By Kristian Vernegaard ~
Hearing the name Robin Hood, you might think of Russel Crowe, Kevin Costner, or an anthropomorphic fox. But thanks to a recent study by Vernegaard, Johansen and Haugen, you can now associate Robin Hood with disc golf as well.
Vernegaard, Johansen and Haugen surveyed the attitudes of 637 school kids toward physical education—aka gym class. Next, they exposed the kids to a disc golf lesson and a soccer lesson. After each activity, they measured the students’ attitudes again.
In their analysis, the researchers separated the students into three groups based on their attitudes toward gym class: negative, medium and positive attitudes toward gym. Not surprisingly, students with negative attitudes toward gym reported the lowest levels of intrinsic motivation to participate in gym.
However, when the researchers exposed these students to a disc golf lesson, their levels of intrinsic motivation rose significantly. In fact, those who disliked gym were more intrinsically motivated to participate in disc golf than both soccer and gym.
Meanwhile, the students with positive attitudes toward gym experienced reduced intrinsic motivation in the disc golf condition, even though they were still the richest in terms of intrinsic motivation in all three conditions (gym, soccer and disc golf). In short, when gym teachers incorporate disc golf in their lesson plans, they may boost reluctant athletes’ motivation to exercise, while robbing motivation from gym-class enthusiasts.
Ergo, the Robin Hood effect of disc golf.
The study by Vernegaard, Johansen and Haugen did not identify the causal mechanism behind the Robin Hood effect, but did suggest an explanation involving the lifestyle aspect of disc golf. Several scholars classify disc golf as a lifestyle sport and argue that its culture differs from that of traditional sports like soccer. Developed during the countercultural social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, lifestyle sports are typically more adventurous, creative, expressive and spontaneous than traditional sports. For some, lifestyle sports, including disc golf, are more akin to “play” than “competition,” as discussed previously in Parked.
Disc golf’s cultural distinctiveness is seen most clearly in the “Spirit of the Game.” Although it does not represent the beliefs of all disc golfers, Spirit is an ethos that prioritizes the simple joy of throwing discs, the importance of fairness on the course, friendship between players and calm interaction. It also discourages the win-at-all-cost attitude that often pervades competitive events.
Spirit is promoted by several disc golf organizations and associations, such as the Professional Disc Golf Association and the World Flying Disc Federation, as well as top organizers like Steve Dodge.
In Vernegaard, Johansen and Haugen’s study, the teacher of the disc golf lesson emphasized the mutual respect between players and the joy of playing. It is possible that disc golf’s alternative ideological orientation explains why non-athletes experienced a greater increase in intrinsic motivation to participate than students with traditional attitudes toward sports.
The key takeaway from the study is that disc golf attracts a wide variety of participants—people with diverse physical abilities and ideological predilections. For this reason, public health officials may see disc golf as a public health gold mine.
Plenty of research has shown that intrinsically rewarding activities are more likely to be performed again. If disc golf inspires intrinsic motivation to exercise in people who would otherwise remain inactive, then disc golf can help cure the nation’s health problems. Inactivity has been linked to a range of aliments, including obesity, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Promoting disc golf as a public health intervention could lead to more funding for disc golf course construction and maintenance. More high-quality disc golf courses would further the interests of all disc golfers, regardless of whether they see it as a lifestyle activity or a competitive sport.
Kristian Vernegaard, faculty in the Health and Sports Sciences department at the University of Agder, Norway, is first author of the study discussed above (“Students’ motivation in a disc golf-lesson and a soccer-lesson”). The complete article is available here.
Parked is underwritten in part by a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association.
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