Children and Athletics
Sports and physical training are fundamental in the early development and growth of children (Bennett et al, 2008). The skills gained during physical training, play and sports activities play a key role in the child’s holistic development. Through sports participation, children learn important life values including teamwork, fair play, honesty, adherence to rule and respect for self and others. Further, sports activities including athletics enable children learn how to handle aspects of competition such as winning and losing. Such learning aspects underscore the influence of sports and physical training on a child’s moral and social development plus the acquisition of various abilities and skills (Callender, 2010). From the health and physical aspects associated with a child’s development, there is massive evidence demonstrating the impacts of sport activities like athletics on the physical growth, health and development. Parents, therefore, should carefully consider the effects of their children’s involvement in sports. Moreover, Merkel (2013) noted that while engaging in organized sports may have both physical and social advantages for young children, there have been increasing concerns regarding their safety. This implies that sports can have both positive and negative impacts. In this case, this analysis will focus on how athletics as a sport activity influences the lives of children, both from a positive and negative perspective.
Impacts of Athletics on Children’s Lives
Sports have generally been perceived to have varied benefits to children. The benefits span many domains including physiological, social and physical development. Merkel (2013) observed that this is because engaging in sports, such as athletics fosters vigorous physical activities and energy utilization. Based on this argument, therefore, it is apparent that community organizations and schools should promote as well as facilitate physical activities to enable children engage in regular exercises and physical activities.
Boosts Child Development
Early physical activities among children offer a basic platform for movement that is essential for activity participation later in life. Such activities are considered to impact on self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Children that actively engage in sports including athletics are less vulnerable to anxiety and depression. According to Bennett et al (2008), sports are affiliated with beneficial effects on the self-esteem of children, which plays a key role in reducing possibilities of depression and anxiety. Moreover, persistent self-perceptions and low self-esteem among children are considered risk factors that can create a room for depression and anxiety. Indeed, trends have shown that girls that participate in sporting activities like athletics will less likely suffer from depression, will attain high academic goals, and portray improved body image and self confidence (Merkel, 2013)
Similarly, sport participation holds an overall positive impact on the academic outcomes of children including school performance, post-secondary education years and liking school. Mostly, this is because athletics boosts commitment to, and identification with the school especially among athletes in high school teams. In fact, children that are actively involved and committed to physical activities including athletics tend to have better performances in their academics. Sports involvement influences children’s social development especially those aged between 6 and 12years (Bennett et al, 2008). High school students’ athletes experience minimal social isolation and the loneliness level among them is low. Primarily, this is because the children can socialize with their peers. Similarly, athletics contributes greatly towards developing the self identity of children within their adolescence stage. Consequently, this positively affects their attachment to school, post-high school plans and peer group formation.
Socialization and Role Models
Children get opportunities for interactions with other children especially when they engage in organized sports. Cardinal et al (2012) noted that such children learn essential social skills including working collaboratively with others and demonstrating good sportsmanship. Young children that may still be extremely egocentric learn to consider other people in a group and get motivated to rejoice over the success of their fellows through participating in team sports. Children similarly gain from time spent with their coaches since they get chances to build positive relationships with other adults apart from their parents. Mostly, this applies when the coach is highly skilled and devoted towards being a helpful mentor (Chessman, 2014).
Improves Physical Health
Childhood obesity is among the leading health issues facing children today, which predicts a possibility for adult obesity later in life. According to Bennett et al (2008), it is also estimated that a considerable number of children may suffer from diabetes somewhere in their lives. Such health issues among children have been observed to be key challenges facing regions like the U.S. However, athletics as among the common sports in many areas have been contributing immensely in breaking a vicious cycle of unhealthy and inactive lifestyle among children. Such sporting activities have been helping in increasing caloric expenditure, reducing unnecessary snacking and reduce time spent within entertainment media. Merkel (2013) added that chaotic lifestyles and tight schedules linked to working parents have resulted to increased consumption of fast foods that are known to contain high calorie levels, sugars and fats. Such behaviors have played a key role in destroying the health of children. For this reason, athletics have been on the forefront in promoting movement while also creating a platform for learning, practicing as well as building gross motor skills (Merkel, 2013). With such activities, children experience reduced risks diabetes and heart diseases, limited psychological dysfunction and enhanced weight control. Moreover, children that are considered obese constantly experience reduced quality of life, decreased self-confidence, social discrimination and learning difficulties.
Prevents Children from Engaging in High-Risk Behaviors
Participating in athletics can play an important role in protecting children from high risk and unhealthy habits. Primarily, this is because the athletic sports will keep the children busy to have time for other negative activities. According to Merkel (2013), children athletes are less likely to engage in such illicit behaviors like drug abuse and smoking. Both such girls and boys will most probably feed on healthy things such as vegetables and fruits. In addition, children athletes are less likely to indulge in alcoholism, as would their nonathletic counterparts. Similarly, the possibility of carrying a weapon or sniffing glue among male athletes is low. Although not all risky habits performed by children can be prevented through sports participation, most children that actively engage in sports tend to have lower interest in engaging in risky behaviors in comparison to non-athletes. Frequent vigorous activities minimize the risk of hopelessness feelings and suicidal tendencies among girls and boys. Further, physically active girls are less prone to such habits as unsafe sexual behaviors, drug abuse, smoking and suicide.
Merkel (2013) stated that:
The influence of friendship and peer interactions cannot be underestimated for the female athlete. When the relationship between participation in sport, extracurricular activities, and social well-being was examined, students who engaged in sport demonstrated more psychosocial benefits compared with those who were active in after-school programs not related to sport. Three different studies involving adolescents in 2003 found that those who participated in extracurricular activities, including sports, demonstrated improved skills in goal setting, time management, emotional control, leadership, wisdom, social intelligence, cooperation, and self-exploration. Teenagers who participate in team sports are happier, have increased self-esteem, and are less anxious, with a decreased risk of suicidal behavior. (p.155)
Risk of Injuries
According to Molony and Merkel (2012), children that engage in sports are increasingly vulnerable to risk of injuries when participating in athletics. Athletes are prone to diverse traumatic injuries during the sporting period. With the rising children participation in sporting activities, an increase in sport-based injuries has been observed. In the U.S, approximately 2.6million visits to emergency rooms for children from 5years have been witnessed annually. Considering the speedy expansion of bones during the children’s growth, plus the gradually elongating muscles, tension builds up across the joints, growth plates and apophyses. Such increased tensile forces could put the previously mentioned structures at a high risk of injuries. Depending on the phase of physical growth, children always injure their anatomic structures that differ from injuries suffered by adults.
Moreover, children’s bones tend to be weaker in comparison with their tendons and ligaments. For this reason, they are exposed to a greater risk of fracture all through their growth plate and bones. In their adolescent period, some athletes might suffer from decreased flexibility, balance and coordination. Cheng and Adirim (2003) observed that this raises the injury risk and affects their performance in sports thereby increasing the stress level, social pressure and anxiety among the athletes. Despite the fact that children are said to heal faster and increasingly resilient in comparison to adults, immature skeleton should be given special consideration in order to develop suitable exercise volumes during competitions, practice and rehabilitation to prevent overuse injuries. For instance, a speedy return to athletics without complete rehabilitation could lead to dysfunction, chronic pain, repeated injuries on the same or various body parts in addition to increased period away from a favorite sport (Cheng & Adirim, 2003).
Financial Burden on the Family
Hyman (2012) observed that athletics cause some families sacrifice savings, vacations or the normal family structure and efforts to support an athletic child’s sporting goals. Most parents perceive that sport excellence will cater for the children’s future schooling expenses. Nonetheless, most athletes do not gather adequate funds to cover the finances needed in their today’s tuition. In most cases, the financial investments families do in private coaches or classes, showcase tournaments, elite teams’ participation, sports camps and travel costs during the child’s middle school and high school years goes beyond the value accrued to the college scholarship. Even a more unrealistic issue is expecting that an athlete that demonstrates potential for elite skill will attain Olympic or professional status.
Besides such extreme costs associated with sports, even simply participating in athletics at the basic level for fun and physical activities could be financially straining in certain families. Such basic costs may include travel costs, league charges, purchase of uniforms, footwear and equipment costs. Children residing in the urban areas may incur other additional costs, such as absent or poorly maintained recreational centers, neighborhood field’s costs and damaged or outdated safety and sport equipment. Petlichkoff and Gould (1998) added that decreased funding from the government for after school programs aimed at children has limited opportunities for children from low socioeconomic regions to access and participate in sports. Additionally dwindling financial resources play a role in sports attrition.
Ineffective and Incompetent Coaches
Coaches play an import and an influential role among children (Merkel, 2013). Sometimes, athletes spend many hours with the coach on weekly basis more that the time spent with the family. In this case, the coach by default becomes a model among the children. Parents and young athletes rate coaches’ effectiveness as fairly good. Furthermore, there lacks reliable rules that define the coaching requirements and the rules also differ widely across states, municipalities and kind of sport. Experience level among coaches also range from volunteer parents that lack the needed experience in specific sports to paid coaches that train elite teams. Majority of the coaches have not been trained on the conditioning and strengthening principles essential for young athletes, basic first aid, automated external defibrillation, management of emergencies on injuries and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
This has led to the risen rates and severity of injuries among children. A considerable number of children quit athletics because of their parents and negative actions of their coaches including being shouted at, called names, and insulted. Other negative behaviors linked to coaches include fighting with parents, other coaches and referees and dishonesty. Some coaches also pressure children to play even when injured. In addition, coaches are claimed to have poor training skills, increased pressure towards winning and favoritism. All such behaviors develop a negative environment plus reduced fun associated with athletics (Cardinal et al, 2012). By participating in athletic sports, children are expected to develop a moral character, ability to work together for a common goal and sportsmanship. Nevertheless, for such secondary benefits, the facilitation of a positive role model comprising of coaches and parents is crucial.
Impractical Parents’ Expectations
Parents can also foster high stress levels and anxiety among their children athletes. Such parents can unconsciously set up their children for failure through establishing unrealistic goals in relation to winning and performance of their children in athletics. Purcell (2005) noted that some parents may force or pressure their young athlete to engage in sports that go beyond their interest and readiness. In this case, a child that cannot perform to the parents’ expectation may lose confidence in such activities and seek alternative avenues for deriving fun. Parents that stress too much on winning, criticize their children and have impractical expectations discourage their children’s zeal for athletics. Parental pressures may result in negative sports experience among maturing athletes (Petlichkoff & Gould, 1998) stated that. Such actions from parents tend to cause frequent conflicts between them and coaches. In this case, fighting high pressure environments, sports-related injuries and negative behaviors should be the first feasible intervention among parents and coaches to prevent problems associated with sports among children.
Increased Stress due to Increased Commitment
Pressures for accomplishment can create additional stress to children especially in organized sports. The pressures can generate from various sources including self, coaches, parents and teammates. Although a limited level of stress could benefit children by increasing alertness and increase children’s focus, stamina and strength towards better performance, extreme levels of stress could cause burn out among children. Moreover, young children participants could be exposed to excessive organization activities that may hinder their development of other essential skills like problem solving and decision making (Bennett et al, 2008).
The above analysis has demonstrated that athletics have a great influence on the lives of children, both positively and negatively. According to this discussion, sports should always be a fundamental component of children’s lives including. This includes athletics plus other forms of recreation activities. Such sports provide children with a channel for physical activities, gaining developmental skills and building relationships. Fostering activities through sports is essential in improving the health and wellbeing of children, especially in today’s environment bombarded with numerous ailments like childhood obesity and diabetes. Evidence has demonstrated the many benefits linked to vigorous physical activities for children across all ages. Besides the aspect of health, athletics also play a key role in providing children with an avenue for fun. Positive sports among children should incorporate good behaviors from both parents and coaches, proper methods of preventing and managing injuries, realistic goal setting and matching children’s readiness with the sport’s demands. Minimizing sports’ attrition is essential in allowing children to continually participate in sports and other physical activities up to their adulthood age. In this case, children can attain successful outcomes in their athletics endeavors through emphasizing on the aspect of fun while at the same time balancing between psychological wellbeing, physical fitness plus constant trainings on how to live an active and healthy lifestyle.
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Cardinal, B., Lee, H., Loprinzi, K., & Loprinzi, P. (2012). Benefits and Environmental Determinants of Physical Activity in Children and Adolescents. Obesity Facts, 5(1),597-610.
Cheng, T., & Adirim, T. (2003). Overview of Injuries in the Young Athlete. Sports Med. Journal, 33(1),75-81.
Chessman, K. (2014). Team Sports: How Kids Benefit from Organized Athletics. Retrieved from http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/818473/Team-sports-How-kids-benefit-from-organized-athletics
Hyman, M. (2012). The Most Expensive Game in Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today’s Families. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
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Molony, J., & Merkel, D. (2012). Clinical Commentary: Medical Sports Injuries in the Youth Athlete: Emergency Management. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 7(1),242-251.
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Purcell, K. (2005). Sport Readiness in Children and Youth. Pediatric Child Health, 10(1),343-344.