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The Positives & Negatives of Youth Sports

Youth sports is one of the most hotly debated topics among educators and parents today. Is sports good for kids? Is sports harmful to kids?

I spoke to a mom recently who argued she will not let her son participate in organized sports leagues because of the amount of injuries and because “parents today are off the charts.” By this she meant that the adults involved have unhealthy priorities.

At the same time, I know coaches who swear that sports leagues are the best thing for kids’ development and health: physically, socially, and emotionally. They learn discipline and teamwork and how to deal with winning and losing. So, who is right?

The answer, of course, is both.

Research Shows Positive Outcomes

According to a BMC Public Health report, “Research has shown that sports participation is positively related to youth developmental outcomes… This research aimed to examine the relationship between sports participation and youth developmental outcomes for socially vulnerable youth in these areas:

  • Problem behavior
  • Pro-social behavior
  • School performance
  • Perceived health
  • Self-regulation
  • Emotional well-being
  • Sense of coherence.”

The stability of the relationship between sports participation and youth developmental outcomes were investigated with a six-month interval. The findings were positive, showing a causality relationship between involvement in sports teams and each of these categories above except for problem behavior and self-regulation.

Bottom line?

After reading a summary of the report, it seems clear that involving kids in organized sports leagues is actually good for their social and emotional learning (SEL). They develop healthy emotions, and they develop socially more efficiently than kids who aren’t involved in such activities. So, if you care about SEL in kids, sports could be a positive addition to their weekly routines.

The Downside of Youth Sports

As student-athlete participation has evolved since the 1980s, our culture has embraced two significant negative factors for kids:

1. Parental Intrusion

Parents have become more intrusive, screaming and yelling from the stands, offering too much “armchair quarterback” advice to both kids and coaches, and displaying bullying behavior and wrong priorities regarding winning at all costs.

2. Adult Dependence

As organized sports have expanded, so has adult control, leaving kids without the ability to make their own choices and to assume responsibility for conduct. It has added to their anxiety since it fosters an “external locus of control” in many kids.

Please note: both of these negatives are adult related. The chief problem with sports is how we’ve led the kids. We don’t self-regulate as parents (and coaches at times), and we assume far too much control, not allowing kids to learn decision-making and autonomy. Thanks to adults yelling too much and controlling too much, we’ve actually hindered the development of our young people.

My counsel? If you can find a place where adults are under control—involve your kids in sports.

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The Positives & Negatives of Youth Sports