By Northeast Community Center staff
For the Hollywood Star News
The picture of youth sports today is far different from what many of us remember. Free play, kick the can, tag and football games in the yard have given way to adult-organized youth sports.
Although nostalgia for unstructured physical activities may suggest that the organized sports experience is inferior, researchers still tout the benefits of regular sports participation on children’s physical, psychological and sociological development.
Regular physical activity helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints. Participation in organized sport helps youth develop and improve cognitive skills, is generally associated with improved academic achievement, provides opportunities to engage in valuable and positive relationships with adults and peers, and can positively affect personal development such as goal setting, self-esteem and leadership. Researchers also have found that afterschool physical activity programs are an effective component of any obesity prevention strategy for children ages 6 to 12.
Regular sports participation, although beneficial for all youth, provides particular benefits for girls and young women. Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, explains that sports participation has a direct effect on women’s education and employment. Women who played a sport in high school were 73 percent more likely to earn a college degree than those girls who did not (US News and World Report, 2007). And a study of 400 women executives, most at the C-Suite level (CEO, COO, CFO, etc.), found that more than half played a sport in college, and these executives cite candidates’ involvement in sport as a factor in their hiring decisions.
Despite these well-documented benefits, in the past 10 years the number of youth (ages 6-12) participating in any sport activity has fallen dramatically. Some of this decline is due to screen-time diversions as an option for entertainment, some is because children are locked out of participation due to a lack of resources, but the primary reason is because children opt out because sports are no longer fun. As single-sport specialization and an emphasis on competition become more prevalent even among youth as young as 8, athletes experience burnout and quit.
Kim Cederholm, Youth Program and Sports League Coordinator at the Northeast Community Center, is committed to creating a positive and fun sports experience that will lead to lasting participation in sports. Cederholm has been involved in youth sports development for more than 15 years and has identified three critical components to keep kids coming back to play.
First, Cederholm challenges parents to support their children’s participation in organized sport by focusing less on whether they scored points or their team won and more on asking such questions such as “What was your favorite part of the game?” “Did you learn something new?” and “Did you have fun?” Kids report that this improves their experience. Seventy-one percent of kids ages 5-14 said that they wouldn’t care if score was not kept in their games. (Statistic Brain Research Institute).
Second, Cederholm stresses the importance of providing equal playing time to all, regardless of skill or ability. And again, kids have said that matters. A whopping 90 percent of youth said they would prefer to be on a losing team if they could play rather than warm the bench on a winning team. (Statistic Brain Research Institute).
Third, Cederholm explains that a successful youth sports program is not merely a mini version of elite adult sports. Children’s needs are different, and providing a sports program that mimics adult sports can be frustrating and discouraging to youth participants. Instead, Cederholm said, youth sports administrators should “modify the rules to ensure that they are age-appropriate and inclusive, provide right-sized equipment, and work with coaches and volunteers to provide positive support for all players and prioritize the well-being of every youth participant.”
The NECC is committed to providing a wide variety of opportunities for youth to regularly participate in sports in a fun and inclusive environment. Whether at your local community center or elsewhere, let’s work to keep the fun in youth sports.
For more information: The Northeast Community Center, 1630 N.E. 38th Ave., (503) 284-3377, necommunitycenter.org.