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Positive Sporting Experiences Key For Children’s Development

Positive Sporting Experiences Key For Children’s Development
August 27, 2011

On a weekend when junior sporting finals in winter sporting competitions are being played across Australia, a study has revealed elements that are vital to children having a positive developmental experience when playing team sports.

According to Dr Jean Côté, Associate Professor and acting Director in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University at Kingston, Canada, these elements are a cohesive team environment, assessing one's own performance rather than comparing with others, and involvement in enjoyably challenging practices.

Dr. Côté, a youth sport and coaching expert explains "there's a lot more to sport than the idea of winning and losing and developing physical skills.

"Under the right conditions, youth sport can help children develop transferrable personal and social skills - citizenship qualities that they'll retain throughout their lives."

Dr. Côté found that for children between the ages of nine and 19, positive experiences were associated with coaches who created an inclusive, cohesive team environment where the team engaged in social activities outside of sport and all participants were equally valued on the field.

Coaches who were able to help children improve against their own benchmarks rather than focusing on comparison with others, and who provided challenging, innovative practices also helped foster an environment in which young players displayed initiative and motivation.

Athletes who compete in sports where they peak at a young age, such as diving and gymnastics, tend to have a more demanding, structured form of coaching, a higher rate of injury, and a higher rate of drop-out. These also tend to be sports that people rarely continue to enjoy recreationally into adulthood.

Other sports, such as football (soccer), baseball and hockey, don't require athletes to specialise early on since they continue to develop and reach their peak in adulthood.

Dr. Côté adds "other research we've conducted suggests that kids don't necessarily need lots of pressure early on to become elite.

"If you create a coaching environment where the kids are happy and passionate they'll continue to be involved and develop their skills. If you burn kids out at a very early age, you might be left with a small group of technically gifted kids, but you may also waste talent in the process."

This research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)and was conducted in collaboration with Dany MacDonald, a Queen's alumnus and professor in the Department of Family and Nutritional Sciences, University of Prince Edward Island.

Dr. Côté is the current spokesperson for the Bank of Montreal's youth football initiative. 
Source: Christina Archibald, Queen's University 

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