Riding in the Right Direction: examining risk and resilience in high risk Israeli youth involved in a sports intervention

Sue Lawrence

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This project studied 108 Israeli youth of mixed gender, aged 12-16 (mean 12.8, SD 1.67), selected for risk, with a 3 to 1 ratio of boys to girls. It included a group given a sports intervention and a comparison group. It utilised a broad psychosocial approach to investigate risks for psychological disorder and the impact of an intervention, based on both an Ecological and Attachment theoretical approach to inform identification of risk and resilience factors in a society used to political conflict.
Aims: i) to examine psychosocial risks for psychological disorder in both groups and (ii) to examine the impact of a sports intervention in reducing risk and symptoms and increasing resilience.
Method: The two phased prospective study included 60 young people referred by social services to a cycling intervention and 48 to a comparison group. Phase 1 examined demographic characteristics and psychosocial risks in the combined groups in relation to behavioural, emotional and post traumatic symptoms. Phase 2 examined change after 9 months comparing the two groups. Standardised self-report questionnaires were used, with focus groups and qualitative interviews to establish intervention impact. Questionnaires were translated into Hebrew and Arabic, with focus groups held in the local languages and subsequently translated and interviews with coaches held in English.
Results: Twenty-three percent of all the youth reported a behavioral or emotional disorder at case level, with 33% having symptomatology at borderline level. Risk factors for such disorder were deprivation, insecure attachment style, peer problems and affectionless control in childhood from mothers or fathers. Poor peer relationships mediated between childhood experience and disorder. Over half had exposure to a traumatic event and there was a high prevalence of partial Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( PTSD): 31% and 6% with full disorder. Life events, trauma experience, ethnicity and deprivation associations provided evidence of a social and Ecological interpretation of findings. Childhood experience, insecure attachment style and peer relationships supported an Attachment perspective.

Findings at follow-up showed positive effects of the cycling intervention through decreased self-esteem and symptoms for both Conduct disorder and PTSD. There was also increased support for those in the intervention. However, follow-up findings were limited by high attrition rates. Analysis of focus groups and interviews led to a descriptive model showing benefits of the intervention through agentic (skills, discipline), escapist and aesthetic (fun) aspects.
Conclusion: Findings are discussed in relation to Israeli culture and post-conflict context on youth risk and disorder, and the use of similar interventions in other post-conflict zones.

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Bifulco, Antonia, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2012
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


  • Adolescent, mental health, conflict, PTSD

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