create positive interactions based on sincerity and humor.

When you play soccer, they’re not going to tell you… They’re [the coaches] going to tell you that you’re capable but […] it’s not going to be sincere whereas they [the eductrainers] I thought it was more sincere than in a soccer team. Because me, I’ve been on club teams and so on. […] You saw that it wasn’t sincere. […] While they see that it is sincere. […] And they take you aside and talk to you. […] You already see it in them, […] when they push you, you see that it’s sincere and that they want you to succeed, they’ll never let you down […]. (Olivia)

Olivia and Mike (below) suggested that the sincerity of the eductrainer allowed for the emergence of clear markers on which to build relationships. If this sincerity supported a climate of trust, it is likely that the use of humor created a social bond of complicity with the young person. In the context of the Alter-Action program, humor seemed to be a tool that promoted social bonds that helped the youth overcome the difficulties of training and challenges.

When I’m with them, we always laugh. […] It feels good. It changes the mood. […] I could have had a bad day, but I knew I had DesÉquilibres afterwards. […] There were times when we had a breakdown. They’d tell us, “Oh, we’re running outside,” with a smile on our face. When we’d say, “Oh no, we’re going to die if we do that,” they’d say, “Do you want me to start crying?” [laughs] They’d smile right in our face, that’s what made it fun. It was going well. (Mike)

In this way, the eductrainer seemed to recognize youths’ potential, promote the development of an egalitarian bond, and rely on positive interactions. We assumed that these active ingredients contributed to an environment in which the young person is considered an adult who makes decisions without going through intermediaries, such as parents. Therefore, eductrainers took the risk of sharing their power to act with young people.

Principle-of-Action 3: The Organization of the Risky Proposal to Scaffold the Social Bond

Figure 3 – Principle-of-action 3 of eductrainer

Figure 3 - Principle-of-action 3 of eductrainer

The third principle-of-action concerned the organization of the risky proposal (Figure 3). Namely, the eductrainer proposed a collective action in which interrelationships and interdependence were deliberately staged. Four active ingredients were identified: (a) experiential learning, (b) the performance requirement, (c) the integration of psychosocial objectives, and (d) the organization of the framework.

Experiential Learning

He [the eductrainer] would come in, he’d start forming the teams really quickly. […] Then we’d go straight on board… Like, he’d quickly explain to us what the goal of the game was, and then we’d go on board. […] For me, I learn faster when we play, because when someone explains it to me, I don’t understand anything. […] When I’m playing games, when I ask the person playing with me what to do, that’s what I have to do, and that’s when I learn. […] The more interactive it is, the more I learn. (Alexander)

Alexander highlighted the experiential nature of the eductrainer’s practice: eschewing lengthy explanations in favor of learning-by-doing promotes learning through physical action and social bonds.

Performance Requirement

According to Henrick, fast action during training seemed to be based on a performance requirement.

It’s extreme, it’s intensive. […] You were coming, it was intensive, you know what you were doing. […] It was well planned. It was like for serious people, who want to train for real. It was like a personal coach. (Henrick)

Moreover, this requirement seemed to have a rewarding effect on the young person, who pointed out that this level of preparation was usually intended for motivated (“serious”) people who use private coaches.

Integration of Psychosocial Objectives

The third component was the integration of psychosocial goals into sessions and games and the establishment of game-play rules that support social bonds. To this end, the eductrainer filled out a session and a game form to set a psychosocial theme and sometimes to plan the types of psychosocial feedback that will be provided (Parlavecchio, 2015). For example, a session theme may address the importance of all the members of a team. The game related to the theme explored the notion of revolving leadership and proposed a mini relay race to highlight the contribution of each individual. In addition, these objectives were sometimes developed following a discussion with the school’s stakeholders, who informed the eductrainer of the issues encountered by the young people (stress during exam periods, negative leadership, etc.)9.

Organization of the Framework

At the beginning of the project, the eductrainer puts in place a framework based on the signing of a commitment contract specifying what was expected of the young person:

I, [DesÉquilibres of the participant], pledge to […]:

  1. Train to the best of my ability;
  2. Personally notify the eductrainer if I am unable to attend a training session.
  3. Respect and apply the values of DesÉquilibres: Team spirit, commitment, surpassing oneself, sustainable future;
  4. Believe in me and my team.

The eductrainer used many tools to organize actions within the framework. Although the use of tools such as a schedule, session sheet, and game sheet were the norm for a coach, this was generally less common for a social worker. Alternately, the integration of psychosocial objectives and mechanisms to achieve them seemed less common for a coach. Uniquely, the eductrainer used the coach’s tools and enhances them by integrating psychosocial objectives. The eductrainer ensured a degree of physical preparation that allowed the challenges to be met, while at the same time mapping the targeted social bonds between the young people from a psychosocial development perspective. Here, therefore, risk-taking was prepared and calculated.

Principle-of-Action 4: The Physical Commitment of the Eductrainer to Embody the Social Bond

Figure 4 – Principle-of-action 4 of eductrainer

Figure 4 - Principle-of-action 4 of eductrainer

Finally, the fourth principle-of-action referred to the carnal involvement of the eductrainer in the risky proposal (Figure 4). This commitment was characterized by physical involvement during all project activities. Emma talked about the effects of this physical involvement on the motivation and inclusion of the eductrainer: “They did everything with us, they participated with us… And it was like being part of the group, but they were really involved as much as we were”.

We proposed that the physical involvement of the eductrainer revealed a way of being connected to the other in a context where tensions emerged, especially during the realization of non-standard challenges. This physical involvement proved to be a major element in embodying the social bond. Indeed, the physical risks taken by the young people during training and challenges (i.e., to get hurt, to fail) were also taken by the eductrainers. The way in which the eductrainer reacted to this shared risk gave young people a model of social bonds and complemented the psychological commitment of the eductrainer (such as sharing experiences).


Our study has shown that risk-taking and its theatricalization seem to be the levers on which the eductrainer relies to support, anchor, organize, and embody the social bond. In this sense, four principles were identified (Figure 5): (a) a risky proposition that contextualizes the creation of the social bond; (b) the recognition of the adult-in-the-making to anchor the social bond to the adult world; (c) the organization of the risky proposition in order to scaffold the social bond; and (d) a physical commitment on the part of the eductrainer to embody the social bond.

Figure 5 – Principles-of-action implemented by the eductrainer to create social bonds during the Alter-Action program

Figure 5 - Principles-of-action implemented by the eductrainer to create social bonds during the Alter-Action program

Principle 1: A Risky Proposition to Create the Social Bond

The invitation to a collective and risky sports adventure allowed eductrainers to generate a context to create social bonds. With the DesÉquilibres program, eductrainers relied on adolescents’ desire to socialize (Plante, 2014) and on their tendency to take risks to test their limits (Jeffrey, 2008). They invited young people to test their ability responding to extraordinary challenges with uncertain outcomes which prompt participants to question their physical (e.g., potentially being injured), psychological (e.g., finding themselves in a situation of failure), and social (e.g., not living up to the group’s expectations) integrity. The physical stakes, the unpredictable nature of the adventure, and the partial loss of control of the situation reflect the elements of risk identified by Collard (1998, 2002). By creating a context that is out of the ordinary, the eductrainer called for risk-taking (individual risk) where social bonds between participants must be forged (collective risk) to overcome the risk. From this angle, this risky and out-of-the-ordinary proposal marked a break with the thinking of Hirschi (1969) which was the base of a study by Moreau et al. (2018). Moreau et al. suggested that engagement in conventional activities would be one of the constituent elements of the social bond. On the contrary, the non-standard dimension here seemed to be a way of making collaborative interaction between participants inevitable in their pursuit of a common goal. In addition, our results contrast with certain works in the field of SFD which recommend installing a safe and neutral framework in sport-based intervention programs (Beutler, 2008; Cárdenas, 2013; Peachey et al., 2015). Nevertheless, our results are in line with the concept of community of practice in sport where subjective risk is used to create social bonds between youths and between youths and teachers/coaches (Crance et al., 2014; Delignières & Garsault, 2004; Garsault, 2004).

In the context of the DesÉquilibres program, the eductrainer seemed to be, above all, an entrepreneur of the risk that constitutes the social bond that organize attitudes and behaviors. He seemed to rely mainly on the concept of subjective risk to stage and strengthen the social bond between young people and between young people and the eductrainer. The eductrainer added the notion of risk-taking to this subjective risk, which emphasizes the voluntary commitment of the subject in a situation where they retain control, as opposed to an imposed risk (Douglas, 2004; Raveneau, 2006). In this sense, the eductrainer sometimes played on a risk imposed on an individual, group, or organization, or a risk chosen by an individual, group, or organization (Petiot, 2019). Thus, risk-taking was staged by the eductrainer, who played on theatrics, as well as on young people’s perception of the challenge and the relative control they have over it. With reference to the homeostatic theory of risk (Wilde, 1988), the eductrainer worked to subtly manipulate the relationship between the youth’s preferential risk and perceived risk to encourage participation in the program. In fact, Wilde (1988) showed that, from a cognitivist perspective, the orientation toward risky behavior depends on a cognitive calculation weighing the perceived risk (subjective assessment of the dangerousness of the situation) against the preferential risk (acceptable level of risk which depends on its resources). If this relationship is in an optimal activation zone (specific to each person), it would be a source of positive emotions, but beyond this zone, it would cause significant anxiety, potentially a source of negative emotions and behaviors signifying repulsion (Lobrot, 1993). In this environment, the atypical context of preparation (invented or highly adapted games) and challenges (in the wilderness, at night, and sometimes in winter) was an important element of the game due to the uncertainty that it raises (e.g., How do we play this game? What does it mean to walk at night in the forest? How are we going to react to sleep deprivation?). This uncertainty is like playing a sports game with incomplete information (Collard, 2002). Through this lack of information, the eductrainer created a context where individual and collective risk-taking is based on uncertainty and forces team members to act and interact in solidarity.

Principle-of-action 1 therefore suggests that the eductrainer should be seen as a risk entrepreneur, the social motor of interventions, to create a context favorable to the emergence of social bonds. We believe that the eductrainer must be able to rally young people, parents, schools, and community members around a proposal by finding a balance. This balance would be between the acceptable level of risk and the risk-taking necessary to create productive discomfort that will promote the psychosocial development of young people.

Principle 2: The Recognition of the Adult-in-the-Making to Anchor the Social Bond

The risk staged by the eductrainer supporting the creation of social bonds also seemed to be a lever for anchoring the young person to the adult world. To this end, the eductrainer recognized the individual and collective potential of young people and conferred on them an egalitarian adult status. This approach also differed from the thinking of Hirschi (1969), because the latter sought control and social conformity in a dominant/dominated relationship (Queloz, 1989). Of course, power relationships between eductrainers and youth did not disappear, but eductrainers were aware of this and tried to mitigate them as much as possible. In this sense, our results fed into the classic debate between traditional pedagogy and new pedagogy (Freire, 1970; Houssaye, 2014). Thus, non-hierarchical styles of pedagogical relation (Mosston & Ashworth, 2002; Sarrazin et al., 2006) would more effectively anchor the social bond.

This egalitarian bond was important in the physical and mental ordeal of meeting non-standard challenges (Thibault-Lévesque et al., 2017) because it supported the creation of a communitas (Turner, 1990) outside of social hierarchies. This was illustrated by the desire to have an attenuated hierarchy between the eductrainer and participants. Although in the communitas, the egalitarian link between members prevails (Segalen, 2009). Marsac (2006) notes that the collective acceptance of individual risks related to an outdoor adventure is based on egalitarian relationships and positive interactions (Principle-of-Action 2) between participants. In our case, it was a question of social bonds between young people, but also between young people and eductrainers. Limiting actual risk implied similar responsibilities and benevolent links between members (Marsac, 2006).

Finally, the celebration organized by the eductrainer was a moment during which parents and community members recognized that the youth succeeded in passing a physical and mental test. To achieve this, youth took responsibility (e.g., by being asked to decide whether or not to keep a team member in the program) and demonstrated autonomy (e.g., by managing training equipment, managing rest time, and eating during challenges). Moreover, youth testimonials suggested that this recognition contributed to both their self-perceptions and the community’s perceptions of them. It thus contributed to affirming a change in the youth’s status, perhaps even more markedly in the case of vulnerable youth.

DesÉquilibres program was a physical and mental test recognized by adults, carrying a symbolic meaning, in which young people were given adult status by allowing them to assume responsibilities, develop their autonomy, and make the rules to working together. In addition to these five constituent elements of the rite of passage—the physical and mental test, the symbolic meaning of the activity, the change in status, the recognition of the change in status, and the appropriation of the rules of living together (Jeffrey, 2008; Thibault-Lévesque et al., 2017; Turner, 1990)—the eductrainer assumed the posture of the smuggler while also acting as an accompanist and facilitator (Jeffrey, 2008). This posture implied a staging specific to rites of passage (Lachance, 2012) and the establishment of a supervised space in which young people had the opportunity to question the meaning of their actions (Thibault-Lévesque et al., 2017).

Principle 3: The Organization of the Risky Proposal to Scaffold the Social Bond

The eductrainer organized the proposal by putting in place tools to scaffold risk-taking. This involved establishing the social bond by requiring that participants signed a commitment contract that supported the creation of a framework. In addition, the eductrainer used various tools to plan training sessions and challenges (e.g., session sheets, preparation of training sessions over a 12-week cycle, emergency plans for outings). Whether the risk constituting the social bond is real or subjective, we proposed for the eductrainer to use tools to place young people in situations that help them transform risk-taking into calculated risk10, the three essential ingredients of which are physical preparation, development of experience, and attention to others (Collard, 2002).

However, in addition to formalized rules and the implementation of procedures, subjective risk existed and had a regulatory effect as individual and selfish behaviors were harmful to the collective and jeopardized the achievement of shared objectives (Collard, 2002). Organizing and enforcing the collective framework allowed the eductrainer to maintain the chain of reciprocal interdependence (Elias et al., 1998) to create mutual aid and trust, thus allowing for compliance with group decisions and tacitly accepted social rules (Marsac, 2006).

This last point can lead to conformity because collective risk management encourages collaboration and adherence to formal or tacit rules governing the group. However, these rules with which the young people comply for the good of the group and to manage the risk did not emanate from the eductrainers alone via a hierarchical approach, because participants could be question eductrainers throughout the program. In this sense, the youth distanced themselves from the educational model of compliance through imposed rules. In a way, the eductrainer organized the risk to moderate the group. Risk became an element of cohesion that transformed the challenges of participating in a program into a collective practice (Marsac, 2006). This concept is in line with the educational proposals made as part of the communities of practice literature (Saury et al., 2013).

Principle 4: The Physical Commitment of the Eductrainer to Embody the Social Bond

The physical involvement of the eductrainer in DesÉquilibres program and its activities seemed to make the eductrainer a role model for young people. Importantly, the eductrainer physically shared risk-taking with the youth, which allowed for the embodiment of a form of carnal social bond in the specific context of the social intervention (Wacquant, 2015). Thus, Thibault-Lévesque (2014) noted that “it is then easier for young people to internalize the values of perseverance, mutual aid, teamwork, respect and equality since they are transmitted through the behavior of the educators.” (p.84). Moreover, research in the didactics of Health and Physical Education showed that the physical engagement of the teacher in human motor situations was linked to the development of trust, as the student could simultaneously recognize the competence of their teacher as well as the embodiment of the values the teacher defends (Meyre, 2013; Sarrazin et al., 2006). In addition, the physical sharing of the risk-taking between the coach and youths could strengthen the empathy of each party. Indeed, Zanna (2015) showed that the shared student-coach experience of pain and fear in the sporting situation was likely to strengthen mutual empathy. Numerous works on the educational relationship in sport (Visioli, 2019) show that teachers, coaches, or supervisors who show empathy to participants set up an educational climate favorable to the construction of positive social bonds (Kozanitis et al., 2007; Liberante, 2012).

It thus seems that the eductrainer, by proposing an unconventional activity, generated risk-taking that had significant impact on the creation and character of the social bond animating the group. This risk-taking, shared by the eductrainer, was transformed into a physical and mental test, which is recognized by the community and has the effect of socially anchoring the young person to the adult world. The risk underlying the program seemed primarily subjective. According to Collard (2002), sportsmen and women who take risks “dramatize––as far as possible––their risky actions in the sense of respecting certain moral criteria” (p. 362). This dramatization seemed to be carried out by the eductrainer, who adopted different postures according to which principles-of-action are being implemented: leader (principle 1), smuggler (principle 2), project manager (principle 3), and model (principle 4). For this reason, we propose a model of the eductrainer’s behaviors and attitudes as a tool to promote psychosocial development.

Finally, this research has enabled us to model the principles-of-action implemented by the eductrainer to use sport as a tool for psychosocial development among young people (Figure 6).

Figure 6 – Model of the principles-of-action of the eductrainer

Figure 6 - Model of the principles-of-action of the eductrainer

Limits of the Research

This research included a number of limitations. Firstly, verbalizations of participants were limited despite the bond developed between the youths and the researcher. Nevertheless, the speech was very positive regarding the effects of the program. Is this lack of criticism due to the quality of the program, or is it the consequence of social desirability? Do young people not want to disappoint the eductrainers (Moreau et al., 2014)? Second, our action research only focused on social bonds, not social structures. Our fight against structural inequity is, therefore, limited (Coalter, 2015), even though the DesÉquilibres program aims to develop young people’s power to act, both individually and collectively.


The goal of this article was to deepen the SDP literature about intervention mechanisms to illuminate how sport (more specifically, the eductrainer) could have a positive impact on young people on the psychosocial level. To this end, we found four principles-of-action of the eductrainer: (a) a risky proposal made to a collective to create a social bond; (b) the recognition of the adult-in-the-making to anchor the social bond; (c) the organization of the risky proposal to scaffold the social bond; and (d) the physical commitment of the eductrainer to embody the social bond. These results allowed us to show that risk was an important factor in the creation of social bonds between youths and between youths and adults.

Epistemologically, the original contribution of this research lies in the use of primary data from the perspective of young people, an approach that is not often used in social intervention (Ouellet, 2009) or SFD (Gadais, 2019; Whitley et al., 2019) studies.

Moreover, in a context where young people sometimes say they are unable to engage in trial-and-error and share results with eductrainers (Poirier et al., 2007), it could be interesting, despite the “hyper-security” and “hyper-prevention” tendencies of our societies (Jeffrey, 2008), to give risk-taking a more important place in the formation of social bonds. In this context, the practice of sport seems to be a highly productive playing field. Several international (Spruit et al., 2016) and Quebec-specific studies (Moreau et al., 2014; Rioux et al., 2017; Simard et al., 2014) showed the positive impact of sports practice on the psychosocial development of young people under certain conditions. We add that while risk-taking by youth and eductrainers is necessary for the creation of social bonds, this risk is not an objective fact and oscillates between real risk, preferential risk, and perceived risk.

Previous work on communities of practice (Crance et al., 2014) and physical activity teaching (Petiot & Delignières, 2019) suggested that a coach must set up conditions such that the gap between the young person’s perceived risk and their preferential risk level is optimal. Indeed, if the level of perceived risk too far exceeds the young person’s desired level of preferential risk, the youth will not engage in the activity (Wilde, 1988), and the social bond will not develop. Therefore, the results of our study suggest the eductrainer should (a) adapt the level of risk offered to the group and (b) understand the social contexts in which young people can grow, to identify the optimal preferential risk that participants are willing to assume.

Consequently, this research could help legitimize the practice of sport in social interventions and support the development of training programs for professionals working in the health and social service fields. Finally, this research demonstrates the values of taking participants’ experiences into account and truly listening their message, to build better SFD programs for future cohorts.

To conclude, this model is a first attempt to utilize a qualitative research approach. It could be interesting to replicate the study in different contexts (cultural, social, economic, environmental, etc.) and/or to subject the results to other research methodologies. This would help examine more deeply the relationship between the notion of risk and the creation of social bonds as a basis for psychosocial intervention via sport.


1 Vulnerable young people refer to youth living with different problems (psychological or social) that do not allow them to “benefit from their contacts with social institutions [and] are mainly and recurrently confronted with the negative effects of these institutions [in our case school]” (Vettenburg, 1998, p. 194).

2 “The mission of the regional child and youth protection centers or Centres jeunesse is to offer services of a psychosocial nature, including social emergency services necessitated by a young person’s situation under the law, as well as child placement, family mediation, child custody, adoption, and biological background research”. Source: Department of Health and Social Services,

3 Each training program has customized objectives depending on the group dynamics.

4 The Cooper Test is a 12-minute test during which the participant must cover as many metres as possible. The test is designed to calculate the athlete’s maximum aerobic volume (VO2 max).

5 The DesÉquilibres Institute was created in 2006.

6 This traditional representation of the term educator is not shared by everyone, especially according to Freire’s perspective (Spaaij & Jeanes, 2013).

7 Hirschi (1969) defines social bonds by four dimensions: (a) affinity for involved individuals and institutions; (b) interpersonal attachment; (c) active cognitive involvement; and (d) acceptance of established social mores.

8 This challenge was a 271 km relay race between Sainte-Félicité and Gaspé in Québec, Canada, during the winter.

9 At the beginning of the program, the eductrainers and partners (i.e., principals and counsellors) agree on how the program will be run and define the frequency of meetings between eductrainers and counsellors to review the progress of the program and the development of the young people.

10 The calculated risk is a more accurate evaluation of the relationship between real risk, perceived risk, and preferential risk.


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