Childhood sports are important in the psychological and physiological well being of child who then later goes on to turn into a healthy individual. The child’s level of participation, how he or she performs and whether the child enjoys sports is greatly influenced by an adult’s attitudes towards the physical and emotional aspects of the activity. If a child gets positive reinforcement from his/her parents and peers then the child will be encouraged to participate in sporting activities. Childhood sports also have certain implications and milestones specifically related to the development of the child and is detrimental to his/her developmental phase (O’Connor, 1998). The following essay will thus attempt to discuss childhood sports in the context of the child’s emotional as well as physiological well being. The main focus here will be the sports played between the ages of six and twelve and how it helps in the development of the child.
Children are rather limited in their physical ability and strength and so the kind of sports that they engage in is greatly dependent on their endurance and resilience. To understand this concept in a better manner let’s consider the amount of athletic activity that infants can engage in. Owing to their size and thus strength, infants are unable to perform in any specific or specialized athletic activities. For this reason parents enable their infant children to swim because it helps in the development of muscles and their motor skill ability. However the real motor skill development occurs when the child turns five or six i.e. the school going age. It is at this point that children must engage in sports that can actually help them to develop in a positive manner thereby reinforcing their desirable traits.
Still trying to teach those sports that require a great deal of skill and consist of a number of rules are often difficult to teach children of school going age and so requires a great deal of time and energy on the instructor’s part. Such sports often include baseball, football and soccer (Payton, 2000). Also the instructor’s inability to be patient with the child may result in frustration and anger thereby causing low self-esteem and the development of a negative self-concept on the child’s part. Of course this will only occur if the instructor shows his/her disapproval and anger resulting from the child’s inability to learn in the first few trials. Researches have shown that a child’s inability in these areas may cause a sense of failure and a life-long aversion to organized sports. For this reason a number of pediatricians suggest that complex, team sports that require coaching or memorization should be postponed until the child reaches an age where he or she is able to comprehend the meaning of those instructions and develops memory skills. A suitable age for this purpose would perhaps be the age of nine or ten years (Payton, 2000). It is also important to point out that children may not actually be interested in sports that do not require memorization or coaching and so a good way to engage in physical sports activity is engaging in those activities in which the whole family can participate in such as taking bicycle rides and talking walks.
Childhood sports are usually considered to be activities that will offer good exercise and companionship for their child while providing valuable lessons in competition, teamwork, dedication and self-discipline. However one fatal flaw in this idea is that they think that their own feelings and reactions have no implications on the child. There are crucial psychological effects of sports from how the child handles personal failure and defeat to the way he or she copes with a lack of ability and sitting on the bench. In fact most parents wonder how a child’s winning or losing may be the result of their own reactions but the fact of the matter is that it plays a detrimental role in the child’s doing well or failing on the sport (Harrison, 1991). This is mainly because of the cognitive theories of self-concept. According to this concept, people develop positive self-regard for themselves if they receive positive reinforcement at home. Simply put if parents have high expectations from their children with regard to academic development and extracurricular activities, their failure will cause disappointment and disapproval in the eyes of the parents (Freedman, 1999).
This means that constant disapproval and rejection of a child’s performance will enable him/her to develop a negative self-concept and he/she will automatically minimize his or her positive abilities while magnifying his or her weaknesses. Hence even if a child is good at some sport for e.g. scrabble he/she will develop low self-esteem and continuously fail at things, which the child could have easily excelled in. Not only this but also a ten year old child for example is not emotionally equipped to handle personal setbacks by himself and so will require some sort of reinforcement and encouragement from the parents even if he fails. Hence if children are reinforced in a positive manner while playing sports, it may enable them to develop positive self-regard for themselves, which contributes to their psychological well being. In addition to this, sports are children’s way of growing up and of developing their personality (Harrison, 1991). So if they fail and suffer continuous disappointments it can have a strong impact on their emerging psyche unless of course both their coaches and their parents support them.
Needless to say every parent has been faced with an awkward and distressing situation of witnessing his or her children in tears after losing a game. At that point a child needs emotional support especially children who range between the ages of six to twelve years because they are considerably sensitive at that point and are emotionally vulnerable to say the least. And it only becomes worse if parents become angry and punish their children for losing both verbally and physically. This will completely destroy a child’s self esteem. Hence during this particular stage children should be encouraged to take honest pride in winning but at the same time they also learn how to cope with defeat (provided that parents provide the right kind of reinforcement to their children) (Cross, 1999).
Of course another advantage of childhood sports that it helps in physical development of the child. Continuous exercise of the muscles by engaging in sporting activities such as baseball, football, soccer and hockey enable children to develop stamina. These activities in effect become a test of their endurance as they learn that there are many challenges in life that need to be faced with an open heart and mind and that if one perseveres one can overcome all odds to finally get what he/she wants (Harrison, 1991). Thus sports teach children endurance, perseverance and provide them with the ability to face failure and defeat along with maintaining their physical health. Not only this but it develops awareness about their own bodies, which is beneficial to children considering the fact that they are naturally curious about themselves at such an age. Naturally this awareness helps them realize that to maintain their bodies and to keep themselves healthy they constantly need to exercise i.e. play sports, which apart from having physiological effects are an activity that help kill time. Maintenance of sporting activities results in the development of healthy children who go on to develop into healthy adults.
There have been several criticisms leveled against sporting activities for children that question the necessity and validity of childhood sports. Critics say that parents have showed increasing concern about juggling between their child’s sports schedule and academic activities and their jobs and household issues (Harrison, 1991). They say that it is causing additional strain on the children to succeed in an activity that is not as important as their educational development. Not only this but it is believed that middle childhood sporting activities have a number of adverse effects mainly the fact that they become extremely dependent on others to help them get through the activity at hand.
Thus children inadvertently learn to be dependent on others and in Freud’s terms become fixated at the oral stage of their personality (where a child gets satisfaction by external responses i.e. the way their environment reacts to their situation). Some say that all the fun has been taken out of sporting activities as they are now an institutionalized activity i.e. children now enroll into various classes such as karate classes, baseball clubs etc. in order to learn sports. Previously playing sports meant meeting at the local playground with the neighborhood kids and playing for hours at a stretch (Cross, 1999).
This in fact was a better way to learn as the child got to know about his limitations and capabilities and used them in a manner, which he thought was most appropriate to the situation. In short the child learnt to be independent and learnt how to make his/her own decisions with regard to any situation. Not only this but also the institutionalization of childhood sports means that the children play for an hour maybe two at best without actually socializing with the children in the facility. Thus the child’s social skills and decision making capabilities are stunted because the instructors provide them with all the answers and are the only form of interaction for the children. Proponents of formal facilities that teach children how to play emphasize that this develops discipline in a child as he/she learns better this way instead of having to go through the tedious trial and error method that may actually cause the child to give up if he/she does not achieve the desired result. As far as the limitation of time and the stunting of socialization skills go, those in favor of childhood sports argue that the children learn to sort out their priorities in life i.e. playing a sport from say two to four will help them realize that even though sports are an important part of their lives, due attention must be given to other activities such as schoolwork, time spent with family etc.
Then there is the question of socializing with other children, which critics argue are stunted due to limited interaction with their peers. It’s true that children do not socialize with everyone during the course of their one hour or two hour class and even if they do socialize with everyone they may realize that they do not like all of their peers. This teaches children how to deal with all sorts of people in life and they will not like everyone that they meet in life e.g. when they work in different capacities and realize that their co-workers and superiors are not quite the kind of people that they would like to associate with (O’Connor, 1998).
Thus one can say that sports enable children to understand that there are all sorts of people in this world, which they will have to learn to deal with at some point in their lives. Additional concerns about the early onset of and over-reliance on organized sports include: the elimination of children of mixed ages playing together; the late-developers being labeled as inadequate and the parental obsession about their children becoming stars. The latter is especially problematic. Some children become well coordinated earlier than others do. Some grow tall or fill out more quickly. These children are often “stars” at these early ages and they develop a false sense of entitlement that is rampant in this country’s infatuation with its athletes. It becomes particularly problematic when the parents are caught up in it.
Finally concerns about serious medical injuries with regard to childhood sports have been raised in the recent years. They range from sprains and strains to growth plate injuries (which is the developing of solid bones instead of tissues at the end of long bones) and from repetitive motion injuries (such as fractures) to dehydration. Sometimes these injuries turn into a life long problem for the child and he/she may not be able engage in any sort of sports as a result of the injury that took place in childhood.
Thus the above analysis shows that even though sports develop a child’s physical and emotional well being apart from enabling him/her to learn some valuable lessons about life in general, there are also some adverse effects with regard to the sporting activities of children and so an effort must be made to strike a balance between the two.
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