Strategies for Gaining Access to Deliver Sport Programs with Highly Vulnerable Youth


  • Jenn M. Jacobs Northern Illinois University
  • Zachary Wahl-Alexander Northern Illinois University
  • Timothy Mack Northern Illinois University



sport-based youth development, at-risk youth, partnerships


Sport programs have been widely studied for their efficacy in helping youth develop important social, psychological, and physical skills. Extensive research has explored the challenges related to design, implementation, and evaluation of sport programs with a developmental focus. However, when designing sport programs specifically tailored for youth from vulnerable backgrounds, the challenges become multiplied, particularly when accounting for barriers that exist before the program starts. The following article describes best practices for gaining access to non-traditional, hard-to-access environments, such as foster care systems, juvenile detention centers, youth residential mental health facilities, and programs situated in high-risk communities. Recommendations are provided for the initial phase of sport program development for vulnerable populations, including protecting youth, choosing appropriate sport content, and addressing barriers in the research process. Generally, these best practices are applicable for the development of any youth program. However, this article provides context-specific guidance and precautions that should be considered to protect and foster the well-being and welfare of youth from highly vulnerable populations.

Author Biographies

Jenn M. Jacobs, Northern Illinois University

Assistant Professor, Sport Psychology

Zachary Wahl-Alexander, Northern Illinois University

Assistant Professor, Physical Education Teacher Education

Timothy Mack, Northern Illinois University

Graduate Student, Sport Managment


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