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Participation in Youth Sports

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December 10, 2014

Benefits to Youth Participation in Sports
The majority of people begin to worry about their health in their middle ages. It’s at that time in our lives when people close to us are more likely to come down with a particular disease or a condition such as high blood pressure. Some of these are genetic but some are thought to be the result of a poor lifestyle. Therefore, developing good eating habits and a regular exercise routine as a young adult, can help carry those good habits into adulthood. One of the easiest ways to develop good habits at a young age is to participate in youth sports. Participation in youth sports results in a healthier adult lifestyle as it gets you used to eating healthy and exercising, forms good daily habits and despite some negative risks, has positive psychological and social benefits that you take into adulthood.
Throughout youth sports its encouraged to eat right, hydrate and exercise. Some youth even see a personal trainer to assist with strength and flexibility. Some coaches even require that their team participate in specialized training. Therefore, doing these things either on a daily basis or at least a few times per week will result in forming good habits. “A habit is a practice that you engage in on a regular basis” (Clarke; livestrong.com). Developing healthy habits lays the foundation for routine and also has a big impact on emotional fitness. It allows for good mental health and a restful sleep, which helps avoid depression (Clarke; livestrong.com)
I, myself have witnessed this first hand. My daughter Elyse is thirteen and has been playing traveling softball since the age of eight. As she has gotten older she has fallen in love with the sport. Currently her goal is to play softball at the collegiate level. One of her major areas of focus is her health. She has great healthy eating habits and even asked me to sign her up with a personal trainer. She focuses on her strength, flexibility and agility. Since she is so focused on her health she keeps the entire family on track by encouraging me to make healthy meal choices and join her in exercising.
Youth sports is also known to motivate youth to get better grades, set goals and have greater confidence and more self-esteem (truesport.org). I can recall walking through a local high school at the end of the day and being amazed at the youth athletes sitting on the floor doing their schoolwork. Some high school coaches have now decided to implement mandatory study halls. I’ve also been at numerous graduation ceremonies where the majority of athletes were in the top graduating percentages of their classes. It’s also said that participation in youth sports does something chemically to the brain. Research by the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute 52 showed that exercise caused short term relaxation, improved concentration, better creativity and memory, improved mood and enhanced problem solving (truesport.org).
My daughter Elyse is entirely motivated by softball. She knows that school has to come first and therefore, she makes her schoolwork her first priority. She gets straight A’s and challenges herself with high academic classes. She has a lot of friends and has a very high sense of self value. Softball can consume a lot of her time so the boys have taken a back seat. As a result, I’ve gotten to see how her love for softball has helped her put her priorities in order.
These are some examples that show why participation in youth sports results in a heathier adult lifestyle. It clearly encourages healthy eating and good exercise habits. It helps youth get a full night sleep, helps them have improved concentration, set goals and increases their problem solving ability. These habits along with them having fun, meeting friends and having more self-confidence all result in an overall healthier lifestyle that is then taken into adulthood.
Not everyone would agree that participation in youth sports is a positive thing. Many critics state that youth sports results in too many bodily injuries and has a negative affect both mentally and emotionally. It’s also mentioned that participation in youth sports tends to put too much pressure on kids and therefore, results in extra stress and anxiety. Some critics also mention that we put too much emphasis on winning and that we are trying to identify talent too young (changingthegameproject.com).
Statistics on youth sports state that there were approximately 120 sports related deaths of young athletes in 2008-2009 (play.org). The National Athletic Trainer’s Association reports 50 fatalities due to sports injuries in young athletes in 2010 (Merkel; ncbi.gov). As a result there are some serious concerns with the risks involved in playing youth sports. Although for some it could be that the child was simply too young for the sport they were participating in. One example could be my eleven year old son Niko. Niko is very tall and skinny for his age. As a result, Niko wasn’t physically ready to play tackle football. Since I didn’t want to discourage him I said yes and immediately regretted that decision. In the second game of the season he was tackled and dislocated his knee. When the doctor was ready to release him to play, he no longer wanted to. Niko was too young mentally and physically for that type of sport.
I also think that in the early years the focus should be on having fun while learning the fundamentals of the game. Any type of competitive mode should come much later in the game. Some of that is because they’re not emotionally ready but also because their bones haven’t even developed yet. It was stated that with 2.6 million emergency room visits each year for kids ages 5-24, most were due because of their slowly growing muscles and under-grown growth plates (Merkel; ncbi.org). Therefore, confirming that participation during the early years should be taken easy and made to be fun.
Some critics would also state that there’s both a negative mental and emotional side to participating in youth sports. Some state that there’s too much emotional stress caused by youth sports but what about those that strive from that stress. Critics state that things such as hard coaching and favoritism can have a negative emotional impact on youth (changingthegameproject.com). There’s also a lot of negative on selecting All-Star teams and having to cut players, although some would argue and state that it builds character and makes a child try harder next time.
Participation in youth sports isn’t always easy. Depending on what level of talent a child has it can create negative feelings such as jealousy or anger. Sports can also result in a child being popular at a young age or hanging out with kids older than them. Therefore, it’s important for parents to continue to keep those lines of communication open and it’s also important to remind your child that sports should be fun. Parents need to remember that playing sports should remain the decision of the child and not be made by them. Should a child decide that they no longer want to play the sport, they should be encouraged and embraced to embark on something else.
I’ve been told by numerous people that my daughter has been blessed with a special talent. Just last month she was recruited by an organization that signs 80% of their players to Division 1 college programs. However, along with some talent also comes some jealousy. Therefore, Elyse has learned at a young age that not everyone is going to be happy for her and although some critics would say that’s a negative, I think that’s a valuable life lesson.
Despite some of the negative risks involved in youth sports it has a tremendous social benefit to our youth and our communities. Since nearly 45 million children and adolescents participate in youth sports it’s a huge tradition in our society (Merkel; ncbi.gov). As a result, it’s important to ensure that youth are being mostly positively affected. Along with the physical aspects it’s important that they are being emotionally stimulated. Data from the Centers for Disease Control 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey demonstrated that frequent vigorous activity reduces the risk of feelings of hopelessness and suicidal tendencies in both male and female. (Merkel; ncbi.gov). With all of the social stress on our youth today, this is a huge social benefit to playing sports.
Playing sports also increases ones self-esteem and therefore increases the opportunity for them to set goals and have stronger relationships with their peers. They develop friendships early in life and learn about teamwork. They love to participate in team bonding experiences and enjoy spending time with peers who have the same things in common with them. They also learn to value their teammates while they are being taught that everyone is valuable. There is also good discipline and rules in which everyone needs to follow and most coaches demand good sportsmanship and grades.
One of the major things I think we can do to support the fear of our youth getting physically and emotionally hurt, is to mandate all youth developed programs have specific guidelines. These guidelines should come down from the federal level. Some of the guidelines should include that the programs follow certain mandatory rules and regulations, and mandatory trainings. Coaches should have to be trained on current concussion laws and on first aid. Coaches should also have to remain updated regarding current psychological and social issues surrounding youth sports. I believe that this would help soothe some of the individuals who have a negative spin towards youth sports. If would also ensure that all youth were cleared to play and that all sports programs had safety measures in place which could help reduce those safety concerns.
In conclusion, it’s stated that an effective youth program emphasizes three main components; (a) personal or life skills development; (b) positive adult, peer, and community relationships, and (c) psychological climate focused on learning, mastery, and autonomy support (President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports 2009). Since participation in youth sports emphasizes all of those characters it therefore, remains an effective youth program. It’s still a fantastic way to develop healthy eating habits with our youth, which builds the foundation for them to bring into adulthood. Youth sports does have some negative risks, however with the right programs in place those risks can be minimized and parents can feel as though their children’s coaches are more educated. Participation in youth sports does results in a healthier adult lifestyle and has a tremendous amount of positive social benefits that our youth need for their future.

Works Cited
Clarke, Nancy. “Why is a Healthy Lifestyle Important for Youth?” Livestrong.com” Web. 21 October 2013.
Ph.D. Lauer, Larry. “Keeping Perspective in Youth Sport.” Association for Applied Sport Psychology” Web. 2013.
Merkel, Donna L. “Youth sport: positive and negative impact on young athletes.” “US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health” Web. 31 May 2013.
President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports. “Promoting Positive Youth Development Through Physical Activity”. Research Digest: Series 10, No. 3, Web September
Sullivan, John. “Our Unhealthy Obsession with Childhood Athletic Achievement.” Changing the Game Project.” Web. 2014.

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