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The Benefits and Risks of Youth Sports

Introduction

In the last two decades the growth of youth sports has brought out the popularity of professional sports in our society. The sporting events and news are available to the public twenty-four hours a day on televisions and radios: sports are an enormous industry. The outstanding popularity of the sports industry has profoundly affected the youth sports organizations. An estimated twenty-five million children between the age of six and eighteen participate in at least one school or community based sports program. These numbers increases exponentially as the age of youths entering sports keeps falling. In order to supervise, teach and manage these sports, about 2.5 million coaches spend an average of eighty hours a season with the youths. The majority of these coaches volunteer for programs organized by communities, and recreational facilities. Without a national agency that coordinates sports programs, there exist variations in the manner in which sponsoring agencies organize their teams, thus leaving a lot of opportunity for too much parental and coach control. In America, the Agencies have quickly moved youth from unstructured sports to highly organized competition. This paper describes various benefits that the youths gain from sports and also the risks that are associated with the youth sports.

Benefits of Sports to Youths

Building life skills and positive values

Sport and physical activity programs are widely believed to be powerful vehicles for teaching the youth social and life skills and acquiring positive attitudes, values and morals.  Adolescence marks a departure from the egocentricity of childhood, as youth develop a greater ability to put themselves in another’s position. This improved ability to empathize enables youth to display and assume responsibility for behavior that reflects social awareness and has a moral and ethical dimension. There is some evidence to suggest that sports can promote a broad spectrum of life skills and values that build on this capacity including team-building skills, decision-making skills, sense of community, self-esteem, personal responsibility and improved inclination for educational achievement. Participation in sport provides youth with opportunities to gain confidence from skill development and caring relations with peers, coaches and program staff. These activities foster a sense of belonging, establish supportive social networks, and provide young people with routines and structure in their lives (Larson  R. 2000).

Sports fosters active citizenship

The sense of connectedness to others and the need to be a part of a broader community is one key characteristic that emerge to youths. During childhood, the social relationships rotate around the family members and after the individuals become aware that they belong to wider community. Their sense of belonging to a community is then expressed by becoming involved socially. Sports can therefore play an important role in enabling youth to develop these social networks and predisposing youths to greater civic involvement. The research shows that people who participated in organized sports as children were more likely to have performed volunteer work and participated in student government as children compared to those who did not participate in any sports activities. In developing nations, sport can be a means for youth to acquire the sport and leadership skills to become coaches for their younger peers and the youths may go to an extent of participating in community leadership.

Preventing and addressing youth delinquency and crime

Many youth live in situations where they are exposed to risk of involvement in delinquency and crime. Lack of companionship, support and social interaction with family and peers, poor school performance or non-attendance, and the absence of caring adult guidance can all contribute to the choice to engage in criminal behavior. In the case of youths living in extreme poverty or armed conflict situations, lack of an alternative means of survival may be the primary driver. There is considerable evidence to suggest that the youths who participate in sports are less likely than non-participants to engage in delinquent and criminal behavior. The youths who are active in sport have reduced rates of criminal arrest and anti-social behaviors. The sports programs use different approaches to divert youths from crime through offering an attractive and positive activities for young people, building resilience in young people so that they can better resist pressure to take part in harmful behavior, increasing youths people’s self-esteem and organizational and social skills and providing positive role models through the coaches and local organizers leading the activities.

Helping children and youth recover from trauma

Sport is used to alleviate trauma caused by the armed conflict and natural disasters. Sports are culturally intrinsic and naturally occurring activities that help stabilize youths and communities in the aftermath of such events. The research indicates that sports activities access and activates an innate resilience that helps in protecting, strengthening, and healing people in the times of extreme stresses. Introducing sports activities helps to normalize a youths’ existence by restoring structured activity to their lives, giving them a sense of safety and stability, and re-establishing supportive social networks. Sports also offer children ways to express and resolve the issues arising from the trauma they have experienced, issues they may not have the capacity to otherwise address.

Restoring physical education

Growing concerns about youth obesity have many governments examining their policies on sports activities in schools. Sports have suffered cutbacks in quantity and many countries. Some experts believe that the youths today are less likely to receive regular, sports education than they were some years ago. Research suggests that sports play an important role in school life. During the years of youth, and development sports provides an appropriate context for achievement and the realization of potential. It helps to raise standards, improve health, increase attendance, and develop social skills. There is some evidence to suggest that can be an effective means to increase the number of children enrolled in school and boost retention rates (Worid Bank. 2003).

Builds Strong Relationships

Participation in youth sports provides opportunities for kids to build very strong friendships with their peers and mentoring relationships with their coaches. The young athletes benefit from working together to reach their various set goals. Players learn how to put their teams before their individual interests, which develops quality of selflessness. The teams of the athletes do not always get along perfectly, and putting aside differences to play effectively together is another important lesson to be used throughout the life (Hodge K. 1989).
The relationships between the players and their coaches can be powerful. Players look to coaches for guidance both on and off the field, seeking advice on how to improve their performance as well as excelling in school. The players trust their coaches, and the coaches serve as the role models and counselors for the players.

Fostering academic achievement

Research on the impact of school-based physical education and sports activity has yielded different answers to the question of whether incorporating physical education and sports into the school day improves children’s academic performance. The first study of this issue was launched in 1951 in France. By 1960, it was found that, when academic time was reduced and physical education increased to one third of the normal timetable, the academic performance, discipline, fitness, and health of the students in the experimental group were better compared to the children on traditional schedules.  A six-year study in Canada also came up with the same results. The researchers can say that the reasonable time spent in physical activity does not hinder the academic performance and, under certain conditions, may improve it. We do know that in the short term sporting leads to a relaxation state, which lasts up to two hours. This is followed by improved concentration, enhanced creativity and memory, better task performance and improved mood state. Longer-term benefits of regular sports activities include increased self-confidence and self-image, reduced aggression and decreased anxiety and depression. In a school environment, these benefits are believed to help create an environment that is more conducive to learning, and greater readiness to learn on the part of individual children. Sport enhances employability to youths through the acquisition of transferable life skills, by providing opportunities for young people to develop transferable life skills and important characteristics such as leadership, social and moral character, commitment to teamwork, problem-solving, and organizational ability. Also the sports help the youths to realize their potential as productive employees and citizens (Hellison, D & Walsh, X. 2002).

The knowledge, health, and physical abilities developed through appropriate sport experiences can benefit participants by improving their chances of being employed, raising their level of income, and making them more optimistic and willing to volunteer in the community. This view gets reinforcement by the International Labor Organization, which analyzed the overlap between life skills gained through sport participation and skills identified by labor market research as important to employers in diverse nations.

Personal Development

The senses of achievement a youth feels when she/he dedicates time and effort into improving her own ability in sports can significantly improve her/his self-esteem. The ability to self-motivate is another essential development to the persistence required to continue when her/his team loses or when she/he does not perform to the best of her ability. A secondary consequence of dedication and improved power is the need to show leadership. Young people will be required to show their leadership skills in a variety of situations such as organizing practice sessions, encouraging team-mates who make a mistake, dealing with defeat and discussing decisions with referees or umpires and being the direct link between coach and team-mates during a match (Marie F. 2003).

Social Interaction

On a basic level involvement in sport keeps the youths busy and out of trouble. The competition element of sport teaches them how they should cope with the highs of winning and the disappointments of losing. Shaking hands with his competitor after a match teaches a young person to respect those around him, regardless of whether he is a winner or a looser.
Researchers have found that the skills gained solely through social interaction can have tremendous effect on young people. For instance they have listed three main effects i.e. the opportunity to spend time and associate with others, the use of best methods to solve conflict and improved communication skills. The youths may not become part of a successful team, but the communication skills they learn and the experiences they share with those around them can lead to some long lasting personal friendships (Houlihan B. 2002).

The Risks of Youth Sports

Young people who play organized sports get many benefits such as learning the importance of teamwork. However, participating in sports is not always beneficial. It is always associated with the following risks.

Injury

Injury is the common documented disadvantage or risk to the youths who participate in different sports. Playing sports can be sometimes dangerous. A basketball player can go up for a rebound, fall and injure the back, knee or ankles. Football players may be at risk to concussions and broken bones (John D  and Maffulli. 2005). Baseball players can get injured if they get hit with a ball or take a hard fall while chasing down the ball. While injuries will happen at all level of sports, athletes are supposed to have a preseason health check to make sure they are healthy to start. According to data collected by the National Center for Sports Safety, more than 3 million youths are injured when participating in sports each year. The most traditional sports are associated with the highest injury rates. According to NCSS reports, football leads with thirty percent of football players getting injured over one season course. Baseball then follows with about 25 percent injury rate, basketball players at 15 percent and softball with about twenty percent (Kordi R ans Maffulli N. 2009)

Attitude

The attitudes of the young people who participate in team sports can be impacted negatively. This situation can be exacerbated by the youth’s parents if they make the child's performance in their chosen sport seem too important. If a young player performs extremely well, he/she might get an overinflated opinion of him/her and develop an attitude of self-importance. Parents who feed into this can make the situation worse by telling the youngster how great the young athlete is. On the other hand, a young person who struggles in his chosen sport may start to develop a negative self-image and feel that he/she is not worthy and has no value. Also, the parents who force a youth to perform can make the situation more badly (Smoll L and Smith R. 2002).

Sport Specialization

This means picking one sport and playing it exclusively throughout the year. While at some point the youths who want to maximize their ability in one sport would drop other sports, this trend happens at earlier ages. In their book the Foundations of Physical Education, Exercise Science and Sport, Deborah Wuest, a physical education professor at Ithaca College and Charles Bucher, who prior to his death was physical education professor at New York University, say that children are being moved to specialize at earlier and earlier ages, with negative effects. They say that the children should play many different sports that provide different challenges and develop different skills. Early specialization also prevents the youths from building skills and interests outside of one sport (Weust D. 2008).

Burnout and Dropout

Another youth sport risk is burnout and dropout. When the youths play sports from young age, there is a greater likelihood they will begin to lose enjoyment in that particular sport. Wuest D.  and Bucher say that youths who experience burnout from sports will be more likely to drop out of the sport before reaching the peak of their physical abilities. This means they do not benefit from the time spent playing their sport while growing up (Weust D. 2008). Burnout is a real risk for youth in any sport, and it's even more likely the sport becomes more of a chore than a game. And when a sport stops being fun for a youth, there's little chance of reigniting the fire that got him or her interested in the first place. Parents and coaches who obsess about the activity when the young athlete doesn't share that level of interest are simply building up resentment in the youth (Caine D, Harmer P and Schiff M. 2009).

 Unequal Access

Not all youths have equal access to sporting opportunities. Socioeconomic status can prevent some youths with interest in and ability for sports from the opportunity to participate (Smoll L and Edward R. 2002). This is especially true for the sports with greater focus on competitive clubs than interscholastic agency sponsored sports. Some of the youth sports are soccer, volleyball and swimming. The youths whose parents are not able to pay will be prevented from the opportunity to participate.

Over-emphasis on Winning

Putting too much emphasis on winning comes at the expense of the youths participating in sports. A report from the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports states how the focus on competition hurts the youths and children wanting to play sports. They characterize the youth sports in America as designed by the adults to mainly be concerned with winning and exclusionary preventing millions of youths or children from participating in sports of their choosing (Congressional record. 2010).

Time Commitment

Young people who are well-organized and can balance the demands of school, family, friends and other activities can usually slot sports into their lives without any trouble. But as the youth sports have become more sophisticated, such as year round training programs for high school students and national leagues that keep youths playing baseball, volleyball, football etc., for months ends the ability to juggle all this demands. For example, they might devote so much time to one sport that they never get the chance to experience other sports which they might enjoy more than others (Bowden R. 2009).

Drugs And Sports

As the use of performance enhancing drugs is becoming popular among athletes, many of them do not understand the risks involved in taking the drugs. Many people are looking for a quick way to build muscles, or to get stronger. Using these performance aids may very well be a quick fix for many athletes, but it is unethical and dangerous. Using special drugs to boost an athlete’s performance is degrading to sports and to the athlete. The human body can produces the same substances naturally, without taking the drugs, but people continue to use these supplements such as androstenedione. If the athlete is patient and works hard he can achieve the same goals that he would obtain using supplements. Athletes are trying to cheat using the unnatural shortcuts to gain their muscle instead of spending the long hours in the weight room. (Gatz M and Messner A. 2002).

Poor Coaching

Coaches are in a position to teach the youths about their sport and also influence them for the positive about other aspects of life. The abusive coaches should be avoided at all costs. Make sure the youth’s coach has an adult perspective and is not motivated to win at all the costs. The coach must always have the participant’s welfare at heart and not his own ego ( Hylton K. 2001).

Sports Violence

It's in the community parks, schools, recreation centers and violence in youth sports is a problem, not only to the local communities but all over the country.   The behavior of players, coaches and parents is troubling. The results can be dangerous, mentally and physically. The people get so emotional over the sports that youths participate in, i.e. the name calling, arguments, fights and bodily harm (Australian Bureau of Statistics. 1978)

The uncontrolled people in youth sports are a big problem. An astounding number of youths claim that they have been insulted, yelled at or called names during practices and sports events. This makes a big reason why many youths who play organized sports will quit playing them at earlier age. Adults often forget that youth sports are fun. The players make mistakes, teams don't always play well, and officials make unpopular calls. But the spectators and coaches sometimes get so angry that they yell at players, officials, and one another. Worse, others get violent. Many adults and kids have been injured at youth sports events.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In conclusion, a number of physical, psychological, and social benefits can be gained from the youth sports participation. However, the developmental benefits of youth sports are not always guaranteed through mere participation. The evidence shows that the quality of adult leadership is a key factor in maximizing positive effects.

The following are some of the recommendations that are vital for the youth sports regardless of the sport or the competitive level of the youth,

Emphasizing Fun

The first thing to remember is why the youths want to participate in sports. Research has found that one reason why youths participate in sport is to have fun. It is therefore important to encourage the youths to have fun and to enjoy their participation.

Maintaining the realistic expectations

We all want our youths to excel in every activity in which they engage. If a youth is not improving at the same rate as others, it is easy to blame poor coaching or lack of effort on the youth's part for the lower ability. However, it is much harder to be objective about the youth's ability. It could be that the other youths have been involved in sports for longer, that the youth is late maturing and will need more time to develop motor coordination and size, or maybe this is not the activity for the youth.

Supporting the Competitive Spirit

For many people think of competition is winning and therefore the youths should be encouraged to strive towards winning in their participation in sports.

Managing the Emotions

During any game, emotions can escalate to a point where spectators yell at an official, coach, or even worse, a youth. This yelling not only portrays poor sportsmanship on the part of the spectators, it can hurt the youths as well. Many youth sports teams should institute some rules where people who act inappropriately are banned from games or their children are pulled from the game. Additionally, recent media news has brought to the forefront the violence in youth sports involving parents. Therefore, it is very important that individuals learn to manage their emotions during different sports competitions.

Supporting Our Youths

Our youths need us to be there for him/her when good things and bad things happen in sports. Therefore, it is important that parents provide the relevant emotional support for their youths during sports. The youth has a coach to go to for skill improvement and strategy development but parents are often the key in providing emotional support for their youth. In fact, youths determine their self-worthiness and competence from the praise and criticism they receive from their parents, friends and coaches

Supporting the Coaches

Coaches have many responsibilities ranging from coaching the youths to maintaining the facility and organizing for competitions. Parents and other people can be a coach's greatest companion in making the youth sport experience a good one for all youths. Youth sport coaches look for volunteers to hand out programs, usher the youths to their events, keep score, etc. Coaches appreciate our help in organizing social activities for the youths. For instance, the parents can organize some dinners the night before competitions. This encourages the coaches and they are motivated to improve their services to the youths and the society at large.

References

Australian Berreau of Statistics. (1978). Official yearbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, Issue 62; Issue 1977. Aust. Bureau Of Statistics.

Bowden R. (2009). Chioldren and their families: The continuum of care. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Caine D, Harmer P and Schiff M. (2009). Epidemiology of injury in sports, volume 16. John Wiley and Sons.

Congressional record. (2010). Government printing Office.

Gatz M and Messner A. (2002). Paradoxes of youth and sport. SUNNY Press.

Hellison, D & Walsh, X. (2002). Responsibility-based youth programs evaluation: Investigating the investigations. Quest.

Hodge K. (1989). Character-building in sport: Fact or fiction? New Zealand Journal of Sports Medicine.

Houlihan B. (2002). The sports development: development of sport or development through sport? Routledge.

Hylton K. (2001). Sports development: policy, process, and practice. Roetledge.

John D  and Maffulli. (2005). Epidemiology of Pediatric Sports injuries: individual sports.            Dennis John Caine.

Kordi R ans Maffulli N. (2009). Compat Sports Medicine. 

Larson  R. (2000). Toward psychology of positive youth development, American Psychologist.

Marie F. (2003). Sports and education: a reference handbook. ABC-CLIO.

Press A and Rhoads J. (2009). The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the best youth sports experience for your child. Avaplay Press.

Smoll L and Edward R. (2002). Children and youth in sport: a biopsychosocial perspective. Kendal/Hunt Pub.

Smoll L and Smith R. (2002). Children and youth in sport: a biopsylchological perspective. Frank L. Smoll, Ronaid Smith.

Weust D.  (2008). Foundations of Physical Education, Exersice Science and Sport. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.

Worid Bank. (2003). Carribean youth development: issues and policy directions. World Bank Publications.

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