Service learning is increasingly popular in schools, colleges, and universities. Service learning is a form of experiential learning and is an ideal pedagogical strategy to teach students about sport management. Students engaged in service learning typically become involved in specific community-based projects that are a part of their class requirements. These projects usually meet a real community need and link classroom content with community projects and reflection. Students can benefit tremendously from an educational experience that combines service learning and sport management. They can reap benefits in the areas of academic learning, civic responsibility, personal and social development, and opportunities for career exploration. A well-planned and well-executed service learning project can expand the student’s sport management experience well beyond events, contests, and classroom lectures. It can bridge the gap between the school and the community by providing a way for students and community organizations to come together for a worthy cause, making learning more meaningful. The purpose of this article is to examine how sport management classes can be designed and implemented as service learning projects that address critical community health challenges. Specifically, this article addresses service learning design that could be applied to any community health problem. The example used here is fund raising for malaria mitigation projects distributing bed nets as a low-cost means of prevention. The article describes the actual service project and discusses ways to encourage students to deepen their civic engagement to meet critical community and global needs.

Service Learning in Sport Management: A Community Health Project

Sport management has become an increasingly popular academic discipline in colleges and universities. Sports have become a major industry, resulting in both increased need for professionals and more opportunities to train students effectively for sport careers by providing them with the kinds of learning environments that produce critical thinkers and problem solvers.
How to go about creating learning environments that enhance student learning about sport organizations is a challenge faced by most professors. While the sport management curriculum is rife with opportunities to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, all too often the learning environment best suits a passive style of learning. This traditional academic style of teaching and learning involves students listening to lectures, reading, taking test and quizzes, writing research papers, and watching films or video (Parkhouse, 2005). The strength of this method is its strong theoretical underpinning; its weakness is its failure to engage students in the pedagogical value of real-world experiences in sport organizations. Service learning is a method of teaching and learning that can make up what is missing from more traditional approaches to learning. Sport management courses can be designed and implemented as service learning, featuring projects addressing, for example, community health challenges. Though the curricular design presented here could be applied to address any community problem, it was used by the researchers in a fund raising project benefiting a malaria mitigation effort in which bed nets were distributed as a low-cost means of prevention. It is a requirement, however, that service learning be based on recognized community and humanitarian needs.

Service learning is an experiential pedagogical approach that goes beyond mere classroom instruction. Service learning involves the blending of service activities and classroom instruction with the purpose of meeting real community needs as students learn through active engagement and reflection (Geleta & Gilliam, 2003; Mumford & Kane, 2006). One benefit of service learning is that it connects hands-on learning to classroom knowledge. This connection of practical application to theory enhances the academic curriculum and also provides a structure helping students to reflect on their service experience (Prentice & Garcia, 2000). Service learning provides meaningful experiences that enable students to learn by doing rather than only reading, talking, and writing about doing (Parkhouse, 2005). It is a pedagogy that fosters critical-thinking and problem-solving skills as it supplements traditional curricula and classroom activities. In addition, service learning fosters civic responsibility, personal and social development, and opportunities for career exploration (Prentice & Garcia, 2000).

Malaria Mitigation Is a Recognized Need

Fighting deadly malaria is clearly a recognized need. Malaria is one of the world’s most dire public health concerns, causing over a million deaths and up to 500 million clinical cases each year. It is particularly devastating in Africa, where there are some 3,000 deaths from malaria every day and 10 new cases every second. Malaria is the leading cause of death for Africa’s children under age five. More than a third of the world’s total population now lives where the disease is endemic, so it takes a high toll on households and also on health care systems, impeding development. It is estimated that malaria reduces growth of gross domestic product by approximately one percentage point per year (World Economic Forum, 2006). It is the poor who are most affected by malaria. They have less access to information, services, and protective measures, and less power to avoid living or working in malaria-affected areas. A vaccine is not on the immediate horizon, and resistance on the part of the disease-causing parasite to affordable anti-malarial drugs like chloroquine is on the rise. Effective antimalarials remain available, but at a significantly higher cost. In terms of cost-effectiveness, one of the best ways to fight malaria today is to provide those at risk with insecticide-treated bed nets. This and other existing preventive and treatment strategies could reduce the burden of malaria significantly (World Health Organization, 2005).

Malaria is caused by a blood parasite of the genus Plasmodium transmitted by the bite of female anopheline mosquitoes. Its deadliest strain, Plasmodium falciparum, is found in Africa, where the lack of infrastructure and resources to fight either the mosquitoes or the disease compounds the problem (World Economic Forum, 2006). In Africa, malaria accounts for up to half of all hospital admissions and outpatient visits and costs over $12 billion a year. Its effects permeate almost every sector, increasing school absenteeism, decreasing tourism, inhibiting foreign investment, and even constraining food crops that are grown (World Economic Forum, 2006).

And yet malaria is a preventable disease. Despite the magnitude of the problem, there is a simple solution: the $10 bed net. Treated with insecticide, bed nets can be purchased and delivered to at-risk families cost-effectively, with each net lasting up to four years. Bed nets work by creating a protective barrier against mosquitoes at night, when the vast majority of transmission occurs. An entire family can sleep under a bed net, safe from malaria. The benefit of the nets, however, extends beyond the family. Malaria is a self-perpetuating scourge, in that the parasites can be spread from human to mosquito, as well as vice versa. When enough nets are used in an area, the deterrent insecticide on the nets makes entire communities safer from mosquitoes—even members who do not use nets (De La Cruz et al., 2006).

The sport management class enters the preventive effort when it plans, organizes, implements, and directs a project that not only teaches them, but saves lives: for instance by raising money to buy bed nets. The need is real and is becoming popularly known. As Sports Illustrated columnist and bed-net fund raiser Rick Reilly has urged (2006), “We need nets. Not hoop nets, soccer nets or lacrosse nets. Not New Jersey Nets or dot-nets or clarinets. Mosquito nets” (pg. 78).

Service Learning Model

Based on the Pate model (see http://www.uga.edu/servicelearning), service learning involves seven components: need, participants, learning, service, publicity, evaluation, and reflection. The structure of a service learning project should integrate these components over three phases: (a) project preparation, (b) action, and (c) evaluation. Reflection is central to each phase of service learning (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Reflection’s central role in the preparation, action, and evaluation phases of a service learning project.

Figure 1

Project Preparation Phase

Need Component

The first step in preparing a service learning project is the identification of the issue, need, or problem the project would address. Early on, the community with which the sport management class is to collaborate must be specified. Most decisions made in the course of planning the service learning project and managing logistical matters should be the students’ decisions. The professor should, however, provide guidance as the community in need and the focus of the service are determined.

A good starting point is with an organization or organizations having a history of addressing the issue, need, or problem that the students are considering taking up. In this case, organizations familiar with the fight against malaria included the United Nations (specifically the U. N. Foundation’s Malaria Prevention Program) and UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Malaria Foundation, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, and the Gates Foundation’s Malaria Initiative. These groups demonstrated the existence of a need: to lower morbidity and mortality associated with malaria. Several projects dovetailing with the groups’ identified need and strategies were already under way and involved members of the sports community, for example the work of SurfAid International, of Lance Laifer’s Dunk Malaria initiative, and of the World Swim for Malaria Foundation. A service learning project undertaken by sport management students could further the goals of these sports groups and the larger groups.

The sport management students noted how particularly fitting it was for participants in water sports to take up the cause of malaria mitigation, mosquitoes of course breeding in standing water. As Reilly’s column demonstrated, the sports world could also be linked to the fight against malaria by the common use of nets (though different nets, certainly). One innovative project had been launched by the U. N. Foundation and saw soccer players in Tanzania working to raise awareness of malaria mitigation at their games.

As they researched the activities of potential partnering organizations, the sport management students gave thought to what the scope of their project might be; they also read in the research literature on malaria. Having educated themselves about the current state of the malaria mitigation effort overall, they were able to begin devising a project to meet three sets of needs: a suffering community’s, partnering organizations’, and their own educational needs. They decided that soliciting donations to bring bed nets to needy families (and train families to use them) was an appropriate means to their end. Once the project was outlined, the students needed to agree on specific, measurable goals for their work.

Participants Component

The second preparatory step was determining the participants in the service learning project and outlining their roles in its development and implementation. Students in the sport management class need to be responsible for planning and implementing the service learning project.

Learning Component

The third step in preparation was the detailed specification of those areas of learning that the project promised to cover. For this sport management class, some areas coincided with course objectives (i.e., the development of business management skills); another area was leadership (see Figure 2). The curriculum for the course should, then, present knowledge and skills that will be needed to carry out the service learning project.

Figure 2. Sport management course content areas pertinent to malaria mitigation service project, and phases of project requiring exercise of leadership.

Course Content Leadership Skills
Facility management Planning
Economics and finance Organizing
Sales Evaluating
Marketing Decision making
Sponsorship Relationship building
Fundraising Teamwork
Media relations Personal productivity
Event management Coaching and mentoring
Legal and ethical issues Strategic thinking
Research methods Communication

Action Phase

Service Component

The action phase of the service learning project involved, first, determining the service to provide. The sport management class considered exactly how they might use sport to serve a humanitarian need. With some preparation completed, the students moved on to determining facility needs, staffing and conducting entertainment and other events, managing promotional activities, understanding equipment and supply needs, creating budgets, coordinating volunteers, publicizing efforts, cultivating sponsors, and marketing the project including naming target markets and marketing strategies. A strict timeline for planning and implementing the service project proved helpful, simulating real world constraints.

Publicity Component

Next in the action phase was the determination of when and how to publicize the project. Getting the word out and “generating buzz” are important factors in a service learning project’s success, since knowing about events is a prerequisite to participating in them. Traditional and nontraditional advertising modes proved useful to the sport management students: from press releases, fliers, and brochures, to targeted e-mails, department and college websites, and social networking sites (e.g., MySpace, Facebook).

Evaluation Phase

Students in the sport management class were evaluated by the professor one week after the conclusion of the project, in terms of the contributions each made to the work. Evaluations were based on the specific, measurable goals for the project the students and professor established in the first phase, project planning. Sample goals for similar service learning projects might include collecting a designated amount to donate to a partnering organization; securing sponsors to pay event production costs; collecting a specific number of in-kind donations to be auctioned to raise funds; to achieve a designated attendance at an event(s) or a designated number of participants or teams for an event; and selling a given quantity of event/activity tickets.

Reflection Component

The final step in the service learning project is an ongoing one: reflection. Continually throughout the project, the students reflected on their work and what they had learned from it. For the sport management class, such reflection was assigned at three different points: (a) before the event, while researching the project; (b) immediately after conclusion of the event, when students would see the fruits of their labor; and (c) one week after the event, as each student made a presentation in class concerning the service learning project (i.e., how the student had contributed to, and could continue to contribute to, the solution to a real, human problem and what was learned in the experience). The professor might consider developing a survey to spur students to reflection.

Discussion and Conclusion

A well-designed service learning project can be beneficial to sport management students because it helps bring scholarship to life. It gives them the opportunity to enhance their academic skills and join theory with practice. Through research and active involvement, it also provides students a much deeper understanding and appreciation of critical local and global needs. More importantly, it affords them real world experiences similar to those in sport organizations, activities and events that involve critical thinking and problem solving.

Sport management professionals can use service learning and sport in engaging students in civic activity to help meet community and humanitarian needs. Students can benefit tremendously from an educational experience that combines service learning and sport management. They can reap benefits in the areas of academic learning, civic responsibility, personal and social development, and opportunities for career exploration.


De La Cruz, N., Crookston, B., Dearden, K., Gray, B., Ivins, N., Adler, S., et al. (2006). Who sleeps under bednets in Ghana? A doer/non-doer analysis of malaria prevention behaviours. Malaria Journal, 5(61). Retrieved September 15, 2006, from http://www.malariajournal.com/

De la Cruz, N., Crookston, B., Dearden, K., Gray, B., Ivins, N., Adler, S., et al. (2006) Who sleeps under bednets in Ghana? A doer/non-doer analysis of malaria prevention behaviors. Malaria Journal, 61(5).

Geleta, N., & Gilliam, J. (2003). Learning to serve, serving to learn: A view from higher education. Washington, DC: Corporation for National and Community Service. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 481957)

Mumford, V., & Kane, J. (2006). Service-learning in sports. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, 77(3), 38–47.

Parkhouse, B. (2005). The management of sport: Its foundation and application. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Prentice, M., & Garcia, R. (2000). Service learning: The next generation in education. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 24(1), 19–26.

Reilly, R. (2006, May 1). Nothing but nets. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved January 15, 2007, from http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/writers/rick_reilly/04/25/reilly0501/index.html

World Economic Forum. (2006). Business and malaria: A neglected threat? Geneva, Switzerland: Author.

World Health Organization. (2005). World malaria report 2005. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.

Contacting the author: Direct all correspondence for this article to Dr. Vincent E. Mumford, Associate Professor, Sport Management, Department of Physcial Education and Sport, The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions, 2240 Health Professions Building, Mount Pleasant, MI 48859, (989)774-1040, Vincent.E.Mumford@cmich.edu

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