Unfortunately, youth sport has for a long time, and still is, being organised, run and taught by persons who draw on their personal philosophies in their approaches. i)Discuss the dangers of this. ii)Which are the main areas within youth sport which need to be considered to shape such philosophical standpoints of people working with youth in sport?
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In many aspects of our life we find people who, either directly or indirectly, influence the path we follow to achieve growth towards reaching our future goals. Such influencing people could be parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, nursery leaders, policy makers and any other role model position we may encounter. They do so in line with their philosophy on that particular aspect of life, for which they are responsible to guide us through the path of success.
Their philosophy is built from the theoretical knowledge they acquired in their own educational phase of life as well as through their practical experience in the area they are assigned to lead. This applies in particular to people who are trusted to work with our children in various sports disciplines.
Parents still insist that their children should engage in organized sport for several reasons. Since six decades ago, there has been a growing belief that leaving child activities under the informal control of children themselves may lead to antisocial behaviour when they grow up. (Coakley, 2009) argues that many adults believe that this lack of control is eliminated by organised sports through which they constructively control their children’s activities. However it is of utmost importance that those who work in youth sport and policymakers adopt the right philosophy that encourages sport participation of youths in the long term. Individuals who are involved into such youth programmes ought to be aware about researched material that may be used to adjust the programmes to better serve the child interest, even when this goes against their philosophy.
Participation is unlikely to persist when stubbornly sticking to the point of view of the adult whose way of thinking may be in conflict with that of the youth. One has to keep in mind the interest of the child; the ‘fun’ aspect of the sport itself.
Children tend to stray away from adult invasion into their sport. They like to create their own games, their own worlds, therefore forcing them to participate into organised activities might lead them into a path they do not want.
(Gill, 2007) mentions several arguments in favour of exposing our children to environments where a degree of risks is involved, as opposed to institutionalised sports. “We actually do children a disservice by trying to eliminate risks from their lives as they grow up” (Gill, 2012). When children are allowed to experience risky situations, they learn practical skills, such as swimming, cycling and road safety, that help them manage similar situations and protect themselves in the outside world. In addition, if not allowed to experience risks, children tend to seek out situations that may potentially be too dangerous. In other words, children like the challenges present in risky situations.
Parents usually fear the fact that the environment outside of home has become such a dangerous place for children. They feel more security by trusting their children to coaching methods that are sometimes found to be counterproductive. This ideology may sometimes expose our children to occasional high injury rates from organised youth sport such as stress fractures and other injuries caused by overuse. (Micheli, 1990) suggests certification of coaches as a part of the solution.
In a study on US youth sports, (Seefeldt & Ewing, 1992) found that there was a drop from 25% to 3% in sport participation from the ages of 10 to 18 respectively. This huge withdrawal was attributed to the competitive nature of sports in males. (Biddle, et al., 2005) drew similar conclusions for females.
(Cotè & Wall, 2007) postulate that children who do not experience fun in sport at their early ages, tend to drop out from the activity because they lack the intrinsic motivation to keep on participating. This hinders the higher level skills they would have obtained later on in their sports career.
(Abbott & Collins, 2002) propose that if youths do not engage successfully into sport activities at the participative phase (up to eight years of age) they will most likely lack self-efficacy beliefs which are necessary to persist in being physically active through life.
(Coakley, 2009) mentions ample literature from critics of adult-organised sports that argues on many shortcomings of this approach. The presence of parents watching their child playing an organised, competitive game that is customised for adults is counterproductive both mentally and physically to the child. Some children make it clear that they feel most parents come to see them playing just to criticise them both during and after a game, making them feel embarrassed. Even worse, this sends the wrong message to children that physical activity and sport is there only for the young, given that their parents are always sitting there as spectators. Children are not to be treated as miniature adults; some youth sports organisations expose children to too little practice and too many competitions when studies show it should be the other way round. Equipment and rules are sometimes not suitable to the age and ability levels of children.
Main Areas to be Considered
Up to the young age of two years, children look for pleasure from discovering and mastering attempts. Up to around six years of age children exhibit an egocentric character. Starting from the age of five youngsters enter the social comparison phase in which they start to compare what they have and what they do with their peers. This is usually interpreted as a sign of the child’s interest in competition. This phase continues to strengthen until the age of twelve. Children younger than twelve may find it difficult to get the full understanding of their role in a competition. To encourage participation the rules of the game must be modified to suit their developmental capabilities (Richardson, 2007). It is also suggested that children in this age range are exposed to a variety of sports as well as different positional variations in each sport.
To be ready for competitive sports, young individuals need to fully develop their physical, cognitive and social abilities. Several studies suggest that children start to develop their cognitive and social abilities at around the age of eight and these abilities are expected to reach their required levels at the age of twelve (Coakley, 2009). In fact literature shows that the ideal age of introducing competitive strategies is at the ages of twelve to fifteen, also known as the transitional phase, and children under eight years of age should not be put into competitive roles.
Research consistently shows the attraction of children to freedom in whatever they do (Gill, 2007). The traditional sports organised by adults tend to focus more on rules as opposed to informal sports that emphasise action, an approach that shows more positive outcomes (Coakley, 2009). One of the benefits of rules is to allow for safety. However, (Mullarkey) maintains that “We must try to make life as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible.” Rules from organised games should be modified in such a way to allow for more action and personal involvement and to keep the difference in scores as low as possible. On the other hand, action must meet the requirements to strengthen personal involvement, excitement, decision making and interpersonal relationships between participants. When working with children one should not assume that the social and cognitive abilities are already fully developed in sports.
(Bandura, 1997) stresses the importance of both perceived and actual competence in an individual’s decision to both engage in and maintain involvement in an activity. Actual competence widens the choice of sport for the individual while perceived competence provides the drive to persist in the sport even when difficulties are met. Therefore, if a broad range of psychomotor skills have been successfully developed from a young age, the literature suggests these will act as a basis for subsequent involvement as well as equipping individuals with the ability to make appropriate participation choices.
In informal sports, one must be careful not to allow any form of bullying, patronising of girls when playing with boys and exclusion. The role of the adults should be that of a guide who ensures safety, encourages participation, mediates disputes and not to impose organised sports rules.
Sometimes informal games may require more play space, but this can be overcome by creativity from the coach. Creativity is also a quality that is strengthened on the child when exposed to an informal setup. Children get the message that in life they have make decisions and not always follow repetitive rules.
The above review suggests that in today’s society, coaches, organisations and parents should be well aware of questions and issues which need to be addressed when involving themselves into organised youth sport programmes. People who work in youth sports must keep their mind open to new ideas and they should educate themselves to keep their knowledge up to date on the current studies in the field.
To the contrary of adult sports, when dealing with youths, in particular at the participative level coaches need to emphasise less on structure and more on variety to keep motivation at high levels. Rather than early specialisation the ultimate goal is to make the child physically literate.