Potential Positives and Negatives of Youth Sport Participation
The Potential Positives
Structure: Participating in an organized sport adds structure and direction to physical activity, a key element for consistency. Kids are usually told when, where, and how often to practice, so the exercise is already scheduled for them. All they have to do is show up and play.
Learning “lifetime sport skills”: Research shows that competence in an activity promotes increased enjoyment and continued participation. The overriding goal of a child’s exercise program should be the development of exercise habits and skills that will carry into adulthood. Improved health and fitness should be viewed as an added benefit, not necessarily the ultimate goal.
Enjoyment: For exercise to become regular it must be enjoyable. First and foremost, participation in an organized youth sport should be a fun experience.
Opportunity to socialize: Kids and adults alike generally find it more enjoyable to exercise with a group of friends or teammates than to exercise alone. Kids learn how to cooperate as well as compete.
Keeps kids moving: Kids don’t benefit physically from standing around. They are built to move, so choose a youth sport activity that achieves that objective. Try to maintain a goal of 60 minutes or more of moderately intense aerobic exercise on most days of the week.
Improved cardiovascular health and well being: Sports such as soccer, basketball, ice hockey, swimming, and roller skating provide children with excellent aerobic workouts and burn lots of calories in the process. Physically active kids will also sleep better, which is an added benefit for parents!
The Potential Negatives
Parents and/or coaches consumed in the “hunt for victory”: I have seen this firsthand at youth soccer tournaments that I sometimes conduct at the University of Pittsburgh, and also with parents who pressure their kids to perform at camps. Always keep in mind that the primary reason for playing a youth sport is not to win a trophy or to provide a springboard for a professional athletic career, or even a college career. Less than one-tenth of one percent of our children will make a living as professional athletes.
Elimination of children at young ages: Competition is a necessary part of youth sports and sport in general, but cutting kids from teams at very young ages serves no useful benefit. The young boy or girl who gets cut from the squad at age 10 and quits the sport MAY have developed into the best player on the team by age 14. And even if he or she didn’t, the physical and social benefits derived from playing a sport have been taken from them.
Too much organization: The concern here is that kids become overly dependent on a coach or parent to organize the practice, pick the teams, ref the game, etc. Kids should be encouraged to practice and play on their own whenever possible.