Many children today enjoy various types of sports. Participation in youth sports has steadily been on the rise. Millions of children across the country take part in one or more youth sports throughout the year. It is not unheard of for children as young as four or five years old to be participating in youth sports. But is youth participation in these sports destructive or beneficial towards children? And at what level of sport intensity may this participation be destructive or beneficial? Something that is beneficial causes a good result and is advantageous. While something that is destructive causes much damage. Youth participation in sports can be defined in a numerous amount of ways.
This participation can include something as intense as contact football to something as relaxing as fishing. Some believe that children should start as soon as they are able to walk, while others believe that sports should begin in high school when a child is almost finished with their physical and emotional development. There is plenty of controversy over this trending issue. But which side is correct. There are many explanations that support each side of this heated debate.
Children today are interested in sport participation because they want to have fun, improve their physical skills, and make new friends (Metzl). While some children may receive these factors as a result of sport involvement, they may also be obtaining some negative factors as well. It has been proven over thousands of years that children do not always know what is best for their physical and mental well-being. Thus, leaving the responsibility on the guardians of the children.
Some parents may think that by putting their children into sports at a young age they are benefitting them by teaching them valuable life lessons that, they believe, could not be taught elsewhere or through a different organization or activity. These parents may believe that they fully understand the importance of intense physically activity. They may argue that sport involvement for a child is beneficial because studies show that it can help build better social skills, self-esteem, and study motivation that help them do better in the classroom. Parents may also want their children to be involved in sports because they understand that, especially in America, obesity is a rapidly growing problem.
People who are overweight or obese are more likely to have health problem (“Women’s and Children’s Health Network”). Another reason that these parents may want their children to participate in sports is because studies have shown that children and young people who play and enjoy sports are less likely to partake in anti-social activities (“Women’s and Children’s Health Network”). Sport participation has also shown psychologists that by being a part of a sporting organization or group, children are less likely to get into trouble. This has been backed up by many factors. The first being the amount of time required to participate in most demanding sports.
Another factor that youth participation in sports helps children stay out of trouble is by raising their confidence levels. Children involved in sports have been said to develop the ability to make decisions on and off the field or court. Involvement may also help children better accept responsibilities. Both of these factors can potentially take a part in the way that deviant children lash out in destructive manners. These deviant children try to stay away from the norm, while sporting organizations try to make their participants conform to. The children may also try obtaining the necessary attention that a child might otherwise receive in a sporting organization.
On the contrary, there are some other parents that believe that sport involvement at a young age is nothing less than destructive, not only physically, but mentally as well. These parents believe that sport involvement is destructive physically because of the apparent injuries they see every day as a result of various sports. In severe cases, injuries can affect their children for the rest of their lives. Early participation in sports can also lead to what specialists call burn-outs in children. Burn-outs can be defined as fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity (“burn-out”). Overtraining may cause this burn-out to occur.
Overtraining is the state where the athlete has been repeatedly stressed by training to the point where rest is no longer adequate to allow for recovery. Some sports, unfortunately, concentrate more on the conditioning aspect of the game than the actual playing and enjoyment that is the initial reason for the sports. The “overtraining syndrome” is the name given to the collection of emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms due to overtraining that has persisted for weeks to months. This is common in conditioned athletes.
So does the above information about youth sport involvement fall under the definition of beneficial or destructive? Does sport participation for children help them develop life skills necessary for every aspect of their futures? Or will that involvement halt their ambitions? All of these questions come into play when discussing what is best, from a parent’s standpoint, when it comes to deciding their child’s destiny. Youth participation in sports has been around since ancient times, beginning in Ancient Greece in 776 B.C., where they would train all of their men at a very young age to perform in the Olympic games, as well as the Corinthian Isthmian games.
Here, the first track and field competition was held. Of course, these games served as good training for the army, because all these men would be soldiers. The young men also participated in games that were not a part of the Olympic games, like field hockey. The development of modern sports is tied very much to the history of the industrial revolution and the creation of public schools, where they sought to incorporate physical activity in the curriculum.
Many Spartan boys as young as six-years-old [were] forced to leave their families to live among other young boys under the tough, if not brutal, leadership roles, enduring horrible beatings, starvation, and endless drills (Poliakoff 207). They endured all of this overtraining just in the aspirations of being the best in their particular sporting event. Or course the young boys were socially conformed by their society into thinking that this behavior was the norm, that this kind of treatment was acceptable. Many people use examples like these today to show the wrongful doings of the teachings of some coaches. Many coaches push their athletes too hard. Some people believe that because of this children become exhausted, stressed, and are more susceptible to inadequate nutrition. The development of organized sports in the United States has had an interesting history.
There was a minimal amount of organized athletics in communities in the early years of the United States and none in the schools until near the middle of the nineteenth century. Very little is known about the early history of sport development in the United States, although most agree on the historical evolution of the major American sports that were developed in the eighteenth century. However, as the nation modernized, sports became highly organized with formalized rules and national competition. In the 1890s, the YMCA first began offering the opportunity for young men to compete against each other. The founding of New York City’s Public School Athletic League in 1903 ushered in the explosion of organized sports participation in the first half of the 20th century(Koester). Professional sports like baseball, basketball, football, and hockey have become massive industries and the economic center of many cities.
Sports initially started with participation in adults through the sport of baseball and slowly made its way to the collegiate, high school, and youth levels through different sports such as basketball, football, soccer, etc. Today, sports are a big part of growing up in the United States for many children since these sports are so prominent in those youth leagues, high schools, and colleges. As youth sports started to grow throughout the United States, there became a need for a more organized system. The Amateur Athletic Union is currently one of the largest non-profit volunteer sports organizations in the United States, founded in 1888 by William Buckingham Curtis. It is dedicated to the promotion and development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs. At the beginning of the twentieth century, agencies and schools provided sport opportunities as a means of providing wholesome leisure time activities for children and youth.
Prior to 1954, most of these experiences occurred in Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, YWCAs, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts As the Little Leagues Baseball began to emerge in 1954, sports for youth moved from social agencies and activities organized by youth themselves, to adult-organized sport programs. In the early twenty-first century, schools have organized teams primarily for the “athletically elite”. This is one of the many reasons why sport participation in youth has become such a controversy. Some believe that by having teams only for the “athletically elite”, the organizations are excluding the majority of the population. Some parents and other bystanders believe that the opportunities for youth to engage in sports remain unequal across genders, social class, and athletic ability.
Another reason for interest in youth sport participation is the progression of the obesity rate in the United States. Children of today’s generation are becoming more [stationary] compared to children of past generations (Ellis). In 2010 the Centers for Disease and Prevention said that childhood obesity in the United States had more than tripled in the previous 30 years. A leading cause of youth obesity is inactivity, this gives youth sports an important role to play in the fight against obesity. This is a reason that some parents might very well want their children in sports, while others agree that there are other efficient ways to obtain a healthy lifestyle with the absence of sports.
Under the correct conditions, participation in organized sports may help children develop lifelong skills that will aid them in not just athletics, but in the real world as well. Youth participation has many benefits that have been tested by doctors and psychologists to prove accurate. Activity participation has been positively linked to academic outcomes, including grades, test scores, school engagement, and educational aspirations. Youth sport involvement has also been linked to high self-esteem and lower depression rates in its participants. And leading up, high school activity participation also predicts a higher likelihood of college attendance.
Finally, extracurricular involvement is associated with lower dropout rates and is linked to reduced problem behavior in areas such as delinquency and substance use. “Younger children start sports for many reasons. When asked why, they respond in the following ways: to have fun, to improve and learn new skills, to make and be with friends, and to become physically fit” (Metzl). When children enroll in sports, they are signing up for more than a jersey and new friends. They are signing up for an experience that will help shape their individuality for the better throughout their entire life. For example, through sport participation children learn the importance of teamwork. Children who play organized sports soon learn to think about the group as a whole and measure team success before personal achievement.
Teamwork is a quality that will help children throughout their lives if taught at a young age. As a result of this teaching other lessons will inevitably follow. People who can effectively exhibit the quality of teamwork may also obtain high levels of loyalty and social skills. Social skills are imperative to a child’s development because they give children an advantage to get along well with others and obtain beneficial peer groups. Most adults use teamwork every day in the work field by encouraging communication between employees, setting increasingly challenging goals for the “team” (aka employee staff), and lastly by organizing team building activities outside of the regular work environment.
This social development as a young person is helping her/him prepare for their careers in the future. Another life lesson that is taught through the participation of youth sports is that of overcoming obstacles. Getting through the daily grind of training, competing, and continually shaping skills and performance teaches athletes a great deal about never giving up easily in anything that they encounter. Life inevitably throws some curve balls that are expected to be dealt with.
Whether the obstacles are an injury, questionable coaching, difficult teammates, or some bad calls from referees, they must be dealt with in a calm and collective manner. Youth sport participation gives children minor obstacles that will help them to overcome the major life obstacles later on in their lives. Overcoming obstacles is not easy, and often not fun, but fortunately it is loaded with life lessons. “Physically active children are not only improving their health, they are also decreasing the chance that they will get into trouble, states research out of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill” (Physically). The study found that “teens who participate in a wide variety of physical activities are at decreased risk for drinking, abusing drugs, violent behavior, smoking, having sex, and delinquency compared to those who watch television excessively” (Physically).
A test done by Michael E. Trulson in 1986 matched 34 delinquent teenage boys based on age, socioeconomic background, and test scores based on aggression and personality adjustment and then divided the youth into three groups. One group received traditional Tae Kwon Do training, which combined philosophical reflection, meditation, and physical practice of the martial arts techniques. The second group received “modern” martial arts training, emphasizing only fighting and self-defense techniques. The third group ran and played basketball and football. These groups met for one hour three times a week for six months. Results revealed that members of the Tae Kwon Do group were classified as normal rather than delinquent, scored below normal on aggression and exhibited less anxiety, increased their self-esteem, and improved social skills.
The modern martial arts group scored higher on delinquency and aggression and was less well-adjusted than when the experiment began. The traditional sports showed little change on delinquency and personality measures, but their self-esteem and social skills improved. The findings support the notion that whatever advantages or liabilities are associated with sport involvement, they do not come from the sport per se, but from the particular blend of social interactions and physical activities that comprise the totality of the sport experience (Seefeldt, and Ewing). With the numerous benefits that come with youth sport participation, there are a few disadvantages, one being the injuries aspect of the activities.
The most common sport-related injuries are muscle, ligament, and tendon injuries (sprains and strains), growth plate injuries, repetitive motion injuries (stress fractures), and heat-related injuries. One could use this idea as a rebuttal to the benefits to youth sports and he/she would be right, if and only if, the appropriate precautions are not set in place. Accidents may happen, but there are many ways that athletes, coaches, and parents can help prevent injuries. Getting regular check-ups is a great example of this. Many teams require a check-up to be made before one can participate in the activity. Check-ups can help identify physical areas of concern.
Another way that a parent or guardian can help prevent injuries is by making sure that his/her child has all the safety gear is needed for the particular sport. This may include mouth guards, pads, and braces. A way that a coach and an athlete can prevent injuries on the field and/or court is by keeping the athlete in shape. Proper conditioning helps prevent overuse injuries. Lastly, a parent should always choose the right team, program, and coach wisely. The program should have policies and procedures in place to minimize risks to athletes. Coaches need to know how to use safety equipment and make sure the players use it every time, while always keeping a first aid kit handy.
“Another negative issue concerning youth sport participation is the risk of an early burnout for children” (Mack). A “burnout” is a stress reaction that results from overtraining and an environment that tells children to “play at all costs”. This is another point that can be avoided by the attentiveness of the adult parent figure in the child’s life. Competitive sports may be too stressful for children sometimes. With the right program precautions and coaches knowledge this issue can be easily averted. Parents that pressure their children into being the best overall are the reason that this is a part of the controversy. The parent’s ignorance can have an extremely negative effect when it comes to something as potentially detrimental as youth sports. However, the overtraining is not apparent in knowledgeable programs, making this aspect a very weak idea in the debate.
Are the benefits of sports unique? Can you find some of these benefits through other sources? Yes. Can you find all of these benefits through another source? Absolutely not. Many compare the arts and sports, arguing that the arts produce many of the same benefits as sports and they would be correct. Although there are many aspects that one can only obtain through the experience of being a part of a physically active team-bonding program. Sports entail all elements of human life-physical, emotional, and cognitive, social-but in a simplified, orderly form. Sports boil life down to competition governed by agreed-upon rules. The opponents are known; the goals are clear.
Athletes practice the skills necessary to excel and gain a sense of control and mastery. Sports are a public performance, which fosters a sense of community among people, participants as well as spectators, who would otherwise be strangers. At their best, they produce a sense of exhilaration. The arts are the other significant leisure activity that distills life down to simpler forms. The arts simplify life by selecting and arranging certain elements to create a unified, expressive whole.
They too are intended for an audience. The performing arts, dance in particular, have much in common with sports: they take place outside of everyday life, the activities are physical and demand practice, and performance can produce exhilaration and a sense of community (Metzl). However, the difference between the two is imperative to the argument. Sports require more of a spontaneous response, while the arts, like dance, are choreographed; the dancers know what they are to do at every moment. A game has set plays that give the athletes an idea of what could happen, but the actions of their opponents are unknown leaving the children to make impulsive decisions at a moment’s notice that they may not have had planned in their heads. “This combination of total human exertion with an environment that balances control, spontaneity, and uncertainty leads to the unique excitement and satisfaction of sports, for both the athletes and spectators” (Metzl).
Youth sports may have some downfalls that come with it, but if one were to look at the benefits vs. the negative aspects one would see that the benefits definitely over-rule the avoidable negatives. Youth sport participation is definitely something that should be sought by every individual. The activities can help develop an individual physically, emotionally, and mentally, by teaching life lessons that could not be taught elsewhere through a routine performance. The activities have also been tested to see how participation affects delinquency in young people, and have been shown beneficial as well. There are many aspects of youth sport participation that are constructive, if and only if, the athletes, parents, and coaches are willing to set forth the effort to enforce and follow certain rules and regulations to make the games as safe as humanly possible.
Youth sport participation is beneficial but only if first the adult guardian begins participation at the correct age. Children under eight years old should have the freedom to play, explore, and learn new skills of throwing and catching, kicking and hitting a ball, jumping, running, and swimming in an enjoyable way. It is having these skills that enables them to confidently, and freely, move on to the next step. “Depending on their individual development eight to ten year olds can join in organized competition that is adapted to meet the children’s developing needs”(“Parenting”).
During this age period is when the children can try lots of different sports to see what they enjoy most. It is in these age group sports that the particular sport should be portrayed as fun, as if winning and losing do not exist. At the ages of eleven to twelve children can begin to enjoy competition, while still learning new skills. The athletes begin to learn about how to behave when playing and, most importantly, when winning or losing. Sports at this age may involve trips away with a team. This teaches them a sense of independence and self-reliance, which also gives them the opportunity to develop team leadership skills.
Another point to consider when deciding if a child should participate in youth sports is the views of the coach who will be mentoring the young athlete. On average, a competitive sports team practices about two to three times a week. That is two to three times a week that the athlete is with a coach, and if that coach is not teaching the appropriate skills the athlete may potentially suffer mentally and physically. A coach can overdo a few factors, the first falling under the mental category. Some coaches feel that it is important to instill a “win at all costs” mentality, leaving failure unacceptable. This mentality can permanently scar the athlete. It can do this because if the athlete has a bad game and lost, his/her self—esteem may decrease leaving him/her uninterested in the game all together. Another mistake that coaches make is overtraining.
Some coaches begin conditioning their athletes too hard, too soon. Once an athlete has reached a certain age and a certain potential some extreme conditioning may be needed to be put into play for the benefit of that athlete’s athletic future. But as a young child, one should not have to endure the long hours of a hard practice when one should be there to better the basics of their particular sport and to have a good time. This overtraining can lead to an early burnout that will leave children uninterested in their sport in the long run. Also without the proper amount of safety precautions, overtraining can also lead to physical injuries.
“Moderation is, as the Greeks pointed out, the key to success” (Metzl). Lastly, some coaches do not realize that all children are different. Some children may come from different backgrounds. There will be rich children and poor children, brilliant kids and those who aren’t as quick to catch on, and athletically gifted students and those that have never laced up a pair of cleats. A good coach will be sensitive to how each child responds to instruction and make the necessary adjustments in order to reach every child on the team. Youth sports’ coaching is all about teaching each child to genuinely love being active, while building core values. These are some of the reasons why it is important to be aware of who is teaching today’s young athletes.
The last point is very important; there needs to be a strong influence at home towards participation. Whether a parent’s end goal is to turn their child into a professional athlete or just to be over-excited parents, it is important for parents to be aware of the role they play in their child’s participation. Parents can help get their children involved in sports, but it is important that these parents know how to do this the right way. There are many ways to accomplish this, one way is for the parents to not just dump the child off at, what can be, an uncomfortable practice, but taking the time to play with them at home.
For example: instead of simply leaving a child at the local YMCA to learn better basketball techniques where the child may feel uncomfortable, the parent should also try to play a fun game of “knock-out” or “H.O.R.S.E.” with the child to make the game more fun than it would be isolated in the YMCA courts. Children are more likely to try to imitate the adult if the adult looks as if he/she is having a good time while doing the activity. Also parents should try to do to keep their child interested in sports participation is by never criticizing the child for his/her mistakes. The parents should also try to help their child realize that everyone makes mistakes, and that mistakes are to learn from. By doing this the parent is aiding the child’s development of self-confidence. The self-confidence that is going to fuel their abilities, making the child obtain a want to continue developing those physical skills.
Another thing that parents can do to support a sport activity is to explain to their child that winning does not simply mean coming first or being the best. The child needs to realize at a young age that achieving his/her personal best or performing a skill for the first time is just as important as winning. The parent should encourage the child as if he/she has won. There are many things that can make youth sport participation a negative idea if the proper amounts of precautions are not practiced. This is why it is important for the young child’s guardian to not be ignorant of the facts. Every parent should know and understand the facts underlying the controversy behind youth sport participation. If they do not, today’s generation of young people may continue to end up in hospitals with physical injuries or not in a sport at all, which can potentially lead the child to an obesity problem. But if the proper aspects are practiced, the experience of an athlete’s participation can be enough to last them a life time where the sky is the limit.
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Poliakoff, Michael. Combat sports in the ancient world: competition, violence, and culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. 207. Web. <http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=e2EyPI8X8FMC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=ancient youth sport&ots=VE_ucEZY_K&sig=P7OGFwRm86r3kLhvZtw1oiIVCh4 Seefeldt, Vern, and Martha Ewing. “Role of Organized Sport in the Education and Health Pennington 16
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