The present study seeks to understand how school sports deter or facilitate delinquent behavior among youth. Literature in this field reveals inconsistent results about this relation. Self-report data about sports participation and delinquent behavior were collected among 621 students. Results showed that there are no significant differences for most delinquent behaviors between students with and without school sports activity. However, students who practice sports revealed higher weapon possession and less shoplifting. Considering these contradictory results, six school sports coaches were interviewed and, in general, results emphasized the positive impact of school sports. These participants highlighted that by promoting socioemotional skills, reinforcing rules, and structuring prosocial contexts, sports can deter delinquent behavior. However, some of the coaches recognized that when competition is encouraged by them, sports can facilitate delinquent behavior. Results are discussed based on the evidence that school sports’ impact on youth behavior depends on how sports are framed, developed and implemented in school settings.
Keywords: youth; delinquent behavior; school sports; deterrence; facilitation