The Youth Sports Myth: Fact or Fiction

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The Youth Sports Myth: Fact or Fiction
Common mythology in America holds that participating in youth sports builds better people. Participation in youth sports is seen as a character-building exercise; that sports build moral fiber. However, there are many reasons to believe this is not the case. There are numerous studies that show the opposite, that youth athletes are more prone to antisocial behavior than their non-athletic peers. This paper will explore the myths surrounding youth sports along with the reality of youth sports in 21st century America and what can be done to bring reality closer to the mythology. What Is The Myth?

The mythology of youth sports in America traces back to elite schools in England. The belief that youth sports build moral fiber then was adopted by the upper-crust New Englanders in the middle of the 19th century. The act of competing in team sports became equated with possessing and building character. (Miracle & Rees, 2003). Near the end of the 19th century, organized sports were beginning to be introduced into American public schools as a way to integrate immigrants. Social reformers on the East Coast promoted groups like the YMCA and public school athletic leagues as a way of "Americanizing" the children of the immigrants. By the turn of the century, the British ideal that emphasized participation as the ultimate goal had become the American obsession with winning being the only real objective. (Miracle & Rees, 2003). Yet the myth – youth sports builds character – persisted, despite a lack of any evidence to support the claim. Fast forward to the early 21st century and there is a landscape wherein news reports are littered with tales of misbehaving professional athletes engaged in everything from brawls to gun violence to barbaric activities such as dog fighting. Since young athletes emulate the behavior they observe, is it fair to conclude that these reports encourage such behavior by athletes in lower levels of competition? Data Does Not Support the Myth

According to Kreager (2007), the traditional ideal of how youth sports build stronger members of society does not paint a complete picture of the issue. "Buoyed by first-hand accounts from athletes and coaches … scholars reveal the contradictions and inequities underlying much of modern sport. Rather than building socially competent young men and women, it is suggested, the conditions of contemporary athletics embed youth in value systems marred by homophobia, sexism, racism, and ruthless competition," Kreager states. A report released in February 2007 by the Josephson Institute of Ethics found a definite connection between values and sports experiences in high school athletes. The report "What Are Your Children Learning? The Impact of High School Sports on the Values and Ethics of High School Athletes" shows there are significant differences between athletes based on gender. Female athletes surveyed indicated they valued honesty and fair play much more than their male counterparts and were much less likely to advocate cheating in order to win. The survey results also show differences depending on the sport. Boys who played baseball, football or basketball were found to be more likely to engage in cheating, both on the field and in school. Further, the Josephson survey showed athletes in the same sports were more likely to be involved with deliberate attempts to injure or intimidate as well as being more likely to break rules consciously. The report also found that girls' basketball and softball players had a higher tendency to break the law or the rules of sportsmanship than girls in other sports. Perhaps the most disturbing revelation contained in the report was the dichotomy between the reverence in which athletes hold their coaches and the behavior these coaches are advocating. Josephson (2007) found, "The vast majority of high school athletes say their coaches ‘consistently set a good example of ethics and character' (90...
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