The key to youth development through sports is the quality of the sports programme and the leadership competencies of the administrators, coordinators, coaches and parents.
Seefeldt (1987) claims that when young people participate in sports, the benefits can be cover a range of important areas of youth development. The youth can benefit from developing a habit of involvement in physical activity which can extend throughout her/his lifetime. A physical activity habit also has the potential to improve the fitness level of the youth.
In addition to direct sports and physical activity benefits, youth involvement in sports can also contribute to establishing important social and emotional skills, moral values and high levels of self-esteem.
Although it is generally agreed upon that increased physical activity among youth may result in improved fitness there are several barriers to youth participation in sports. The barriers are all connected the social, economic and cultural changes taking place in the wider society. Today, youth have more leisure options such as social media, malls, movies, etc. The pressures of the education system and parents on children to focus on passing exams may serve as a distraction away from the enjoyment of participating in physical activity. In fact, some parents and adults may see engagement in physical activity as a waste of time and some children may accept this as an unfortunate ‘truth’.
At the same time those youth who are already suffering from obesity, hypertension, increased cholesterol levels and either type 1 or 2 diabetes may struggle on their own to start and maintain steady rates of participation of physical activity. The situation is not aided when popular culture through advertisements and support of parents and adults glamorise fast food! It seems that the consumption of fast food is increasing faster than the increase in participation in physical activity.
Sport provides the youth the opportunity through their interaction with coaches, parents and their peers to improve their overall social and emotional intelligence. These skill-sets have the potential to assist the youth in managing her/his emotions and be able to address various interpersonal issues as they arise.
It is important for coaches and parents to be aware that participation in sport will not automatically equip the youth with appropriate social and emotional intelligence. Despite all the hard work and perseverance that may be demonstrated in training, sufficient game time if any at all and or victory is not a guarantee. Parents and coaches have to impress upon the youth the importance of the team ethos and whether one plays or not they are equally important to the overall success of the team.
Failure on the part of adults to intervene in a timely manner may result in the youth developing a negative attitude to her/himself and worst yet become withdrawn from participating in sport. Additionally, parents and adults probably do more harm to youth self-esteem when they make personal negative comments about coaches when their children are not selected to play or given less playing time. This negative attitude does not help prepare the youth to face the realities of the world as well as frees the youth of her/her possible technical weaknesses that need improving.
Adults have to express to the youth that failure is a part of life and it should not be seen as an end. Instead, failure must be explored as a means of developing new strategies for success. The many sporting successes that accompanied athletes after failure must be communicated to the youth to provide a positive context for them to keep working toward their sporting goals. In this regards the feedback of coaches are critical in terms of ensuring the self-confidence of the youth is not weaken.
Coaches have to ensure that their feedback is constructive and it positively reinforces what is required to achieve the youth successes.
There is no question that sport has the potential to contribute to youth development however, there are several important questions and factors that must be taken into consideration. Firstly, it is important to ascertain how many of the youth programmes implemented by the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs (MSYA) and private organisations are intended to teach physical, social, emotional and moral benefits that are usually ascribed to sports participation?
Secondly, administrators, the coaches, instructors, mentors who are chosen to operate these youth programmes are qualified and competent in ensuring the development ethos of the programmes are consistently transmitted to all youth?
Thirdly, are parents willing to serve as role models in every possible manner to ensure that their children reap all the benefits ascribed to participation in sports?
The answers to these questions will provide information for developing a good framework to launch and ensure that all youth programme has a good chance of being successful.