The prevailing use of competitive activities in leisure, sport and recreation continues to inspire debate as people question the value, influence and outcomes of competitive behaviour for participants. In some forums it has been suggested that competition builds character, brings out the best performance in an individual and develops a positive sense of sportsmanship (Butler, 2000; Coakley, 1990). By comparison, others critique the anti-social role of competition, claiming it can simultaneously lead to dissonance, hostility and a divisive desire to win at all costs (Sobel, 1983; Thomson, 2000). Within the general leisure and physical activity field, cooperative games are sometimes presented as the antithesis to this dilemma as it is proposed that cooperation leads to the development of respect, challenge and cohesion (Orlick, 1978; Sutcliff & Patterson, 2001).
This study reports on the perceived value and use of competition and cooperation from the perspectives of 20 recreation activity leaders drawn from the fields of sport, outdoor recreation, fitness and community recreation. The findings suggest that both competition and cooperation are valid techniques for achieving positive outcomes if they are used with applied intent, but that many leaders have an under-developed understanding of the use of cooperation as an instructional tool. For many, cooperation is identified purely in a behavioural manner, composed of an observed outcome of client's working together. For others, a more complex approach is evident as cooperation is viewed as a combination of actions and attitudes reflecting empathy, open communication and equity.
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