Can sport deepen an environmental identity?

Sport participation can deepen environmental identity if certain principles are followed. However, traditional sports are founded upon competitive notions and the achievement of task goals with little interaction between participants and the natural environment. Research suggests that the best way to develop or deepen an environmental identity is to experientially interact with the natural world in a manner that enhances emotional engagement. Outdoor and adventure sports emphasise the relationship between the sport participant and the natural environment which if harnessed effectively suggest that outdoor and adventure sports might be the ideal medium for deepening an environmental identity. The theoretical framework, Ecological Dynamics and its focus on the person-environment relationship provides an ideal model for understanding this process. The model is ideally suited to understand how sport participation can create a deeper environmental identity because a key presupposition is that behaviour emerges from an interactive relationship between the individual and the environment. In contrast to traditional psychological theories of behaviour change and learning that emphasize the role of individual attitudes and capabilities, this approach argues that the environment has an equal status to the individual. That is, a conducive environment is often more likely to have long lasting effects on behaviour than attempts to change the individual. Affordance theory suggests that theoretical perspectives that focus on the form and structure of nature (how nature looks) might be limited as a theoretical explanation for developing an environmental identity. Attempting to deepen an environmental identity through enhancing the aesthetics of nature might be limited. Instead, ecological dynamics proposes that a focus on function is more effective. This is important as it suggests that the development of an enhanced environmental identity is more likely to take place when individuals are physically active in nature in a manner that enhances their relationship with nature, emotional connection to nature, and the realisation that they are part of nature. For sport participation to encourage an environmental identity emotional engagement affordances are needed and the learning context needs to be representative of the everyday world.

  1. Sharma-Brymer, V., Gray, T., Brymer, E. (Forthcoming) Sport Participation to Create a Deeper Environmental Identity with Pro-environmental Behaviors. In McCullough, B. P., & Kellison, T. B. (Eds.). Routledge Handbook on Sport and the Environment. NY: Routledge.

3 thoughts on “Can sport deepen an environmental identity?

  1. Lisbeth Lund February 14, 2017 / 12:36 pm

    Interresting reading!

    – what is meant by “emotional engagement affordances” and “representative of the everyday world”? Those concepts are a bit unclear to me,



    • ericbrymer March 27, 2017 / 11:13 am

      Affordances are invitations for action .. in this apcase emotional engagement. The original concept was proposed by Gibson in his ecological psychology. Very much worth a read.


      • Lisbeth Lund May 9, 2017 / 8:46 am

        Hi Eric, ok thanks for your comment, yes I have read the theory of affordances by Gibson. Is this work you have presented here published yet or still in press? Regards Lisbeth


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