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A.D.’s Corner: December 10, 2009

Improving Children’s Health

Given the current epidemic of inactivity and obesity in American children, youth sports is thought to play a major factor in improving children’s health.

Youth sports is a very popular activity that is assumed to have important physical, psychological and social development consequences for those children and youth involved. 

Despite these perceived benefits, youth sports has its critics that see sports as plagued by problems. Among these includes the highly competitive nature of youth sports; young athletes may become injured or burned out and athletes are thought to learn inappropriate behaviors such as aggression or poor sportsmanship from their involvement.

 Clearly sports has many benefits:

 • Learning physical skills. Young athletes learn both fundamental motor skills (e.g., running, jumping and hopping) and sport-specific skills (e.g., how to throw a ball or shoot a jump shot in basketball) that allow them to stay active.

 • Sense of belonging. Another strong motive of participation is social interaction. Sports can provide peer interaction through both teammates and healthy competition.

 • Appreciation of exercise. Sports offers athletes the ability to stay in shape and get exercise.

 • Growth and maturation effects

 • Self-concept or self-worth can be improved.

 •  Sports can increase moral development

Of this list, the benefit of moral development has been most debated. Does sports build character? Many assume character is a by-product of sport participation. However, it must be taught like any other skill. It is this understanding that may question the value of winning or losing. Does winning and losing have anything to do with learning respect for others, being a good teammate, setting goals and being a good leader?

 I believe an effective coach is the key to teaching sportsmanship and character. With a clearly defined plan that involves both skill building and character, a coach increases their chance at a well-rounded athlete. Statistics show an athlete that comes out a winner does not necessarily transfer those wins to life. However, if the athlete comes out with character, the sky’s the limit with what they can achieve.