Students in our Equity & Access to Sport course looked at the effect sports have on the socialization of our youth, both positive and negative. Two students discuss their thoughts here.
By: Nicole Blaszczyk
By definition, sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” There are many positive outcomes as a result of sport participation. As a society we have seen athletes develop into some of the most successful business men and women in the world, they are influential role models and entrepreneurs. However, I find it curious that within the definition ‘sport’ the word entertainment appears. It has caused me to pause and raise the question, who is it entertaining? Is sport meant to entertain the participant or the spectator? Perhaps a different group all together?
I feel the need to share that I am an advocate for youth sports. Additionally, I can’t help but acknowledge the negative side to sport specialization and the aggressive pursuit of success in sports at a young age. Both of these areas are a direct result of actions taken by parents. Research in recent years has acknowledged a significant increase in the amount of children participating in youth sports. While close to 45 million kids are participating in youth sports, “by age 15 as many as 80 percent of these youngsters have quit.” Several reasons include burn out due to the physical demand and year round commitment, high expectation of performance from parents, financial constraints and most importantly, the lack of fun. A majority of these are systemic in how parents approach their participation rather then focusing on why their children are truly interested in playing sports.
Parents have gone to extremes to ensure their children are successful on the playing fields and to place some sort of value on the measures they are taking. “I find it sad that we trade in the health and safety of our kids for the adult need to be entertained and get a return on our investment”, John O’Sullivan shared in his article, The Adultification of Youth Sports. He goes on to suggest that for many parents, the goal is “to get their moneys worth” or help solidify at a young age their shot at becoming a collegiate or professional athlete. Meanwhile pointing out that professional athletes would never play back-to-back games or even think to “play five games in 48 hours”.
In the last decade the focus on sports by parents has skyrocketed. While it will take time to see the long term effects from this, there are some social implications as a result of sport participating that have been around for years. For those who continue participating in sport as they grow, researchers have found several significant personality traits that emerge as they begin adult hood. Steven J. Overman, author of The Youth Sports Crisis: Out-of-control adults, Helpless Kids, points out that children who play sports at a young age learn that it is ok to “take advantage of others”. This type of thinking remains with them as they grow and is applied in their adult lives, particularly in the work place. While sport is a team activity, those who are competitive in nature or were heavily encouraged by their parents at a young age to enhance their sport skills, often times have a very singular frame of mind. The concept of team work does not resonate and they would prefer to work independently. They approach their daily work-place tasks with the same type of intensity or competitiveness as their physical pursuits, hoping for individual advancement rather than overall group success. Everything is centered on being superior or better than their peers.
It has also been noted that children who participate in “elite” sports at a young age place their identity in who they are while they are playing or training. Their goals and dreams of making it to the more advanced team, beating a teammate or winning a championship drive their daily routines. The achievement of small daily attainable goals is part of sport, but overall there is always a bigger and shinier goal that is trying to be attained. These values hold true as sport participants grown older and enter adult hood. Many young adults struggle with finding their identity because their sport has defined them for so long. For example, student athletes and retired professional athletes experience a sense of feeling lost because the very thing that defined them is no longer at the forefront of their lives.
What we have learned over the years is that there are long term social implications as a result of sport participation. A majority of these implications are learned, first from our parents and coaches, later from personal experiences. Some are intentional, others are subsidiary effects over time. Regardless of where they come from and when they begin their manifestation, Sports are undeniably one of the largest influencers on current society.
- Atkinson, Jay. (2014, May 4). How parents are ruining youth sports. Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2014/05/03/how-parents-are-ruining-youth-sports/vbRln8qYXkrrNFJcsuvNyM/story.html
- O’Sullivan, John. (2015, March, 17). Problems in Youth Sports, Specialization. Family Values. Retrieved from http://changingthegameproject.com/the-adultification-of-youth-sports/
- Overman, Steven J. (2014, October 14). The Youth Sports Crisis: Out-of-control adults, Helpless Kids. Retrieved fromhttps://books.google.com/books?id=zwyqBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA17&lpg=PA17&dq=sport+participation+leads+to+single+minded+adults&source=bl&ots=gz4JG5N9B2&sig=LnXgsNa382ue4dC-QGEdDN_8ctE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjnpr3n0oLNAhVCRVIKHSnLBb8Q6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=sport%20participation%20leads%20to%20single%20minded%20adults&f=false
- In Oxford English dictionary online edition, Retrieved from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/sport
By: Ben Daiek
Trying to analyze, dissect, and assess the state of youth sports is going to be a difficult task. We, as a collective society, assume there is a utopia waiting to be built, and if we find the right venue to cultivate our youth they will eventually blossom and flourish within that fantasized utopia. We also assume our children can, and should, have a “happier” or “more encouraging” upbringing than we had; it’s basic human nature to want this for our children. Human nature is the driving force behind most of the principles we instill in our youth. Morality, work ethic, integrity, passion and the pursuit of those passions are several of many of these driving forces. Athletics just so happens to actively encompass all of this principles through providing active experience on a daily basis.
Many researchers have eluded to the fact that young adults are now experiencing discomfort and signs of mental struggle when reaching adulthood. Hara Estroff Marano cites this phenomenon in her work “A Nation of Wimps”. She goes into detail illustrating the hardships some young adults face when given newly discovered freedom after being raised in an otherwise micromanaged childhood. These hardships can lead to binge drinking and depression on an astronomical scale within our nation’s college systems. She also goes into detail concerning the lack of social and coping skills these individuals display that potentially lead to these behaviors. Sports was a great platform for children to learn and develop social skills and problem solving.
To me, this is a reflection of the approach many parents choose to take with their children in present day. The intent to shield and protect their child is always justified, but the overbearing watchful eye are producing outcomes that are painting a much darker picture. Parents want to be involved and in control of every situation. This is a fundamentally incorrect approach, especially with regards to participation in sports. Again, Marano goes into detail about the importance of child’s play and rough housing. From my own personal experience my ability to create with other children and enjoy moving with the flow of interaction allowed me to develop greater interpersonal communication and critical thinking skills. Sure I made a few scars and broke some rules, but the learning process from those mistakes was invaluable with my progression towards adulthood. Owning my failures and mistakes was an instrumental process for me to endure, and one I continue to work on daily. Most things worth experiencing come with a series of trials and errors.
It would be ideal for our children to come across things easily. What I mean by this, is specifically the ability to master tasks and perform them to a very high standard in a relatively short period of time. The apparent conundrum is the impracticality of all children being able to be so lucky. Those who aren’t necessarily standing out ahead of the pack might be discouraged and dissuaded to continue playing. The loss of participants would be devastating to the developmental aspects provided by sport participation and economical goals of big business. It also deters the potential for parents to be highly entertained by their children’s performance.
In John O’Sullivan’s article “The Adultification of Youth Sports,” he eludes to the amount of money being poured into youth programs and the transition from a developmental tool for the children to a source of entertainment for the parents. Parents are pushing their children to specialize in sports and play an absurd amount of hours a week to satisfy their perceived standard of practice. Boys and girls alike are being thrust into sports at a young age to develop, train and specialize in certain sports. My greatest concern is the inability for these parents, and programs, to develop good citizens as oppose to good athletes.
As I previously mentioned, sports should be used as a platform to teach responsibility, interpersonal, and critical thinking skills to our youth. It is a terrific platform to educate and provide experience’s in dealing with personal growth and development, as well as give first hand interpersonal interaction with a spectrum of demographics. Like these things, we as a society need to accept there will be bumps along the road with concerns to our youth’s development and interaction with sport. The “perfect world” simply does not exist, but one where our children have an ability to interact with it efficiently and effectively will do just fine. Allowing our children to earn their triumphs and to encourage from a safe distance is important, too. In our arrogance, we assume we know the correct, safest, path for them to take. We assume we can shield and protect, but in reality we are creating a glass house built to be broken. Maybe if we allow the kids to throw some stones at an earlier age, they might just break through their ceiling.
- Marano, H. E. (2004, November 1). A nation of wimps. Retrieved May 26, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200411/nation-wimps
- Atkinson, J. (2014, May 4). How parents are ruining sports.Boston Globe.
- O’Sullivan, J. (2015, March 17). The adultification of youth sports. Retrieved March 28, 2016, from http://changingthegameproject.com/the-adultification-of-youth-sports/