Participating in organized sports can be beneficial to children. Psychologists have found that playing sports helps children develop self-confidence, builds self-esteem and offers health and social advantages. However, the competitive nature of sports sometimes poses dangers to children, including risk of injury, abuse and violence. Understanding the physical and mental effects of sports on children can help parents and coaches make sports safer.
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Over 30 million children participate in sports, yet according to Indiana University, less than 1 percent of high school graduates in the United States receive sports scholarships to college. Unfortunately, many parents and coaches have taken the fun out of sports participation by viewing it as an investment of their time and money, vying for recognition, awards and scholarships. Young athletes are often pressured to perform and achieve at ever-increasing levels, as adults sometimes see youth sports as a training ground for professional athleticism.
David Mayeda, Ph.D., writes in the Bleacher Report that parents and coaches sometime exploit and abuse child athletes. Mayeda witnessed a mixed martial arts tournament in which a 13-year-old boy was pitted against a 20-year-old opponent. He also reports that gymnasts as young as 10 years old are forced to practice for up to eight hours per day and that 59 percent of Olympic-hopeful gymnasts suffer from an eating disorder. Grueling practice and conditioning take a harsh physical toll on the developing bodies of youth athletes.
Coaches, parents and older athletes are common role models for children. The examples set by these role models mold children's ideas about what constitutes acceptable behavior in society. When they witness their heroes engaging in violence in a sports setting, children learn that this is not only acceptable, but also applauded in some cases.
Youth athletes are exposed to the behavior and attitudes of other players, coaches, parents and even fans. Verbal abuse is mentally damaging to children and often incites violence among parents and fans. The National Association of Sports Officials receives over 100 reports of sporting event violence per year but believes the number of non-reported incidents is much higher. Reports involve parents, coaches and players physically assaulting referees, umpires and other game officials.
Poor Sportsmanship and Hazing
Parental pressure, emphasis on winning above all else and the negative examples set by role models often lead to poor sportsmanship in youth athletics. Children verbally abuse teammates, opponents and game officials, and physical abuse is a major problem, as well. According to Eastern Illinois University, nearly a million high school athletes are victims of hazing rituals every year. Hazing involves verbal, physical and even sexual abuse; incidents of high school sports hazing started becoming a problem in the 1980s.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly two-thirds of all sports-related concussion patients entering emergency rooms each year are children between the ages of 5 and 18. Football, basketball and soccer were the organized sports contributing the greatest number of concussions in youth athletes. Other common sports injuries seen in children include sprains, fractures, dislocations and injuries to the knees and Achilles tendon. The Children's Hospital Boston reports that 60 percent of children's sports injuries occur during practice.