Sport is widely regarded as a social good – something that contributes to both the health and social capital of young people. Sport is also, as numerous lay and academic commentators attest, something of a rite of passage for young people in New Zealand. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that not all children regard engagement in sport in these ways, nor do they necessarily reap the aforementioned benefits. Underpinned by theoretical and methodological tools derived from youth studies and the sociology of childhood, this research explored the ways in which 71 diverse young women engaged (or disengaged) with sport in four distinctly different secondary school contexts and communities.
Whilst young women described unique relationships with sport across their lives and a range of understandings of sport, there was one aspect of sport which they valued that was remarkably similar – to have fun with friends. The young women’s experience of sport within school contexts varied markedly in relation to the way in which their schools valued and delivered sport. Our research suggests that the categories of ‘participant’ and ‘non-participant’ and the descriptors of constraints and facilitators do not necessarily reflect the realities of young women’s relationships with sport. Rather, young women negotiate their engagement (or disengagement) with sport in relation to the exigencies of their lives – moving in and out of ‘participation’ in both formal and informal versions of ‘sport’ and responding in a range of ways to family, school, cultural, community, national and, importantly, their own imperatives.