School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)


Andrea Bruce


at-risk students, sports participation, intervention strategies, secondary athletics, influence of sports, influence of athletics, influence of coaches, influence of sports on at-risk students


Counseling | Education


The purpose of this hermeneutic, phenomenological study was to understand the lived experiences of secondary athletic coaches concerning the influence of sports participation as part of an intervention strategy for at-risk students in a suburban school district in the southwest United States. The central research question was, what is the perceived influence participation in secondary sports programs has on at-risk students? The theories guiding this study are Bandura’s social cognitive theory and Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development theory, which explain changes in individuals resulting from environmental and mentor influences. This study used a questionnaire, individual interview, and a letter-writing prompt as data collection methods to capture the lived experiences of athletic coaches. The results from data collection underwent thematic analysis based on van Manen’s data analysis approach to understand the influence of sports participation on at-risk student-athletes. The results of this study close the gap in qualitative literature regarding the influence of athletic participation on at-risk students. The research found that at-risk students demonstrate improved academic and behavioral outcomes when exposed to a constructive environment, a positive role model, and opportunities to build confidence. Athletic coaches express that all three factors can be found in an athletic program; therefore, the results of this study imply that participation in a secondary athletic program leads to enhanced academic achievement and socially acceptable behaviors for at-risk students.