Sport and physical activity in the life of a man with cerebral palsy: Compensation for disability with psychosocial benefits and costs

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Objectives:We explored the meanings and experiences of sport and physical activity in the life of a 30-year-old man with cerebral palsy (Ben).Design:Life history.Method:We interviewed Ben about his life, with a particular emphasis on understanding the meanings and experiences of sport and physical activity in his life. We interpreted his stories using Erikson's (1985) model of psychosocial development.Findings:Ben had a strong sense of inferiority, which seemed to have stemmed from social isolation during his early school years. Through participation in sport and physical activity as an adult, Ben was partially able to address these feelings of inferiority. Ben strongly identified with Olympians and Paralympians, in whom he saw achievement and social connectedness personified. Although Ben became physically fitter, more socially connected, and less stressed through engaging in sport and physical activity, these achievements did not compensate for his feelings of inferiority, and he characteristically set tougher goals for himself after the elation of meeting previous goals had passed. Through devoting substantial time to sport and physical activity, Ben seemed to be avoiding or bypassing some of the psychosocial challenges of young adulthood (e.g., forming strong friendships and romantic relationships).Conclusion:The life history of Ben illustrates the benefits and costs of trying to compensate for disabilities through sport and physical activity. In Ben's life, sport and physical activity both promoted and impeded Ben's psychosocial development.

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