Youth sports programs have become the focal point of many family-oriented communities nationwide. Little League, sponsored sports programs and T-ball, are just three programs among thousands available for families and their children. The increased national interest in sports over the past two decades has promoted the increased endorsement of these programs, as well as developed interest on the part of families to encourage partaking by their children. Many of the programs developed to encourage healthy levels of competitive and cooperative behavior, help children develop a sense of fair play, and help children find self-esteem by rewarding physical activities. Programs like Little League have been recognized as a stepping stone in the development of major baseball players, as well as presidents and successful business people. The competitive nature of sports does not necessarily mean that children will develop unhealthy asocial competitive behaviors.
At the same time, there are a number of factors that can impact the influences of organized youth sports programs on the participants, and studies have shown that the results of the full picture of youth sports is not always a positive one. Some of the influencing factors include: the participation of parents in youth sports programs, the suggestion by coaches, parents and observers that winning is more important than the game itself, and the nature of sports, that lends itself to competitive and aggressive behavior. It is difficult to develop a concrete perspective about the impacts of youth sports programs without considering these influences. The influences described above have a decidedly negative impact on the outcomes of youth sports programs. Children develop their sense of fair play and their perceptions of ethical behavior in part within the context of these programs. These programs can also make a significant impact on the development of a child's self-perception, self-esteem and emotional health. If the messages displayed by adults in reference to the sporting events have a decidedly negative tone, the impact of youth sports programs on the emotional development of children will not have positive outcomes.
Much of the current literature on children and sports develops around the theory that children are negatively impacted by the competitive nature of sports programs in conjunction with the influence of observers, coaches and parents. Little League, in particular, has been the focus of a number of studies into the impact of the program on the social and emotional development of the children involved. Though Little League has been pushed as a sport focused on fun for children, the competition pushed on children by parent's expectations turns potentially healthy fun into competitive battles pitting friend against friend (Verdi, 1990). Though the basic premise of youth sports is to encourage the enjoyment of sports activities, the focus on winning has reshaped the program (Rosen, 1996).
Over the past 30 years, a basic outline of the rules of sports competition, even as they refer to youth sports programs, has been widely accepted by coaches, parents and sports supporters in general. These rules include basic precepts like: 1. team matters more than the individual; 2. achievement comes from preparation, not fun; 3. control calm under pressure, and perseverance are the necessary to win the game; 4. criticism is more valuable than praise (Rosen, 1996). With guidelines like these as the basics for youth sports, it is not wonder that parents and players have learned that the game is more significant than the process or lessons learned there.
Many have believed that one of the most valuable lessons developed from youth sports is the development of the outset of fair play, in a way that young children can recognize and apply. Though the basic definition of fair play suggests justice applied to interpersonal actions, it takes on a slightly different and more...
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