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Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies. Chapter 5 Sports and Children: Are Organized Programs Worth the Effort?. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZ_wBAQSJdM.

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Sports in Society:Issues and Controversies

Chapter 5

Sports and Children:

Are Organized Programs Worth the Effort?


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  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZ_wBAQSJdM


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Organized youth sports became popular when people realized that childhood development was influenced by the social environment and the experiences of children.


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Origins of organized youth sports

  • Organized youth sports emerged in the 20th century.

  • The first programs focused on making boys into men—“masculinizing” them.

  • Organized youth sports grew rapidly in many industrialized countries after World War II.

  • Programs in the U.S. emphasized competition as preparation for future career success.

  • Girls’ interests generally were ignored.


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The parents of baby boomer boys in the 1950s wanted their sons to learn about life through sports.


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Changing ideas about families in the late 20th century

Cultural expectations related to family life, childhood, and parenting have changed over the past four decades in neoliberal societies.

Neoliberal society = one in which individualism and material success are highly valued, and one in which there is a decline in publicly funded programs and services.


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Social changes related to the growth of organized youth sports

  • Increase in families with both parents working outside the home

  • New definitions of what it means to be a “good parent” (control your children, 24/7)

  • Growing belief that informal activities provide occasions for kids to get into trouble

  • Growing belief that the world is a dangerous place for children

  • Increased visibility of high-performance and professional sports in society


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“Good parents” seek programs that use symbols of progressive achievement and skill development. These symbols constitute proof of their “moral worth.”


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The success of children today is attributed to parents—as are the failures of children. This leads to many forms of excess in nurturing a child’s sport dreams.


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Major trends in youth sports today

  • Organized programs have become increasingly privatized

  • Organized programs increasingly emphasize the “performance ethic”

  • An increase in private, elite training facilities

  • Increased parental involvement and concern

  • Increased participation in “alternative” and action sports

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tf0cBIO87s


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Youth sports:types of sponsors

  • Public, tax-supported community recreation programs

  • Public, nonprofit community organizations

  • Private, nonprofit sport organizations

  • Private commercial clubs

    The goals and purpose of youth sports vary depending on the type of sponsorship that exists.


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Privatization of youth sports

  • Occurs when public programs are cut

  • Most common in middle- and upper-income areas

    • May reproduce economic and ethnic inequalities and segregation in society

  • Privatized programs are not accountable in the same way as public programs are

    • May not be committed to gender equity


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The cost of participating in club-based youth sports

make it impossible for many children to participate.


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The “performance ethic”

. . . a set ideas and beliefs emphasizing that the quality of the sport experience can be measured in terms of improved skills, especially in relation to the skills of others.

  • Fun = becoming better

  • Exists widely in private programs

  • Related to parental notions of “investing in their children’s future”


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Elite training programs have become increasingly popular


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Elite sport training programs

  • Private, expensive, high-performance programs

  • Emphasize that children can gain important rewards through sports

  • Children often “work” long hours and become like “laborers,” but programs are not governed by child labor laws

  • Some programs raise ethical issues about adult-child relationships


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Increased parental involvement and concern

  • In U.S. culture today, children are seen as “products” of parenting and the “creations” of parents

  • A child’s success in visible and valued activities reaffirms parental moral worth in a neoliberal society

  • Parents now take youth sports very seriously, and they assertively advocate the interests of their children, even if they must be extreme.


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For many reasons, children today often see action sports as preferable to adult-controlled organized youth sports.


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New interests in alternative sports

  • A response to highly structured, adult-controlled organized programs

  • Revolve around desires to be expressive and spontaneous—and free of adult control

  • May have high injury rates and patterns of exclusion related to gender and social class

  • Are rapidly being appropriated by large corporations for advertising purposes


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Developmental issues and children’s sports

The culture of youth sports has changed dramatically over the past two generations

  • Informal sports, such as pick-up games, have declined to the point of near extinction

  • Nearly all sport experiences for children now occur in organized, adult-controlled programs

  • Research on the implications of this change is rare

    • Parents now object to people studying their children

    • Research Ethics Review Committees seldom approve of fieldwork and observational studies of children


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Adult-controlled sports

Relationships with authority figures

Learning formal rules and strategies

Systematic guidance by parents and coaches

Rule-governed teamwork and obedience to coaches required

Winning and personal achievement is important

Player-controlled sports

Action and personal involvement

Interpersonal and decision-making skills

Cooperation and improvisation are required

Challenges, problem solving, and individual expression

Reaffirmation of friendships is important

Different experiences: Adult-controlled versus player-controlled sports


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Organized youth sports are controlled by adults.


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Organized youth sports involve formal rules and strategies developed by adults.


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Informal sports are controlled by players.


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Informal sports emphasize individual expression.


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Sport and child development experts agree that

  • Children under 8 years old are not ready to play complex team games

  • Games can be increasingly organized for 8–14-year olds, but positional play should not be emphasized

  • No travel teams, no more than one game a week, and no more than 35 games per year in a single sport

  • Excellence is not developed among children who don’t claim personal ownership of their sport participation

  • Involvement in informal games and sports is crucial for the development of excellence over the long run

  • Character Development - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CV-WqlorsBM


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When are children ready to play organized, competitive sports?

  • Prior to age 12, many children don’t have the ability to fully understand competitive team sports

    • They play “beehive soccer”

  • Team sports require the use of a “third-party perspective”

    • Until you can see the world through the eyes of others, you can’t fully understand a competitive, team sport

  • Learning the dynamics of cooperation is a prerequisite for fully understanding competitive relationships

    • Children who don’t learn these dynamics won’t understand issues of ethics in sports and may become difficult to coach


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Until children learn about the dynamics of cooperation,

they cannot understand the team dynamics of competitive sports.


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Eleven-year-olds on competitive club teams play too many games and don’t have enough opportunities to improvise on the field and develop a playing style and skills that make them unique.


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Report card for U.S. youth sports

Experts created a Youth Sports National Report Card and gave these grades:

1. Child-Centered Philosophy: D

2. Coaching: C

3. Health and Safety: C+

4. Officiating: B–

5. Parental Behavior/Involvement: D


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Summary statements by the report card panel:

Youth sports today have

  • Lost their child-centered focus

  • Been distorted by overinvested parents

  • Failed to train and evaluate coaches

  • Mistakenly emphasized early sports specialization

  • Ignored the developmental abilities of children


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Disability and the realities of mainstream youth sports

  • The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requires that all youth sport programs open to the public cannot exclude children unless

    • There are threats to the health and safety of able-bodied participants

    • Necessary accommodations would fundamentally alter or cause “undue burden” to a program.

  • This is fine, but most organized youth sports today are not organized to make children with (dis)abilities feel welcome or valued


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Few communities have adapted youth sport programs.

This keeps children, even with mild (dis)abilities, on the sidelines.


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Family dynamics issues

  • Youth sports and youth sport participation require family resources and the volunteer labor of parents.

  • A prevailing belief in neoliberal U.S. is that parents are morally obliged to nurture the sport dreams of their children, regardless of cost and sacrifice.

  • Parent labor in youth sports often reproduces gendered ideas about work and family.


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Recommendations for changing organized sports

  • Increase action and personal involvement

  • Facilitate exciting challenges

  • Encourage forms of personal expression

  • Facilitate friendship formation and reaffirmation


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Recommendations for changing high-performance programs

  • Establish policies, procedures, and rules to account for the rights and interests of children participants (child labor laws?)

  • Create less controlling environments designed to promote growth, development, and empowerment


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Obstacles to change

  • Too many adults who control youth sports give priority to control, organization, and the performance ethic and ignore age-based developmental concerns

  • Coaching education programs that don’t deal with social and developmental issues


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Coaching education programs

  • Are useful when they teach coaches how to

    • Deal with children safely and responsibly

    • Organize practices and teach skills

  • Are a problem if they foster a “techno-science” approach to controlling children

    • Creating coaches who are “sports efficiency experts” often does not contribute to overall child development


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