Youth sports are becoming more popular; the US has had an increase in participation in youth programs with approximately 45 million children and adolescents taking part per year. Conversely though statistics have shown an obesity crisis with one in three children now overweight with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Children inherently do something (without being asked) for one of two reasons, their friends are doing it or it’s fun.
Coaches can play an important albeit difficult role here, particularly volunteer coaches who have little or no training. The more coaches understand the social needs and focus on the holistic development of each player the more influence they will have on sustaining their association with sport and physical activity. The benefits this has are not purely the physical fitness as a way to tackle obesity and diabetes. It also holds a great bearing on the social and physical development of the player and their attitude towards life, their lifestyle choices and social values.
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From research in the field of youth sport development it appears that an emphasis on fun while establishing a balance between physical fitness, psychological well-being, and lifelong lessons for a healthy and active lifestyle are paramount for success.
Bellow I’ve outlined key points for the benefit of any club or team looking to improve their operation and the future successes of its youth sport development.
The Fundamentals of youth sports:
• Decreases injury • Increases enthusiasm/eagerness • Prolongs involvement
• Exercise • Friendship • Sportsmanship • Skill development
Fuel the basics
• Keep it simple • Athlete-directed goals/motivation • Reward the effort rather than the outcome
Injury reduction strategies:
• Sports readiness • Aerobic and anaerobic fitness • Strength training • Flexibility • Proper rest • Proper hydration • Proper nutrition
• Appropriate fit and use of equipment • Appropriate fit and use of footwear • Enforcement of safety rules • Adjustment for environmental conditions • Education of coaches (training, first aid, CPR/AED)
• Preseason conditioning/activity • Appropriate training frequency, intensity, and duration • Limiting increases in training volume to 10% weekly • Insuring proper form/technique • Implementation of appropriate strengthening and conditioning program • Incorporation of warm-up and cool-down phases for practice and competition
The impact of youth sports:
• Increased physical activity • Enhanced fitness • Lifelong physical, emotional, and health benefits • Decreased risk of obesity • Minimizes development of chronic disease • Improves health • Improves motor skills
• Decrease depression • Decrease suicidal thoughts • Decrease high risk health behaviors • Increases positive behavior in teens • Develops fundamental motor skills • Improves self-concept/self-worth
• 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
• Injuries • Untrained coaches • Inconsistent safety precautions • Lack of sports science influencing policy and practices
• Increase stress to be elite player • High rates of attrition • Too competitive • Inappropriate expectations to achieving scholarships/professional career
• Inconsistent funding to insure proper safety equipment, venues, and equal participation • Expense • Inequality across groups (socioeconomic, ethnic, geographic, gender)