Pros and Cons of Youth Sports Participation
By Joseph Luxbacher, PhD, Men’s soccer coach, University of Pittsburgh
A well-structured and organized youth sports program can provide many benefits and positive experiences for young athletes. When done correctly and with the athlete’s well-being in mind, organized sports can play an important role in a young person’s life.
Benefits and advantages of youth sports participation include:
Any form of regular exercise must be enjoyable, or there is a good chance it will not remain regular for very long. That is one of the primary reasons that so many adults quickly break their New Year’s resolutions to become more physically active. If young athletes enjoy the sport they are participating in, chances are that they will continue to stay active and come back year after year.
Participating in an organized youth sport adds structure and direction to physical activity, which is another key element for consistency. If the athletes are informed when, where, and how often practice will be conducted, the exercise is already planned for them. All they have to do is show up and play.
Opportunity to Socialize
Both children and adults generally have more fun when exercising with a group of friends or teammates. Not only will kids enjoy getting together with their friends for practice and games, but they also will learn how to cooperate and compete fairly.
Learning Life Skills
Becoming skilled in a particular activity can promote participation and increase enjoyment. Young athletes should be encouraged to learn sport-specific skills and receive positive feedback for their efforts. Sports such as swimming, tennis, soccer, and golf can provide regular physical activity for a lifetime.
Young people are built to move, so try to choose a sport or activity that achieves that objective. The coach plays an important role in organizing a practice where everyone is involved and moving. Sports such as soccer, basketball, hockey, and roller skating can provide children with an excellent aerobic workout by strengthening muscles, and burning lots of calories in the process.
When considering organized youth sports, there are also potential areas for concern, including:
- Parents consumed with winning. When youth sports become a bad experience, it is generally due to the actions of adults, not the kids.
- Elimination of children at early ages. In their quest to win, coaches may play the best athletes most of the time, and may even cut or discourage youngsters who do not possess the talent or physical maturity of their peers. A good coach will make sure that every child on the team gets a chance to enjoy the sport.
- Too much organization. Kids need structure, but too much organization can sometimes be detrimental. Children will benefit from making their own decisions, making mistakes, and figuring out how to solve problems on and off the field.
Create a Positive Sports Experience for Children
To ensure that organized sports are positive and learning experiences for young athletes, be sure to:
- Choose age-appropriate activities. Children should be challenged in both practice and in games, but must be able to achieve some degree of success and competence. As kids get older, the complexities of the games should increase.
- Provide suitable equipment. Ensure that equipment is designed for children, not adults. Adjust the size of the field and the goal, height of the basket, length of base paths, etc.
- Modify rules to get kids involved. For example, small-sided games in soccer may be more appropriate than full-sided games for young players. With a bit of improvising, any sport can be made accessible to young players.
- Do your homework. Check out the situation before you commit. This can include the personality of the coach, the philosophy of the organization, and the atmosphere at the games.
With the right amount of fun, competition, and learning, organized sports can be an integral part of a young person’s physical and mental development.
To learn more about how we can help athletes of all ages, call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678).