According to the National Council of Youth Sports (NCYS), there were over 40 million boys and girls participating in organized sports in 2008. With numbers like these, which continue to rise every year, it would certainly be of benefit to highlight the positives behind all this participation. This becomes especially important with the seemingly heavy media concentration on the opposing side of the fence where the negative tends to make a better news story.
As a current physical educator and former coach, national champion, and parent of two Division I athletes, the positive aspects of athletic sports participation is a focus having deep meaning for me. Yes, there is always the possibility, maybe even probability, of too much too soon and a misplaced emphasis on the "wrong" things like winning at all costs. However, these risks do not negate all the positives that can and do occur. And when athletes are exposed to the proper environment, and put forth proper amounts of effort and make good choices, you would be hard pressed to find anything that gives them the opportunity for holistic benefits that participating in competitive sports does.
These benefits, at least from my perspective, fall into all 3 of the following categories:
As a physical educator it is impossible to cover the benefits gained from sports participation without mentioning the fitness improvements achieved through training for and participating in athletic activities. In a society where obesity has become a major health issue the physical fitness advantages simply cannot be denied.
It is the mental and conceptual area that many use to support the importance of participation in competitive sports, something I wholeheartedly agree with. It is also the same area that some point to when behavior exhibited by some athletes does not seem to support what we believe they should be learning. As with anything, however, one can only get out of something what one puts in.
Additionally, with good coaches and good programs a positive code of ethical standards (PCES) is of major focus. It is something they most certainly support and work toward instilling in athletes under their direction.
When these two things come together, putting in high levels of effort and solid programs/coaches that encourage PCES, amazing things can happen. These amazing things all center on the abstract concepts revered by those without them and necessary for anyone wanting to become successful in sports, and, for that matter, in life as well. They include:
a. The CDSPH Principle:
A "coined" term from my forthcoming book Becoming a True Champion (seeking publication), it covers the essentials of commitment, discipline, sacrifice, priorities, and heart, all of which are necessary for success in competitive athletics.
Creating and setting goals is an integral part of being an athlete. They give direction and represent a place in the future where one wants to be. Without them one is just going through the motions.
c. Desire & Inner Will:
These attributes are essential in accomplishing the goals one sets. They become most evident when athletes are put in tough situations that require the actions of perseverance and determination. How bad one wants to accomplish one's goals will be directly proportional to the amount of desire they have to accomplish them.
d. Perseverance & Determination:
Competitive athletes are consistently involved in situations where they are challenged. This not only occurs on the competitive field of play but in the practice gym as well. When this happens, their level of perseverance and determination will be tested. The hope here is that they become stronger within over time.
e. Coping Skills:
No matter how good an athlete becomes there will always be times when they "fail." It is what one does after a failure, how they cope, that will determine future positive outcomes. Personally, I believe that a competitive athlete will learn more from their failures then they do from their successes, at least if they push forward using the positive coping skills that should come out of this process.
f. Character & Integrity:
These two attributes have long been associated with competitive sports, however, this has come under scrutiny in recent times. It is not that good character and integrity are automatically developed by participating in sports but rather are revealed through circumstances that normally arise in the competitive arena.
The hope is that through making the "right" choices the athlete develops a solid code of ethical standards they learn to follow, thus, supporting and developing strong character and integrity within.
g. Mindset for Success:
This particular attribute encompasses a host of different concepts. As a competitive athlete one will need to
1. develop good time management skills,
2. create strategies for improving their skill set,
3. build a strong sense of focus and concentration,
4. develop internal skills for handling pressure,
5. learn how to take calculated risks, and when not to,
6. and take responsibility for ones success or failure.
The category of mental/conceptual components are not meant to be complete or comprehensive but rather a list of many of the positive intrinsic (internal) benefits athletes can receive when the right environment is offered and the right choices are made.
They are certainly not automatic by any stretch of imagination just because one is an athlete and plays sports. It is, simply, the nature of competitive sports which gives athletes the opportunity to choose to develop strength in any or all of these areas.
There are some definite and, most assuredly, positive social benefits to sports participation that are easily overlooked by many. This holds true for all athletes whether they compete in individual and/or team sports and activities. These benefits center on concepts such as
Gaining a solid understanding of group dynamics and its role in the success and/or failure of a team is a common experience to all sports participants. Learning how to cooperate in a manner that is best for all and that enhances ones chances of accomplishment is of great value that goes way beyond the athletic field.
Working toward a common goal is an integral part of the sports experience for athletes. It is through this experience that some grow into leaders and others into strong supporters, both of which a team will need to be successful. Finding their role on a team is a similar experience to finding ones niche in life, a definite life experience for participants.
Participating in sports gives athletes the ability to develop tight and lasting friendships with others who have common interests. This is a valuable experience that usually leaves them with lasting life long memories.
When one takes a good look at the wide range of benefits available to those who participate competitively in sports, one cannot help but see how comprehensive they could be in the development of a well-rounded individual. The application of these attributes to one's life outside of sports is something few can argue with. At least that would seem to be the case, right?
Yet, this is not necessarily the perception of everyone, nor does what we see emphasized in the media support this view. Self-centered attitudes, promiscuous behavior, poor character choices, winning at all costs attitudes, and even illegal activities, centering on athletes, seem to dominate headlines.
So then, why is that the case? Is all that I have listed just a fantasy, something we truly wish to be true but isn't, or is there something else that has superseded the positive benefits competitive athletes "should" be getting? All important questions that will need to be addressed in order to put competitive sports participation back on a positive track.
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