December 2006 // Volume 44 // Number 6 // Research in Brief // 6RIB3

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Attitudes of 4-H Participants About 4-H Competitive Events

The study reported here sought to determine attitudes about 4-H competitive events as perceived by 4-H participants. A total of 182 4-H participants responded to a two-section survey that contained 29 statements and program and demographic information. Overall, 4-H participants perceived that 4-H competitions was very valuable to them in terms of teaching responsibility, building self-confidence and self-worth, and preparing them to face challenges in a competitive world. Participants disagreed that 4-H competitions promote aggressive behaviors, cheating, and unethical practices and inhibit teamwork. Significant relationships existed between program and demographic characteristics and perceived attitude about 4-H competitions.

Rama B. Radhakrishna
Associate Professor

Lydia Everhart
4-H Program Management Coordinator
Columbus, Ohio

Megan Sinasky
Graduate Assistant

Department of Agricultural and Extension Education
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania


Each year thousands of 4-H members from across the United States prepare and participate in competitive events. In addition to getting 4-H members prepared for competitive events, some parents travel to lend moral support to their children at various competitive events. Similarly, Extension educators, volunteers, and other 4-H personnel provide time and expertise to ensure that the events are conducted in a fair and ethical manner. Competition as a youth educational experience involves an array of stakeholders--educators, volunteers, parents, youth educators, teachers, administrators, and youth themselves (Radhakrishna, Everhart, & Sinasky, 2005).

According to the National USDA/ES Task Force Report (1989), competition has been accepted as an appropriate teaching-learning strategy by many youth organizations, and 4-H is no exception. The use and value of competitions in 4-H date back to agricultural clubs and contests created around the beginning of the 20th century (Wessel & Wessel, 1982). The 4-H program has used competitive events and activities as a means to promote learning and the development of specific skills of 4-H members (Ladewig & Thomas, 1987). Several researchers have indicated that one of the most important goals of 4-H has been to provide educational opportunities for youth through competitive activities (Kieth & Vaughn, 1998; Weber & McCullers, 1986; & 4-H Leader, 1986).

Competition is the process of comparing skills (Midura & Glover, 1999). Midura and Glover identified three main types of competitions: the military model, the reward model, and the partnership model. In the military model, players are expected to see the other team as the "enemy," whereas in the reward model, team members compete for the rewards of winning a game. The partnership model differs from the other two models in that the players are not expected to view their opponents as the enemy (Midura & Glover, 1999). As with other social-emotional issues, children understand competition differently depending on their developmental stage (Perkins, 2000).

A number of studies (Fetsch & Yang, 2002; Keith & Vaughn, 1998; Ladewig & Thomas, 1987; Wessel & Wessel, 1982; Weber & McCullers, 1986; & 4-H Leader, 1986) have been conducted relative to competitive events and activities. Consensus from these studies suggests both positive and negative influence of competitions on young people's development. Examples of positives include: helping young people to learn democratic values, greater academic success, and appreciation for personal health and physical fitness. In addition, studies have also shown that competition helps to decrease juvenile delinquency, foster responsible social behavior, stimulate creativity, motivate young people to set goals, and prepare them for the competitive world.

On the other hand, opponents of competitions argue that competition decreases self esteem and fosters individualism, and that it encourages counter-productive activities, unbalanced skill development, false judgments about individuals, cheating and unfair practices, aggressive behavior of participants, poor sportsmanship, improper parental attitudes, and individualism rather than cooperation. Regardless of positive or negative influence of competition to young people's development, competition that is not placed in a proper perspective coupled with sportsmanship and fairness may be detrimental to youth development and self-esteem (Perkins, 2000).

Research on competition in 4-H is limited and lacking in psychological or educational concepts (National USDA Task Force, 1989). Researchers (Fetsch & Yang, 2002; Kieth & Vaughn, 1998) have recommended that competitive events should be re-evaluated and modified to mirror changes within the 4-H program, especially how 4-H competitive events and activities are structured and implemented.

Purpose and Objectives

The overall purpose of the study reported here was to determine attitude of 4-H participants about 4-H competitive events. Specific objectives were to: 1) determine attitude of 4-H participants about 4-H competitive events and 2) determine relationships, if any, between participants' attitude about 4-H competitive events and demographic and program characteristics.


The study used a descriptive-correlational design. The population for the study consisted of all youth registered for participation in the 4-H Sate Achievement Days held in August 2004 at University Park campus of The Pennsylvania State University.

A survey instrument, appropriate for use at a 4-H event, was developed by the researchers based on a review of related literature. The survey had two sections. Section one contained 29 statements relative to 4-H competitions and activities. The 29 statements were measured on five-point Likert-scale that ranged from 1 "strongly disagree" to 5 "strongly agree." Section two contained demographic and program information.

The instrument was assessed for content and face validity by a panel of eight experts consisting of three faculty members with 4-H and youth development responsibilities, two Extension program leaders in family, youth, and children programming, and two former 4-H/Youth Extension agents and one graduate student in the department of Agricultural and Extension Education. The instrument was pilot tested using 4-H collegiate members (N=21). Minor changes were made to the instrument to enhance clarity and readability. Cronbach's alpha, an internal consistency measure, was used to estimate the reliability of the instrument. The reliability for the 29 item instrument was found to be acceptable and very good (alpha=0.91). The study was approved by the university's Institutional Review Board.

A cover letter explaining the purpose of the study and informed consent forms (for allowing their child to participate in the survey) were sent to all parents (N=722) of 4-H participants. Only those 4-H participants who had signed consent forms from their parents were allowed to complete the survey. As a result of this procedure, a total of 182 4-Hers completed the survey. Data were analyzed using frequencies, means, percentages, and correlation. The scale provided by Davis (1971) was used to describe relationships between the variables.


Demographic and Program Profile of 4-H participants

A majority of participants were female (71.7%). One-half of the participants were in 11th and 12th grade (50.3%), followed by 10th (21.4%), 9th (19.5%), and 8th (8.8%). More than one-third of the participants indicated they competed as a team (38.7%), followed by individual (31.8%), and team and individual both (29.5%). Almost two-thirds (67.7%) of participants reported that they joined 4-H when they were eight to 10 years old. The percentage of participants who indicated that they had participated in 4-H competitive events in the past year was 62.5%. Of those who participated in previous years (N=113), 74 (65.4%) won ribbons.

Forty-four percent of participants indicated that their parents participated in 4-H competitive events when they were young, while 57.5% reported that their parents are current 4-H members. Approximately 64% indicated that their siblings participated in 4-H as well. Parents were identified as most helpful in preparing for competitive events (58.3%), followed by leaders (53.8%), and Extension educators (17.6%). On average, participants spent about 29 hours annually preparing for 4-H competitive events.

Objective 1: Perceived Attitude toward 4-H Competitive Events

Perceived attitude about 4-H competitive events was measured using a five-point Likert scale that ranged from 1 "strongly disagree" to 5 "strongly agree." For purposes of presentation, the 29 statements were categorized into "positives" (15 items) and "negatives" (14 items). Tables 1 and 2 present the frequency, mean values, and standard deviations for each statement as well as the overall mean value for both positive and negative statements.

As shown in Table 1, 13 of the 15 positive statements had a mean value of 4.0 or higher, indicating agreement. Two items had a mean value closer to 3.5, indicating uncertainty. 4-H participants rated the following statements with the highest agreement: "competition has various benefits and like to compete" (M=4.32, SD=0.65), "competition motivates me to strive for excellence" (M=4.26, SD=0.78), and "competition prepares me for a competitive world" (M=4.24, SD=0.76).However, 4-H participants were uncertain for the statement, "competition enhances family social relationships" (M=3.43, SD=1.07).

Table 1.
Participants' Mean Scores on Positive Statements About 4-H Competitive Events

Statement N M* SD
Competition is beneficial to my positive development 182 4.06 0.89
Competitive events help 4-Hers learn to succeed in college 180 3.97 0.89
Competitive events provide better learning experiences 178 4.19 0.73
Competition is an incentive for me to join 4-H 180 3.59 1.13
Competition helps my life skill development 182 3.99 0.81
Competition helps in developing my self-esteem 180 3.96 0.89
Competition stimulates my creativity 181 3.89 0.94
Competition helps me achieve goals 179 4.11 0.84
Competition enhances my family social relationships 178 3.43 1.07
Competition has various benefits 180 4.32 0.65
I like to compete 182 4.32 0.72
Competition prepares me for a competitive world 181 4.24 0.76
Competition motivates me to strive for excellence 180 4.26 0.78
Competition provides an opportunity for me to demonstrate excellence 182 4.17 0.92
Competition helps me set goals 181 4.19 0.81
*Mean computed on scale 1"strongly disagree" to 5 "strongly agree"

Eleven of the 14 negative statements had a mean of 2.5 of less, indicating "disagreement" (Table 2). 4-H participants tended to disagree with most of the negative statements with the exception of two statements. The statement, "competition requires too much help from my parents" was rated high (M=3.74, SD=1.13), followed by the statement, "competition inhibits teamwork" (M=3.17, SD=1.38). However, 4-H participants were "uncertain" to the statement, "there are better ways to educate youth without using competitions" (M=2.66, SD=1.12).

Table 2.
Participants' Mean Scores on Negative Statements About 4-H Competitive Events

Statement N M* SD
Youth who don't win regularly leave the 4-H program 181 2.28 1.07
4-H program places too much emphasis on competition 179 2.20 1.05
Competition encourages cheating 180 2.17 1.07
Competition inhibits teamwork 180 3.17 1.38
Competition promotes aggressive behavior 181 2.33 1.18
There are better ways to educate youth without using competition 181 2.66 1.12
Competitive events lead to development of unethical practices 182 2.22 1.05
Competitive events lead to development of unhealthy characteristics (poor sportsmanship, jealousy, etc.) 181 2.22 1.05
Competitive events encourage improper parental attitudes toward events/activities 180 2.30 1.09
4-H event winners are more successful in life than non-winners 182 2.45 1.26
Competition requires too much help from my parents 179 3.74 1.13
Competition is not good for most young people like me 180 1.98 1.14
4-H competitive events participants are considered losers if they don't win a prize such as ribbon, plaque or cash award 182 1.94 1.12
4-H activities that are competitive decrease my motivation to do well 181 2.07 1.10
*Mean computed on scale 1 "strongly disagree" to 5 "strongly agree"

Objective 2: Demographic Relationships

Point-biserial correlation coefficients were calculated to describe the relationships between attitudes about 4-H competitive events and select demographic and program variables. Results are shown in Tables 3 and 4.

Significant relationships were found between awards won, participation in other competitions, and positive statements about 4-H competitions. However, no relationships existed between gender, grade, and attitude about positive 4-H competition statements (Table 3). Regardless of being a male or female, participants had similar attitudes about positive statements. Similar findings were evident relative to grade level (Table 3). Winning an award was related to positive statements (r=.16, p <.05). Participants who won awards tend to perceive positive statements significantly higher (M=4.11) than those who did not win an award (M=4.03). Moderate, negative relationships (r=-.32, p<.001) were found between positive statements about 4-H competitions and participation in other competitive events. Those who participated in other competitive events tended to perceive positive statements significantly higher (M=4.15) than those who had not participated in other competitions (M=3.85).

Table 3.
Relationships Between Participants' Positive Statements About 4-H Competitive Events and Select Variables

Variable N Meana SD r pt bis
Male 46 3.94 0.59  
Female 115 4.09 0.62 .11
Senior 35 4.19 0.60  
Other 106 3.98 0.59 .12
Won an award
Yes 65 4.11 0.59  
No 72 4.03 0.62 -.16*
Participation in other competitive events
Yes 116 4.15 0.56  
No 28 3.85 0.62 -.32**
* significant at .05 level; **significant at .001 level
a mean computed on a scale 1 = strongly disagree to 5 =strongly agree
b 1= senior, 0=freshmen, sophomore, junior

Moderate negative relationship, significant at the .01 (r=-.31, p <.01), was found between gender and attitude about negative 4-H competition statements (Table 4). Male participants tended to perceive negative statements significantly higher (M=2.56) than female participants (M=2.05). Participants who did not win an award tended to perceive negative statements significantly higher (M=2.25) than those who won an award (M=2.05). Similarly, those who had not participated in other competitive events tended to perceive negative statements higher (M=2.31) than those who participated in other competitions (M=2.12).

Table 4.
Relationships Between Participants' Negative Attitudes about 4-H Competitive Events and Select Variables

Variable N Meana SD r pt bis
Male 45 2.56 0.82  
Female 119 2.05 0.67 -.31**
Senior 38 1.96 0.66  
Other 107 2.23 0.63 -.24**
Won an award
Yes 65 2.05 0.68  
No 76 2.25 0.75 .19*
Participation in other competitive events
Yes 119 2.12 0.66  
No 28 2.31 0.94 .17*
* significant at .05 level; **significant at .001 level
a mean computed on a scale 1 = strongly disagree to 5 =strongly agree
b 1= senior, 0=freshmen, sophomore, junior

Conclusions and Recommendations

Overall, 4-H participants have positive attitudes about 4-H competitive events, as evidenced by strong agreement for statements that were positive and disagreement for statements that were negative. A closer examination of each statement suggests that 4-H participants believe that 4-H competitive events have benefits. For example, youth perceive competitive events as helping them to learn new things, develop life skills, set goals, and strive for excellence. On the other hand, youth are somewhat concerned about excessive parent involvement, unethical practices, and unhealthy characteristics that are prevalent in current competitive events. Participants indicated that parents and their older siblings, volunteers, and Extension educators were very helpful in preparing them for competitions.

Regardless of being male or female, or senior or other grade level, 4-H participants had similar attitudes about positive statements. However, male participants tended to perceive negative statements about competitions much higher than female participants. Prior participation in competitions was related to attitude about competitions. Those who participated tended to place high value on competitions compared to non-participants.

Based on the findings and conclusions of the study, three sets of recommendations are offered for 4-H competitive events organizers and programmatic improvement, Extension staff and administrators, and for further research.

4-H competitive events organizers and Extension educators should use the findings of the study reported here to make informed decisions about organizing 4-H competitive events. As a first step, we recommend that organizers involve youth and their parents in planning and organizing 4-H competitive events.

Findings of the study should be shared with Extension educators, Extension administration, and 4-H/youth development specialists so that programmatic improvements can be made in terms of 1) selection of competitive events and 2) examination of demographic and program characteristics to determine appropriateness of competitive events depending on age, gender, grade, and development stage of 4-H competitive event participants.

Further research should be conducted relative to 4-H competitive events involving general 4-H population or those members who are not as successful (those who drop out or those who fail to join 4-H). Such a study will help in the understanding of different feelings about the value of 4-H competitions. Second, the study should be replicated in other states to see if the attitudes about 4-H competitions are similar or different for all youth in the United States. Third, a common measuring tool should be developed to document outcomes of 4-H competitive events. Such an effort will help to showcase, at the national level, the value of 4-H competitions to all stakeholders.


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