In the adult elite sporting settings, we start to understand the pressures and demands of winning, producing successes and the generous rewards success brings, individually and collectively. Often we recognise similar traits that trickle down into youth sports, where such similarities influence approaches, behaviours and attitudes. Everyone advocates that youth sports should be child-centred, that every environment should be inclusive, and enjoyable, and that children should be taught sports and life lessons.
The problem is, that often these underpinning assertions are in some cases not applied in reality. In many cases replaced by over-emotionally, well-intentioned desires to seek fulfilment from victories records and trophies, as a form of materialistic measure of success.
Before we go further, we’re not for one minute stating we should avoid attempting to win games, as sports require us to be competitive, learn and have fun. We as coaches and educators have the responsibility, to understand and have a perspective regarding the age group that we coach.
It is important to emphasise that the right to participate in sport should be given to every child. We can all resonate with those families who, because of financial constraints, transportation problems, family commitments, etc., find it hard to commit to a sport. The significantly larger frustrations we face are those who deny a child the right to participate due to being deemed “not being good enough” or “released” without adequate support in such a transitional period.
Participation in sports serves as a platform for young individuals, first and foremost, to exercise and improve overall health. Additional key components such as psychological development, developing leadership skills, self-discipline, respect for authority, competitiveness, cooperativeness, sportsmanship, and self-confidence, are developed by the continuation of participation in sport. Furthermore, sport creates an environment where young individuals can improve and develop social skills, and build great relationships.
Improved social skills can aid a young individual to make new friends and acquaintances and becoming part of an ever-expanding social network, especially within such a technological driven society. These essential skills aren’t only applicable in sport but also in life. There are many reported incidents where these opportunities to sharpen those invaluable tools are neglected or worst still is overlooked by the desperate need to grasp onto an outcome. We mustn’t forget that participation in sport should be FUN, that that sport can be competitive and fun at the same time.
“Youth sports should aspire to create an environment in which every child has the opportunities to play an active role and simply enjoy participating, while fulfilling each player’s needs as they strive to fulfill their potential.“– The Sporting Influencer
Again, considering the enormous role of parents in the growth and development of children and, in particular, the extent of influence they have with regard, to their child’s experience within a sporting environment. We can therefore use sport as a tool to bring the family together, improve the health and well-being of each and every child and, at the same time, socialise with other families.
The Objective of Youth Sport
Children can strive towards their potential whilst overcoming many obstacles during such a resilient process, with a journey full of unexpected twists and turns. Such processes can be overlooked by the greater desire of obtaining success at any cost. Success is defined by some as “Winning at all costs” an accumulation of pressures and eagerness to internally pursue self-fulfilment as parents/coaches from victories records, trophies, feeding their own ego or incredibly pleasing other parents or organisations. Objectively approaching youth sports within such an approach and manner potentially impedes and over-shadows invaluable short & long-term developmental benefits in sport and that is equally if not more applicable to life in general.
It’s imperative that coaches when acquiring a new team, or approaching a new season, to be embracing parental involvement and having a long-term development perspective for each player and team. In order to develop effective collaboration with parents, that enhances a child’s learning that provides a positive sporting experience for all. Research states that it might be beneficial for coaches to have ongoing discussions with parents clarifying why the coaches selected certain methods/plans and how beneficial that may be (Short & long terms).
Nevertheless, coaches many approaches such topics cautiously and purposefully allowing all stakeholders to become accustomed to different approaches, expectations, and methodologies. Professor Robyn Jones reiterates that some coaches may need to prove/show how such an approach, is beneficial to parents, peers, and organisations, thus creating a better understanding for all ‘i.e. buy-in. Especially given that parents have been highlighted as one of the major factors that affect a child’s level of enjoyment and participation in any given sport. Therefore, the role of parents in youth sport is undeniable but must be monitored and managed to ensure that the enjoyment and sporting success of children are not hampered.
On the other hand, one of the important influences of reducing the factor of fun in the sporting environment is that adults (Coaches & Parents) turn the youth sporting environment into a self-created adult elite environment. The main issue here is that adults appear to become too emotional and impatient in the development process, while others interpret the situations from their adult perceptions. Unfortunately, this causes instances where frustration is heightened and adults tend to vocalise these unnecessarily.
Youth sports should not be viewed or interpreted in the same way as elite sports, since they are just children who are having fun and learning how to play sports. Compared to professional sports, which focus on entertainment and financial success, which are heavily dependent on the unpredictability of individual and/or team success (Defined as Winning.) If the greater focus is put on winning (Outcome) in youth sports, it becomes easier to neglect and overshadow the needs and desires of young participants. Winning is an aspect of the sport that we should not disregard because we want to improve competitiveness and the ability to overcome adversities, but we should not use the result as the only means or measure of success.
Coaches/Parents reading this may be alert to the fact that sport is a notion surrounding success in terms of victories and losses, and if we place a lesser emphasis on winning players will become demotivated. Yes, the creation of sport is designed around winning or losing, yet we shouldn’t be defining individuals and/or teams’ ability by our winning or losing record, especially within youth sports. Coaches should collaborate will parents and highlight the need to create a player-centred learning environment for every young player emphasising skill development, personal and team success, maximum effort, enjoyment and competitiveness that isn’t solely reliant on the outcome as an indicator of success.
As a coach, I have always reiterated to the players to ‘control the controllables’ in terms of their level of commitment and application, rather than attempting to control the outcome (Uncontrollable) . Players continue to compete for individual and team goals while also attempting to compete and win the game. However, the final outcome is not the only measure of achievement, and it will differ in importance, as it can depend on the age you coach.
Therefore, parents may begin to question, why young players participate and compete in sports? It’s important that we simply ask the children
Here are two activity exercises you could utilise to gain further insight into why your child commits to a sport?
Below is research conducted to examine what young athletes seek to accomplish from participating in sport:
A study conducted by Amanda Vick in 2014 study for George Washington University interviewed numerous youth athletes and asked them why they played sports, and 9 out of 10 said the #1 reason they played was it was fun. If your young athletes are not having fun, they will eventually walk away, regardless of talent or how good their team or coach is.
Coaches should collaborate will parents and highlight the need to create a player-centred learning environment, emphasising skill development, personal and team success, maximum effort, and fun with lifelong participation around the competitive nature of the sport. We strongly advise every coach and parent(s) to consider such evidence when observing their child participating in youth sports. As discussed within the “Athletic Triangle” it’s imperative to collaborate with parents and players, especially when determining realistic targets within the sporting environment.
I finish the blog by asking: When your child participates for the final time, what will you remember the most?
The Sporting Influencer