An emerging area of social work practice is within sport and athletics. Due to the complex nature of sport and the diverse needs of sport participants, social workers are optimally positioned to be critical change agents. However, there is a lack of empirical research dedicated to exploring this unique area of practice. The current study explores the unique values, knowledge, and skills social workers use when working in sport, as well as describes the roles that social workers fulfill.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 social workers who work in youth sport, collegiate athletics, and professional sports. Their occupations ranged from psychotherapists to athletic counselors to coaches. Findings from the thematic analysis provide insight to the values, knowledge, and skills used in sport that social workers developed from their formal education. For instance, social workers, through their commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion, are trained to take a strength-based, person-centered approach when working with individuals and teams.
Findings highlight the dynamic and diverse roles social workers fulfill as change agents who aim to enhance human wellbeing within a variety of sport systems and settings. Social workers not only work in collegiate athletic departments, but they also provide needed services to youth who are socially vulnerable through sport-based programming and strength-based coaching. The current study helps to not only advance the field of social work, but also advocates for social workers in sport settings. Ultimately, social work professionals are optimally positioned to be playmakers in the athletic arena.