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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Street soccer in Vancouver : player accounts of homelessness, sport, and social identity O'Rourke, Joseph


Background: The social and economic inequalities derived from homelessness have consistently been found to be related to depleted physical and psychological health (Stafford & Wood, 2017). Social connectivity and social identity (i.e., a sense of ‘us’) are increasingly recognized for their capacities to help people address a range of health challenges (e.g., addiction, social isolation, chronic mental health challenges; Beauchamp & Rhodes, 2020; C. Haslam et al., 2018). Street soccer programs represent a potential avenue for fostering social connectivity, social identity, and quality of life among people who have experienced homelessness. The focus of this study was the Vancouver Street Soccer League (VSSL), which provides a weekly soccer program for people experiencing homelessness, marginalization, and addiction in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. Objectives: The overall goals of my thesis research were to (1) understand the experiences of homeless and unstably housed players in the VSSL; and (2) understand how players felt the VSSL contributed to their sense of social connection, social identity, and well-being. Methods: Ten participants’ experiences (in their own words) were examined using two complementary approaches, namely Social Identity Mapping, combined with semi-structured interviews, in addition to over 50 hours of fieldwork that included playing at the VSSL’s weekly practices. Results: Four themes (and 11 sub-themes) were developed through reflexive thematic analysis. These included: (1) Coming together through soccer, (2) Dynamics motivating continued involvement in the VSSL, (3) Leaders and leadership: Social influence in the VSSL, and (4) The VSSL and health outcomes. Conclusions: Participants described being a VSSL player as like being part of a supportive family, where one can feel included and authentic. Participants also indicated that the VSSL represents an inclusive program with valued norms of social connectivity and friendly competition, and described notable experiences related to psychological safety, stigma, recovery (from illness or substance use), and shared leadership. Opportunities for practical application, future research directions, and the study’s limitations are discussed.

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