The Looking Glass Self Theory and the Benefits of Building a Recreational Center for Children

Categories: Sociological Theories
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There is no better feeling than hitting a home run in the 10* inning of a game, or blocking the other team’s best hitter when the score is 24-23. This feeling is so enticing that it can draw people into a sport. Many children want to feel this at some point in their lives which may be why athletics have the highest number of participants compared to other extracurricular activities (U.S. Census, 2014. This means that many children can be affected by athletics developmentally.

One way these young athletes develop relates to Charles Horton Cooley’s Looking Glass Self Theory, a theory that has three parts to it: how an individual develops, the imagination of judgment on them or their perception of judgment, and a feeling about themselves (Korgen & White, 2015). The way that an individual perceives the qualities of others affects the qualities that they develop as they are maturing. The imagination of judgement means that an individual person believes part of their look makes them appear a certain way to others.

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If someone has an expensive hand bag, they may believe that others judge them as rich. The way they feel about themselves is their self-confidence, which may not be based on how the individual really is, but rather on how the individual believes that other people see them. As a child is growing up in the world of athletics, these three aspects are developing. Athletics in an adolescent’s life can affect the three parts of the looking glass self in a positive way, and make them act in ways that tend to be more determined and goal-oriented than their peers that do not participate in sports.

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The looking glass is a vulnerable part of an individual that can be affected by the external forces from the environment surrounding the individual. If an individual is exposed to a harmful environment during their major developmental period, they may have a negative looking glass self. This environment could involve anything that brings down an individual’s self-esteem, such as, being bullied, having uninvolved parents, or failing to meet the set standards. When a negative looking glass self is developed the individual may experience things such as the belief that people are negatively judging them, or poor self-esteem. This may cause the individual to act in a way where they keep themselves isolated due to the belief that everyone sees them just as negatively as they see themselves. With the looking glass self being as vulnerable as it is, it is important to ensure that we keep the next generations positive by surrounding them with things, such as athletics, that can positively influence their looking glass selves when the concept is executed properly.

Synthesis of Contemporary Research and Trends

The looking glass self theory infers that a person’s self grows from their close relationships and the way they perceive others, particularly how they think others perceive them. If a person perceives someone as a role model the person is more likely to try and act like that. The person believes that if they act that way then they will be seen by others in the same way the person views the role model. For many young athletes, ideally one of their role models is their coach, who often have the second biggest impact on athletes just behind the child’s parents (Prichard & Deutsch, 2015).

In a nurturing coaching context, the way the child views the coach affects how the child acts. The child acts in a way they believe their coach would in order to be seen as a role model. The child’s perception of the coach affects how their personal self grows. For example, if the coach were to set goals for them in their sport, they may pursue these goals. After their coach gives them different goals, the child begins to realize that goal setting is an expectation for them. The athlete wants to please their role model and becomes determined to obtain the goals they set for themselves. The young athlete adapted to that quality because they perceived it to be a good quality. Since the athlete perceived the quality as good, they also expect others to perceive it as a good quality. According to the data found by Prichard and Deutsch (2015), coaches influence the young athlete’s values, morals, their definition of success, the way they obtain goals, and the child’s belief in themselves. The coach begins demonstrating these qualities even if they do not realize it.

The coach can also have an impact of the athlete’s self-esteem as a “key element for inducing change in athlete self-esteem involves establishing trustworthiness” with the coach (Chen & Wu, 2014, 357). If the coach reacts well to a loss in the game, it can help the coach’s athletes to learn how to handle a defeat. Also, if the coach does not seem really hurt by the loss, that could help ensure that the child does not take it personal enough for it to affect the athlete’s self-perception. The athlete’s looking glass self is a fragile thing, and the slightest thing can cause a change in how they perceive themselves; therefore, it is important for us to do everything in our power to make sure these athletes can get the best effects on their looking glass selves.

During the development of the looking glass self, an individual develops the imagination that others in society are judging them. Even at a young age, athletes begin to develop their own athletic identity. When a child has an athletic identity it can encourage them to fill the role of an athlete. Rasquinha and Cardinal (2015) studied what happened to overweight and obese children when they gave them an athletic identity.

They realized that: “by having the psychologists and exercise specialists focus on fostering a sense of athletic identity among the overweight or obese children who attend tertiary weight- management programs, rather than simply treating the psychological symptoms associated with overweight or obesity (e.g., reduced self-worth) and encouraging general forms of exercise (e.g., calisthenics, walking), the children will be better positioned to enjoy the host of mental and physical benefits associated with involvement on a team, improved self-worth, and participation in physical activity” (Rasquinha & Cardinal, 2015, 8).

When these children were given an athletic identity their health benefited because it helped prevent the child from developing some conditions that can come with obesity such as hypertension or metabolic syndrome (Rasquinha & Cardinal, 2015). The children were given a new status from society and they began to follow the roles they believe fit that status. They felt expectations and accountability from society as if they were an athlete and to be successful they needed to fulfill the roles of an athlete. The studied children’s improved self-worth seemed to be caused by the new athletic identity. Athletes tend to be viewed as successful in the world, and this creates their sense of determination which allows leading athletes to not only succeed in their sport but also in academics.

Prichard and Deutsch (2015) found a correlation that showed that “individuals who participated in sports were significantly more likely to be enrolled in college at age 21 than their nonparticipating counterparts” (207). These adolescents were developing the imagination that others are seeing them as more successful due to the fact that they are an athlete. The feeling of success can push the young athlete to do more successful things in life. These athletes also experienced “positive effects of participation in sports on their(children’s) health, education and behavior: overall, their(children’s) school grades and behavior, in particular the relation to their peers, improves substantially” (Felfe, Lechner, & Steinmayr, 2016, p. 18). The effects can lead the child to begin feeling competent in their roles and then “the individual is expected to participate in an achievement environment, such as a physical activity to the extent of his or her perception of self-competence in relation to that activity” (Ceintkalp, 2012, 478). The child’s performance in these roles tends to depend on the level of self-confidence a child feels.

As the looking glass self continues to develop, the person eventually develops self- perception, the part of the looking glass self in which the person looks at themselves in either a negative or positive way. The way they look at themselves depends on the events they experienced and the people they interacted with while they were developing. The amount of time that an athlete has played a sport can also influence the adolescent athlete’s perception of themselves, as “the data showed that young athletes’ ego orientation was higher for persistent athletes compared to withdrawn athletes” (Rottensteiner, 2015, p.442). If the adolescent was once a member of a sports team, but no longer, their self-perception may be lower than that of a peer who was consistently in a sport. The results of a game can also affect the child’s self- esteem, such as “victory in competition may raise children’s self-esteem while defeat, despite eventual negative effects on children’s self-esteem, may teach them how to deal with such a situation” (Felfe, Lechner, & Steinmayr, 2016, 19). Although the defeat has negative immediate effects of the child’s looking glass self, it may have a positive long term effect for the child.

Change Initiative Recommendations

Since there are numerous benefits to participating on a sports team, it is only right for there to be a place for children to participate on one. There are many benefits for a child including but not limited to, a healthy looking glass self and being physically healthy. There has been work done that found that:

“participating in a sports club challenges children to take initiative and to plan, carry through, and achieve a valued goal. Sports club participation exposes children to cooperation with other children in a team, which may make them better team players also in other situations in life and, thus, may explain the reduction in peer problems” (Felfe, Lechner, & Steinmayr, 2016, p. 19). When a child obtains an athletic identity, they gain much more than just another activity for their parent to drive them to. The child gains a new group of friend, a coach that hopefully becomes a role model, and a place where they can ensure they remain active. There are many opportunities for children to join sports teams if their parents are willing to pay for it, but not all families can afford to put their child on these teams. In order to ensure that all children can equally have the opportunity to be on a sports team there needs to be a place for these children to go to. Therefore, a recreational center should organize teams of the children who cannot afford the leagues where the parents need to pay. In order for the recreational center to be helpful, we need to ensure the children are getting a positive experience from the program.

One of the main ways to ensure the children have a positive experience is to have positive and helpful coaches. Chen and Wu (2014) said that “the first step might be to encourage coaches to participate in professional workshops aimed at enhancing their training skills. Coaches who possess such knowledge, including competence and responsibility, assist in developing athletes’ cognitive trust” (p. 357). Then they also suggested next that a step “might involve educating coaches to care and empathize with athletes’ predicaments to cultivate affective trust” (Chen & Wu, 2014, p.357). A child’s cognitive trust is their trustworthiness, and how their beliefs on dependability and reliability and this is view as a building block to affective trust, the trust that another individual cares for their welfare and well-being (Chen & Wu, 2014). Coaches can have a big impact on these children so it is only fair to the children if we give them educated coaches that are able to impact them in a positive way. The coaches should have to go through a strong interview process to make sure they are the right fit to fulfil the roles expected of a good coach.

Once it is determined that the candidate is a good match for the position, they should then go through a strict training regime that teaches them the best way to coach adolescent athletes in order for them to develop in a way that can not only benefit the child physically, but can affect them in order for them to to have a healthy looking glass self, believing they are being perceived as a good person, and also enhancing a higher self-esteem. When these children become adults they can pass on the traits they obtained from this recreational center on to their children and generations to come just like their coaches can do for them right now if we open this recreational center.

Another part of this recreational center can be organized sports teams that compete in events against other teams. When children are part of a sports team they are exposed to more children their age and it can teach them how to interact with peers. It can also teach them important cooperation techniques that they can use later in life when they have to work with people that they may not get along with. The young adolescent athletes are exposed to other peers and it helps them with their teamwork skills, but their personal skills are also increased while in an athletic program. Many athletes learn from a young age how to be goal-oriented and how to be determined in finding ways to reach these goals. Huang and Luthan (2015) found that “differing learning goal orientations can… help with achieving creativity, and with this the individual can be “confident, endure difficult times throughout the creative process, and adapt themselves to conditions in favor of the generation of creativity” (p. 463) The skills the adolescents are learning can help them as the proceed forward in life. They can use these goals in school. in order to get into the college, they want, and to fight for the job they deserve. The children are being benefited in so many areas that it would just be detrimental to the child overall if we did not give them a place that gives them opportunities to learn and improve.


With every plan there are some concerns and limitations without farther research to be done. One area that that raises some concern is that there is no hundred percent guarantee that every child will be positively impacted by the experiences on these sports teams. We cannot guarantee that all of the children on the team will be friendly towards the other children which can lead for some of the children to have a negative experience on one of the recreational center’s sports teams. Another concern that can be raised is the issue of money. If we are giving these children the opportunity to play on a team when they cannot afford a league that must be paid for, then we cannot charge them just like the other leagues. We would have to find other outlets, such as sponsors or fundraisers, where we would be able to obtain money in order to maintain the recreational center. In a non-profit such as a recreational center for children it is highly unlikely that the coaches would receive payment for the work they put in for these children. With the coaches not being paid it may be hard to ensure that we get the best coaches, because we may not be able to offer monetary reward for the hard work they put in.


Although there are some concerns for building a recreational center, there are so many benefits for the children that it would be worth taking the risks. While the looking glass self is an important reason for the recreational center to be accepted and put in effect, it is not the only reason for the center to be built. There are so many benefits for the children when they are involved in athletics. The recreational center provides a place for all children to go in order to develop an athletic identity and develop their looking glass selves. The looking glass self can be strongly affected by participation in athletics. With a positive impact the looking glass self can be a positive person who views them self in the best way and acts accordingly, but with a negative impact they can begin to view themselves as worthless and begin acting in a way that may not be beneficial to them as the develop. Athletics can become such a big part in someone’s life and it can help them develop into successful people who can lead future generations to want to be just like them. The more children that can be affected positively by athletics then the more chances we have for the possibility of turning the adolescent athletes into successful, influential athletes. These children can become the ones experiencing the feelings of hitting a home run in the 10 inning of a game, or blocking the other team’s best hitter when the score is 24-23.


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The Looking Glass Self Theory and the Benefits of Building a Recreational Center for Children. (2023, May 24). Retrieved from

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