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Youth sport: Positive and negative impact on young athletes

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Organized youth sports are highly popular for youth and their families, with approximately 45 million children and adolescent participants in the US. Seventy five percent of American families with school-aged children have at least one child participating in organized sports. On the surface, it appears that US children are healthy and happy as they engage in this traditional pastime, and families report higher levels of satisfaction if their children participate. However, statistics demonstrate a childhood obesity epidemic, with one of three children now being overweight, with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle for most children and teenagers. Increasing sports-related injuries, with 2.6 million emergency room visits a year for those aged 5-24 years, a 70%-80% attrition rate by the time a child is 15 years of age, and programs overemphasizing winning are problems encountered in youth sport. The challenges faced by adults who are involved in youth sports, from parents, to coaches, to sports medicine providers, are multiple, complex, and varied across ethnic cultures, gender, communities, and socioeconomic levels. It appears that an emphasis on fun while establishing a balance between physical fitness, psychologic well-being, and lifelong lessons for a healthy and active lifestyle are paramount for success.
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Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine 2013:4 151–160
Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine
Youth sport: positive and negative impact
on young athletes
Donna L Merkel
Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital,
Main Line Health System, Exton,
PA, USA
Correspondence: Donna L Merkel
495 Thomas Jones Way, Suite 100,
Exton, PA 19341, USA
Tel +1 484 565 8770
Fax +1 610 903 1230
Email donnalmerkel@gmail.com
Abstract: Organized youth sports are highly popular for youth and their families, with
approximately 45 million children and adolescent participants in the US. Seventy five percent of
American families with school-aged children have at least one child participating in organized
sports. On the surface, it appears that US children are healthy and happy as they engage
in this traditional pastime, and families report higher levels of satisfaction if their children
participate. However, statistics demonstrate a childhood obesity epidemic, with one of three
children now being overweight, with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle for most children and
teenagers. Increasing sports-related injuries, with 2.6 million emergency room visits a year for
those aged 5–24 years, a 70%–80% attrition rate by the time a child is 15 years of age, and
programs overemphasizing winning are problems encountered in youth sport. The challenges
faced by adults who are involved in youth sports, from parents, to coaches, to sports medicine
providers, are multiple, complex, and varied across ethnic cultures, gender, communities, and
socioeconomic levels. It appears that an emphasis on fun while establishing a balance between
physical fitness, psychologic well-being, and lifelong lessons for a healthy and active lifestyle
are paramount for success.
Keywords: youth sports, injuries, benefits, risks, prevention, specialization
Introduction
The popularity of youth sports continues to rise, with an estimated 45 million child
and adolescent participants in the US.
1,2
Seventy-five percent of US families with
school-aged children have at least one child who participates in organized sports.
3,4
Unfortunately, the framework which provides guidelines, rules, and regulations for
youth sports has been established with very little scientific evidence.
5
Even basic com-
monsense parameters for sports safety are not implemented or followed. Vague descrip-
tions of age of participants, hours and structure of practice, and rules for competition
vary between sports. Less than 20 percent of the 2–4 million “little league” coaches
and less than 8% of high school coaches have received formal training.
6
Each year
approximately 35% of young athletes quit participation in sport, and whether an ath-
lete returns to participation at a later date is unknown.
7,8
Sports attrition rates are the
highest during the transitional years of adolescence, when outside influences have
the most impact. By the time children are 15 years of age, 70%–80% are no longer
engaged in sport.
1,8
According to physical, psychological, and cognitive development, a child should be
at least 6 years of age before participating in organized team sport, such as soccer and
baseball.
7
Further, an accurate assessment of each child’s individual sports readiness
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should be performed to assist in determining if a child is
prepared to enroll and at which level of competition the child
can successfully participate. A mismatch in sports readiness
and skill development can lead to anxiety, stress, and ulti-
mately attrition for the young athlete.
7,8
For the very young
“athlete”, the goals of participation are to be active, have
fun, and to have a positive sport experience through learning
and practice of fundamental skills.
9,10
An introduction to a
variety of activities has been shown to be both physically
and psychologically beneficial for the youngster.
7
Sports sat-
isfaction surveys reveal that “having fun” is the main reason
that most children like to participate in sports; however, the
parents perception of why their children like to play sports
is to “win”.
5,6,10,11
The Institution for the Study of Youth
Sports looked at the importance of winning from the child’s
perspective, and found that it varied with gender and age, but
for the majority of younger children, fairness, participation,
and development of skills ranked above winning.
12
It appears
that this disconnect amongst young athletes and adults may
contribute to stress and unhappiness on the part of the child.
Perhaps the adult interpretation of “little league” or “pee wee”
sports as a mini-version of adult sports competition has led
those who are involved in governing these activities down
the wrong path, where winning overrides the fundamentals
of youth sports, an outline of which is provided in Table 1.
Implementation of some of the coaching tactics that were
designed for college and professional athletes, such as hard
physical practices for punishment, only the best get to play,
running up the score, and overplaying celebratory wins has
contributed to a negative atmosphere in youth sports.
Although the state of affairs of youth sports in the US
may be alarming, the alternative of a sedentary lifestyle
and childhood obesity is a price we cannot afford. Over the
past three decades, the incidence of obesity in children has
Table 1 Fundamentals of youth sports
Fun
 ○ Decreases injury
 ○ Increases enthusiasm/eagerness
 ○ Prolongs involvement
Focus
 ○ Exercise
 ○ Friendship
 ○ Sportsmanship
 ○ Skill development
Fuel the basics
 ○ Keep it simple
 ○ Athlete-directed goals/motivation
 ○ Reward the effort rather than the outcome
tripled, with one of every three children being affected.
13–15
Significantly higher rates are noted in the African-American
and Hispanic communities.
13–15
This current health problem
in the US has long-term health consequences, including
diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, asthma,
musculoskeletal dysfunction, and pain.
13–15
The evolutionary
changes in our society over the last 30 years, ie, technology,
increasing crime rates, two income households, the national
financial crisis, isolated suburban neighborhoods, and fast
food, has facilitated a sedentary lifestyle with the consump-
tion of high caloric foods. This imbalance of calories con-
sumed and energy expenditure has contributed to an increased
body mass index and obesity in our society.
16
The decline in
physical activity has been attributed to increased use of car
transport to and from school, an abundance of time spent in
front of screens, and limited access to recess, physical edu-
cation, and after-school programs.
5,13,l7
Time spent outdoors
engaging in traditional pickup games of kick the can”,
“dodge ball”, “kick ball”, and “stick ball” are replaced with
an average of 7.5 hours per day of screen time for children
aged 8–18 years.
5,13
This paper examines the positive and negative aspects of
youth sports in the US. Controversial topics, such as early
specialization, identification of elite players, influence of
trained and untrained coaches, increasing injury rates, and
moral issues of character and sportsmanship are discussed.
It is clearly apparent upon investigation of the strengths
and weaknesses of youth sports that resolutions promoting
a better, safer, and healthier future for all US children lies
in partnership of involved adults, from parents, who lay the
foundation of moral principles, to politicians, who support
legislation and funding for positive sports initiatives.
Positive impact
The perceived and objective benefits of participation in
sports for children and adolescents are numerous and span
multiple domains, including physical, physiological, and
social development. First and foremost, participation in sports
fosters vigorous physical activity and energy expenditure. In
1999, the Centers for Disease Control reported that only 50%
of youth engaged in regular exercise, illustrating the need for
school and community organizations to promote and facilitate
physical activity.
14
In a more recent study by Troiano et al,
only 42% of elementary school children undertook the recom-
mended daily amount of physical activity, and only 8% of
adolescents met this goal.
18
Research has shown that child-
hood obesity is a good predictor of adult obesity,
5,19
and it is
estimated that one third of children born in the years 2000 and
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beyond will encounter diabetes at some point in their lives.
13
Organized sports have been shown to assist in breaking the
vicious cycle of inactivity and unhealthy lifestyle by improv-
ing caloric expenditure, increasing time spent away from
entertainment media, and minimizing unnecessary snacking.
The chaotic lifestyles of working parents have facilitated an
increase in consumption of “meals on the go”, which are often
higher in calories, fats, and sugars. The average American
now consumes 31% more calories, 56% more fat, and 14%
more sugar than in previous years.
13
Organized sports comply with Michelle Obama’s initia-
tive “Let’s Move!” to combat childhood obesity by fulfilling
the recommended physical activity requirements for children
of 60 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 6 of 8 weeks.
13,14
In
addition to promoting movement, youth sports provide a
venue for learning, practicing, and developing gross motor
skills.
7,17
Successful acquisition of a motor skill at a young
age improves the likelihood of future participation in that
activity in adulthood.
17
In 2010, the Centers for Disease
Control reported a positive correlation between students who
participated in high levels of physical activity and improved
academic achievement, decreased risk of heart disease and
diabetes, improved weight control, and less psychologic
dysfunction.
20
Conversely, children who are obese often
experience a diminished quality of life, learning difficulties,
decreased self-confidence, and social discrimination.
13,20,21
In a longitudinal study which looked at activity levels in the
same children at 9 years of age and then again at 15 years
of age, adolescent girls fell short of the recommended daily
60 minutes of activity at an earlier age than did boys.
5
Both
genders showed a decrease in physical activity as they transi-
tioned into adolescence.
5
Rates of participation in sports for
suburban youth appear to be similar between boys and girls;
however, urban and rural girls show significantly less activity
than boys of similar residential status.
21–23
Further, girls of
color from a variety of ethnic backgrounds report lower levels
of activity compared with Caucasian girls and boys of the
same age.
23
Often the reality of living in lower socioeconomic
neighborhoods contributes to inactivity, with more limited
access to organized sport programs and facilities.
21–23
In addition to influencing physical health and warding off
the negative consequences of obesity, youth participation in
sports can also impact other high-risk health-related behav-
iors for boys and girls. A 2000 study reported by Pate et al
investigated the relationship between participation in sports
and health-related behaviors in US youth. Both male and
female athletes were more likely to eat fruit and vegetables,
and less likely to engage in smoking and illicit drug-taking.
22
The frequency of binge drinking remained consistent between
athletes and nonathletes of both genders.
22
Male athletes
were also less likely than their nonathletic counterparts
to sniff glue or carry a weapon.
22
Not all risky behaviors
performed by adolescents were curbed with participation in
sports, however, the majority of teenagers who participated
in sports appeared to be less interested in taking health risks
than nonathletes. The amount and type of risky behaviors
engaged in by adolescent athletes and nonathletes have been
shown to vary according to gender, ethnicity, and socioeco-
nomic status.
22
In 2009, The Woman’s Sports Foundation published an
updated version of “Her Life Depends on It”, an evidence-
based research project stressing the important role that
physical activity and sports play in the lives of girls and
women.
23
This report underscores the advantages in terms of
health and well-being experienced by physically active girls.
Promoting exercise in young females is crucial because the
majority of girls do not undertake the recommended level
of daily physical activity.
23
Positive health benefits for physi-
cally active young girls include a reduced risk for developing
breast cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, and obesity in
the future.
23
Further, rates of teenage pregnancy, unpro-
tected sexual intercourse, smoking, drug use, and suicide
decrease with increasing physical activity and participation
in sports.
22,23
Girls who participate in sports are less likely
to be depressed, more likely to reach higher academic goals,
and more likely to demonstrate improved self-confidence and
body image.
21,23,24
A reduction in suicidal thoughts and tendencies has been
demonstrated for both teenage boys and girls who engage in
sport.
22–24
The Centers for Disease Control reports suicide as
the third leading cause of death in adolescents, and advocates
participation in sport for its positive psychologic benefits.
24
Data from the Centers for Disease Control 2005 Youth
Risk Behavior Survey demonstrated that frequent vigorous
activity reduces the risk of feelings of hopelessness and
suicidal tendencies in both males and females.
24
In addition
to the physical benefits of exercise, the social support and
acceptance that being part of a team can provide contribute to
the success of sport in reducing the risk of suicide.
24
Student
athletes who report a strong social support system appear to
be more resilient in terms of the negative processes that push
teenagers toward suicide. The influence of friendship and
peer interactions cannot be underestimated for the female
athlete.
24
When the relationship between participation in
sport, extracurricular activities, and social well-being was
examined, students who engaged in sport demonstrated
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more psychosocial benefits compared with those who were
active in after-school programs not related to sport.
24,25
Three
different studies involving adolescents in 2003 found that
those who participated in extracurricular activities, includ-
ing sports, demonstrated improved skills in goal setting,
time management, emotional control, leadership, wisdom,
social intelligence, cooperation, and self-exploration.
5,26,27
Teenagers who participate in team sports are happier, have
increased self-esteem, and are less anxious, with a decreased
risk of suicidal behavior.
24,28
Psychologic outcomes for community-based programs
are successful if physical activity is combined with posi-
tive social constructs.
5,20
When youth sports coaches were
instructed in coach effectiveness training, an enhanced
sporting experience was reported by most athletes.
29–31
These coaches improved player satisfaction, motivation,
self-esteem, compliance, and attrition rates through positive
reinforcement and teaching.
29,30
Negative impact
There is an inherent risk of injury for athletes of all ages when
participating in sport. During periods of increased growth
velocity and closure of the growth plates in adolescence,
young athletes are vulnerable to a variety of traumatic and
overuse injuries.
5,32–35
With increased youth participation
in sports, an increase in sports-related injuries has been
observed, with 2.6 million emergency room visits each year
for those aged 5–24 years.
1,36
Due to the rapid expansion of
bones while growing and slowly elongating muscles, tension
develops across the growth plates, the apophyses, and the
joints.
4,32
This increase in tensile forces can place the afore-
mentioned structures at risk of injury. Depending on the stage
of physical growth, children and adolescents often injure
anatomic structures that are different from those injured in
adults. Children’s bones are weaker than their ligaments and
tendons, therefore they are at an increased risk for fractures
throughout the bone and growth plate.
32–35
During the adolescent years, some athletes may experi-
ence a decrease in flexibility, coordination, and balance,
which not only increases the risk of injury, but also impacts
sports performance, placing more stress, anxiety, and social
pressure on the young athlete.
5,32
Although children are gener-
ally more resilient and heal faster than adults (except in the
case of concussion), special consideration of the immature
skeleton is necessary for developing appropriate exercise
volumes during practice, competition, and rehabilitation to
avoid overuse injuries. A hasty return to sport with incom-
plete rehabilitation can result in chronic pain, dysfunction,
increased time away from sport, and repeated injury to the
same or different body parts.
As participation in youth sports continues to rise, a direct
impact on injury rates, medical costs, family burden, and
time away from sport is observed. Accurate and compre-
hensive data on sporting injuries in the young athlete have
been difficult to obtain because of inconsistent definitions of
sports injury, under-reporting of injuries by parents and ath-
letes, and lack of professional oversight in record- keeping.
In addition to the physical consequences of injury, the
psychosocial disturbances of mood swings, depression, and
disconnection from the peer group are problematic and often
require professional management.
5
The National Center for
Sports Safety reports that 3.5 million children aged 14 years
and younger receive medical care for sports-related injuries
each year, and of all the sports-related injuries that are cared
for in the emergency room, two thirds involve injuries to
children.
3
It is estimated that two billion dollars are spent
in the US health care system each year on the management
of sports injuries.
1
Although not all injuries can be prevented, it appears
that the youth sport culture is falling short in minimizing
both traumatic and overuse injuries in children. Parents,
coaches, sports medicine professionals, and organizers are
all culpable. Despite the fact that 67% of injuries occur
during practice session, many parents enforce fewer safety
precautions during these times than during competition.
5
A t
least half of all injuries sustained by young athletes result
from overuse. As with adult injuries, overuse injuries in the
young athlete are the result of both intrinsic and extrinsic
factors. Intrinsic factors are those which are physiologic and
often nonmodifiable, whereas extrinsic factors can be altered
by outside influences. Adults involved in youth sports have
an important role in influencing extrinsic factors, which can
lead to injury reduction or exacerbation. Injury reduction
strategies are shown in Table 2. For instance, current research
on heat-related illnesses encountered by young athletes
shows that prevention strategies and education can play an
important role in the reduction of this serious injury.
43,44
Recent scientific studies refute the earlier notion that young
athletes are at an inherently increased risk of heat illness
because of their immature physiologic systems. The cur-
rent literature identifies a number of causes, which include
general state of health, dehydration, and environmental
temperature and humidity as reasons for heat-related illness
in the young athlete.
37,38
The National Athletic Trainers
Association reported 50 fatalities due to sports injuries in
young athletes in 2010.
37
Despite multiple bills presented to
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Table 2 Injury reduction strategies
Athlete Parent/community Coach
•  Sports readiness •  Appropriate t and use of equipment •  Preseason conditioning/activity
•  Aerobic and anaerobic tness •  Appropritate t and use of footwear •  Appropriate training frequency, intensity, and duration
•  Strength training •  Enforcement of safety rules •  Limiting increases in training volume to 10% weekly
•  Flexibility •  Adjustment for environmental conditions •  Insuring proper form/technique
•  Proper rest
•  Proper hydration
•  Proper nutrition
•  Education of coaches (training, rst aid,
CPR/AED)
•  Implementation of appropriate strengthening and conditioning
program
•  Incorporation of warm-up and cool-down phases for practice
and competition
Abbreviations: CPR, cardiopulmonary resuscitation; AED, automated external debrillation.
state legislation in the last few years to prevent serious inju-
ries, ie, cardiac arrest, heat illness, and concussion, less than
10% have been passed into law.
37
In an attempt to reduce the
rising incidence of concussion in young athletes, 33 states
require education for coaches, parents, athletes, and school
personnel in the recognition, management, and prevention of
concussion in youth sports.
4,39
In 2012, the National Associa-
tion for Sport and Physical Education published its “Shape
of the Nation Report”, illustrating the role of both federal
and state government in developing regulations regarding
recess and physical education for grades K through 12.
40
Currently, there are no federal regulations regarding imple-
mentation of recess and physical education in the US school
system. Seventy-five percent of the States mandate schools
provide physical education in the elementary, middle, and
high school curricula; however, only 12% of states include
frequency and duration requirements throughout all grade
levels.
40
More than 80% of states require physical education
at some time during grades K through 12. The report identi-
fies differences in specific regulations on implementation of
physical education between individual states.
31
Over the last two decades, a notable rise in specializa-
tion has occurred in youth sports. More young athletes are
choosing a single sport to participate in all year round at
younger ages, with infrequent breaks and rest. This con-
tinued participation concentrated on one sport is believed
to increase the risk of sport-related injuries, peer isolation,
burnout, psychosocial problems, and attrition.
5,41,42
Further,
some antisocial behaviors involving negative peer interaction
and lack of cooperation skills may lead to social isolation
caused by early sports specialization.
41,42
Despite numerous
studies showing that athletic performance at an early age is
unreliable in predicting future ability to perform successfully
in a chosen sport, many parents encourage their children to
specialize.
41,42
Pressure for early specialization to maximize
athletic skills for future social, financial, and educational
rewards is generated by parents, coaches, neighbors, society,
and colleges. Unfortunately, the reality is that 98% of young
athletes will never reach the highest level in sport.
42,43
Trying
to identify young athletes who are genuinely talented is very
difficult and unrealistic, given the degree to which children
change in their physical, psychological, emotional, and
cognitive domains from childhood to young adulthood.
41,42
The earlier a young athlete is identified as having talent,
the more uncertain is the prediction of future success.
41,42
Ericsson’s studies of deliberate practice emphasize that
at least 10,000 hours of dedicated practice is necessary to
achieve excellence in a skill.
44
He further believes that an
individual is not born an expert, but expertise is developed
over time.
44
In the literature on identification of talent, a key
component in achieving long-term success is an athlete’s
internal development regarding love of the sport which
provides sustainability for the endless hours of practice,
instruction, and competition necessary to become an elite
player.
42
Motivation to participate and endure the highs and
lows is more indicative of a promising future than skill or
sport readiness at an early age.
42
Studies that have looked at
organized sports programs in the Soviet Union show athletic
advantages stemming from diversification not specialization.
45
Because of concerns about the health and well-being of
young athletes, the American Academy of Pediatrics does
not recommend specialization in sports before the age
of 12–13 years,
39,41
and encourages 1–2 days off a week,
two months of recovery each year, participation in only one
team per season, and limiting changes in training volume to
10% per week.
39,41
In addition to sports specialization impacting the young
athlete, the financial burden impacting parents and the family
is also significant. Some families sacrifice vacations, savings,
and normal family structure to support the athletes sporting
endeavors. Many parents feel excellence in sports will pay for
future college expenses; however, the majority of athletes will
not receive enough money to cover the cost of today’s tuition.
46
Less than 4% of high school athletes who participate in
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boys’ soccer, girls’ soccer, football, and basketball play for a
division I or division II school.
6,47
Only one of 100 high school
athletes will receive a division I athletic scholarship.
47
The
average scholarship awarded in 2003–2004 for a division I or
II school was $10,409, which covered about half the cost of a
state school and 20% of the cost of private school attendance.
46
Most often, the financial investment in private lessons or
coaches, sports camps, participation in elite teams, showcase
tournaments, and travel expenses over the middle and high
school years exceeds the value of the college scholarship.
46
Even more unrealistic is anticipating that a young athlete who
demonstrates elite skill potential will achieve professional or
Olympic status. It is estimated that one in 6000 high school
football players will play in the National Football League,
and that only 2–3 in 10,000 high school basketball players
will play for the National Basketball Association.
47
In addi-
tion, less than 20% of junior elite athletes and 0.2% of high
school athletes will achieve elite status in adulthood.
41
The above examples are the extreme costs of youth
sports; however, even participation at a basic level for
physical activity and fun can be a financial hardship for some
families. Basic costs include uniforms, equipment, league
fees, travel expenses, and footwear.
46
Urban youth have addi-
tional expenses, with neighborhood fields and recreational
centers being absent or not maintained, and both sport and
safety equipment being outdated or damaged. A decrease in
governmental funding for youth after-school programs has
limited accessibility and feasibility for sports participation in
lower socioeconomic areas.
46
Dwindling financial resources
also contribute to attrition in sports.
5,46
Fortunately, a few
nonprofit organizations are emerging in inner cities to provide
positive opportunities for at-risk youth.
For children who do have access to organized sport, the
majority of them being Caucasian from suburban neighbor-
hoods, the influential role of the youth sports coach cannot
be overestimated.
5,46
At times, the athlete spends more hours
a week in the presence of a coach then interacting with the
family so, by default, the coach becomes a model for behavior.
In one study, both parents and athletes rated the majority of
youth coaches as only good, with 25% reported as less than
good.
6
Regulations regarding the requirements for coaching
a youth sports team are almost nonexistent and vary widely
across states, municipalities, and type of sport. The level of
experience among youth coaches ranges from a volunteer
parent, who perhaps has no experience with the sport, to
paid coaches of elite teams. Most coaches are untrained
in the strengthening and conditioning principles necessary
for the young athlete, emergency management of sports
injuries, or in basic first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation,
and automated external defibrillation, which results in an
increase in the rate and severity of injuries for participants.
The concept of educational requirements for coaches was met
with resistance because the materials proposed were viewed
as unreliable, ineffective, and lacking in comprehensiveness.
5
Thirty percent of youth report negative actions of coaches
and parents as their reason for quitting sport.
8
Athletes have
even reported being called names, insulted, and shouted at
by coaches.
6
Other negative coaching behaviors observed by
athletes included cheating and fighting with parents, referees,
and other coaches. Some athletes also felt pressured to play
while injured.
6
Other reasons cited for sports attrition linked to coach-
ing behavior included favoritism, poor teaching skills, and
increased pressure to win, all of which created a negative
atmosphere and decreased the fun of playing sport.
5
A direct
correlation is noted between a positive or negative sporting
experience and attrition rate. Participation in sport is widely
believed to improve moral character, sportsmanship, and
ability to collaborate towards a common goal. However, these
secondary gains in sports participation cannot be assumed and
must be facilitated by positive role modeling on the part of
parents and coaches. Accordingly, facilitation of a negative
sports environment by adults who are directly or indirectly
involved in supervision of youth programs results in negative
social behavior.
Parents, in addition to coaches, can create high levels
of stress and anxiety for the young athlete.
48–50
A parent
can inadvertently set a child up for failure by establishing
unrealistic goals for performance and winning by forcing a
young athlete to participate in sports beyond their readiness
and interest.
5,7
A child who is unable to perform as expected
by parents and coaches may lose confidence and seek alter-
native avenues for fun. Problem parents who behave inap-
propriately by putting too much emphasis on winning, having
impractical expectations, and criticizing or pampering their
children are encountered frequently by high school coaches.
11
These parental pressures may contribute to a negative sports
experience for the maturing athlete.
11
Unfortunately, conflict
between parents and coaches is observed all too often in
sports culture.
With less than 20% of high school students involved in
sport, reducing attrition rates for those engaged in youth sport
is important. Combating sports-related injuries, high-pressure
environments, and negative behavior on the part of both
parents and coaches appears to be an initial viable interven-
tion to mitigate problems in youth sport. Table 3 compares
the positive and negative aspects of youth sports for young
athletes and their families.
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Future prospects
Changing the future of youth sports for the better needs a
collaborative effort between parents, coaches, teachers, health
professionals, community leaders, and politicians. As a soci-
ety, we need to change the philosophy of youth sport from a
negative environment to a positive one in which most children
can thrive, benefit from, and sustain their participation in
sport. Organized sports participation needs to be available
to all youth, regardless of gender, neighborhood, or socio-
economic status. Youth sports should emphasize fun, and
maximize physical, psychological, and social development
for its participants. Policies and guidelines which establish
Table 3 Impact of youth sports
Positive Negative
•  Physical
 ○ Increased physical activity
 ○ Enhanced tness
 ○ Lifelong physical, emotional, and health benets
 ○ Decreased risk of obesity
 ○ Minimizes development of chronic disease
 ○ Improves health
 ○ Improves motor skills
•  Physical
 ○ Injuries
 ○ Untrained coaches
 ○ Inconsistent safety precautions
 ○ Lack of sports science inuencing policy and practices
•  Psychological
 ○ Decrease depression
 ○ Decrease suicidal thoughts
 ○ Decrease high risk health behaviors
 ○ Increases positive behavior in teens
 ○ Develops fundamental motor skills
 ○ Improves self-concept/self-worth
•  Psychological
 ○ Increase stress to be an elite player
 ○ High rates of attrition
 ○ Too competitive
 ○ Inappropriate expectations to achieving scholarships/professional career
•  Social
 ○ Enhances social skills
 ○ Provides life lessons
 ○ Improves positive social behaviors
 ○ Enhances time management skills
 ○ Improves academic achievement
 ○ Helps to develop passion and goal setting
 ○ Improves character
•  Social
 ○ Inconsistent funding to insure proper safety equipment, venues, and equal participation
 ○ Expense
 ○ Inequality across groups (socioeconomic, ethnic, geographic, gender)
the framework for youth sports should be implemented based
on scientific knowledge.
5
Because the role of federal, state,
and local government in establishing safe and inclusive activ-
ity programs is minimal, establishing some formal type of
education regarding positive coaching skills, general physical
training, injury reduction, and first aid should be encouraged.
State and federal legislation can assist in improving safety
in sport for young athletes by providing an appropriate
framework for participation in youth sports.
4
Programs that
teach and model improved moral character while providing
physical activity are necessary. Proposed changes to improve
youth sports are suggested in Table 4. Fostering programs
Table 4 Future of youth sports: proposed changes for positive results
Society Parents Coaches
•  Training of coaches
•  Enforce sports safety
•  Increase funding
 ○ Safety education for coaches
 ○ Improved policies and procedures
 ○ Increased participation by underserved groups
Greater availability of facilities and elds
Proper safety equipment
•  Rules and regulations guided by science
•  Pre-participation physicals
•  Positive parenting through appropriate
praise and emphasis on fun more than
winning
•  Focus on goals of skill acquisition
•  Positive reinforcement before, during and
after games and practices
•  Promote desired behaviors
 ○ Sportsmanship
 ○ Punctuality
 ○ Preparedness (eg, proper clothing,
equipment, hydration)
•  Emphasize fun
•  De-emphasize winning
•  Positive praise of team and individuals
•  Greater emphasis on physical activity than
skill mastery
•  Obtain education on youth athlete coaching
•  Provide age appropriate instruction
•  Gain knowledge of sport and rules
•  Gain basic knowledge of strength, conditioning,
nutrition and sports safety principles
•  Injury recognition/rst aid, including heat
illness and concussion
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Table 5 Organizations promoting a positive youth sports environment
STOP sports injuries: http://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/
Let’s move!: http://www.letsmove.gov/
Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, Michigan State University: http://edwp.educ.msu.edu/isys/
Women’s Sports Foundation: http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/
Heads up: concussion in youth sports: http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/HeadsUp/youth.html
Character Counts: http://charactercounts.org/
Girls on the Run: http://www.girlsontherun.org/
America SCORES: http://www.americaSCORES.org/
Squash busters: http://www.squashbusters.org/
Row New York: http://www.rownewyork.org/
Up 2 Us: http://www.up2us.org/
GoGirlGo!: http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/en/home/programs/gogirlgo/about-gogirlgo
that help to establish positive and healthy values for youth
sports, such as the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports and
Character Counts, is important.
5,51
The six pillars of character,
ie, trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring,
and citizenship can be modeled by all adults who interact
with children in sports.
51
These pillars can be the building
blocks for establishing sportsmanship and cooperation in the
youth sports community. A reference list of organizations
promoting a positive youth sports environment is provided
in Table 5.
Implementation of a pre-participation physical evalua-
tion (PPE) to assist in reducing injuries, athlete education,
and identification of more serious health problems may be
beneficial in keeping athletes safer while participating in
sports.
52
The governing bodies of the American Academy of
Family Practice, American Academy of Pediatrics, American
College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society of
Sports Medicine, American Orthopedic Society of Sports
Medicine, and the American Osteopathic Academy of Sports
Medicine have collaborated, produced, and endorsed new
PPE guidelines for the promotion of health and safety in
school sports programs.
52
The PPE is a screening tool that
identifies potentially serious health conditions in the young
athlete requiring further investigation prior to participation
in sport. Currently, every state uses some type of PPE for
school-based sports programs, but specific evaluation com-
ponents are not standardized.
52
Differences exist between
the level of professionals performing the tests, types of heart
screenings, and content of the examination.
52
In general,
the PPE should be sensitive, accurate, and affordable to
administer. The National Federation of State High School
Associations considers the PPE to be a prerequisite for par-
ticipation in sport, but does not have the authority to mandate
its implementation.
52
Requirements for a PPE in youth sport
are inconsistent and almost nonexistent. Despite participation
in vigorous sporting and recreational activities, the young
athlete undergoes little if any physical examination except for
wellness visits. Medical societies endorsing the PPE guide-
lines acknowledge its limitations, but do agree that, when
performed consistently by a qualified health practitioner, it is
a valuable tool for identifying athletes at risk.
52
The benefits
of the PPE include introducing the athlete to the health care
system, early identification and treatment of health-related
problems, and education regarding injury prevention, nutri-
tion, hydration, and unhealthy teenage behavior. Facilitation
and encouragement of safe participation in sport is the goal
of the PPE.
52
Conclusion
Sports and recreation should be a fundamental part of
children’s lives, despite troubling signs in the youth sports
culture. Sport provides a medium for physical activity,
developing friendships, and learning developmental skills
across all domains. In the current environment of childhood
obesity, fostering activity is vital to children’s health and
well-being. The multiple health benefits for children of all
ages who participate in vigorous physical activity are well
documented. Organized youth sports, when focused on
fundamentals, facilitate physical activity while providing
enjoyment for the young athlete. Fostering a positive youth
sports experience is the accumulation of multiple factors, ie,
matching the child’s readiness with the demands of the sport,
positive behavior from coaches and parents, realistic goal
setting, and appropriate methods in place for injury reduc-
tion and management. Reducing sports attrition is necessary
for sustaining sports participation and facilitating physical
activity into adulthood. The challenges faced by US adults
who recognize the need to facilitate change in the youth sport
culture are significant, complex, and varied across ethnic
cultures, gender, communities, and socioeconomic levels. It
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appears that an emphasis on having fun while establishing
a balance between physical fitness, psychologic well-being,
and lifelong lessons for a healthy and active lifestyle are
paramount for success.
Acknowledgments
The author would like to acknowledge Ryan Alegro, Joshua
Davidson, Lauren Haines, Caroline Hughes, and Krista
Selcher for their assistance with this work. Special thanks is
also extended to Joe Molony for his expertise and technical
assistance.
Disclosure
The author reports no conflict of interest in this work.
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... Approximately 5 million youths under the age of 18 are seen by their primary care or sports medicine physician for an injury each year [3], with that number not including other healthcare providers. Additionally, nearly 3.5 million youths under the age of 14 are seen each year for a sports-related injury [4], and according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), roughly 50% of all sports injuries are preventable [5]. Consequently, musculoskeletal injuries, particularly in youths, are occurring at rates that place a high demand on our healthcare system. ...
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... Moreover, given that feeling of PNS has been highlighted as a predictor of developmental outcome in earlier studies of adolescents and youths [29,32], we focused on the measurement of PNS as well as the extent of its relationships with developmental outcome. As variations in sport type (team vs. individual sports) [15], as well as gender impact youth sports experiences [33], we also studied PNS and its relations with developmental outcome from these perspectives. ...
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Анотація. Юні професійні атлети беруть активну участь у змаганнях, у тому числі у Юнацьких Олімпійських іграх, головною метою яких є залучення молодих спортсменів до олімпійського руху, їх психологічна підготовка до майбутніх викликів, пов’язаних з участю у міжнародних спортивних змаганнях, та відбір талановитих атлетів для участі у майбутніх Олімпійських іграх. Мета. Вивчити причини передчасного завершення спортивної кар’єри та фактори підготовки, що забезпечують спортивне довголіття юних атлетів в олімпійських видах спорту. Методи. Аналіз даних, порівняння, систематизація, узагальнення. Результати. Аналіз спортивної кар’єри юних спортсменів після досягнення ними високих результатів на Юнацьких Олімпійських іграх показує, що не більше 5 % з них досягають успіхів у зрілому віці і продовжують спортивну кар’єру. Примусова підготовка юних талановитих атлетів і використання для цього програм підготовки дорослих спортсменів може підвищити ризик отримання травм, зруйнувати ідеали та мрії, призвести до дискредитації Юнацьких Олімпійських ігор. Крім того, цей період пов’язаний з вибором майбутньої кар’єри (уподобання можуть зміщуватися зі спорту в інші сфери), зміною інтересів і потреб спортсменів. У цей період основна увага спортивних функціонерів, спеціалістів, тренерів має бути приділена характеристиці особливостей підготовки юних спортсменів у системі багаторічного вдосконалення цілям майбутньої спортивної кар’єри (досягнення високих спортивних результатів на Олімпійських іграх), підвищення кваліфікації в галузі олімпійського спорту (спеціальна освіта, соціальна адаптація, готовність до майбутнього життя). Ключові слова: олімпійський спорт, Юнацькі Олімпійські ігри, юні спортсмени, тренер, тренування, підготовка.
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