//Youth sport programs: an avenue to foster positive youth development

Youth sport programs: an avenue to foster positive youth development

There is growing concern about the future of today’s youth. Concerns stem from an increase in adolescent problem behaviors (delinquency, drug use), coupled with changing social forces (both parents working, single parent homes, increases in youth unsupervised time at home alone). Over the past two decades, researchers and practitioners have taken a ‘deficit reduction’ approach to youth behavior problems. Most often, a problem has been identified (e.g. obesity), and funding has been provided so that researchers could examine strategies and develop interventions to reduce or eliminate the problem. Unfortunately, this approach is costly, and intervention programs have only demonstrated moderate success. Further, the problem-free youth are not necessarily fully prepared: youth free of drugs, alcohol use and crime are not necessarily prepared to productively engage in society. Recent theoretical and applied research proposes that an ‘asset building paradigm’ hold equal weight to a ‘deficit reduction paradigm’; that focus be placed on promoting positive youth development as well as reducing problem behaviors in youth.
Accompanying this paradigm shift is a vision of fully able children, eager to explore, gain competence, and make a difference in society. It has been suggested that youths’ potential needs only to be fostered appropriately for optimal development to occur.
Positive youth experiences and outcomes through sport
While the benefits of youth sport participation have been of interest to sport researchers for some time, no research to date has examined the benefits of sport within the framework of positive youth development. However, youth clearly experience many positive developmental outcomes through their sport involvement. In this section, research on the benefits of youth sport participation is reviewed, within the context of youth development. Specifically, benefits are examined using physical,
social, psychological/emotional, and intellectual development as a framework.
Given concern about the growth in adolescent problem behaviors in youth, the purpose is to highlight the benefits of organized youth sport, and the role that organized sports can play in contributing to the positive development in youth. Various sources of literature demonstrate how youth involved in organized sport can benefit from a better quality of life and develop numerous social skills; however, we also outlined some of the negative outcomes of youth sport. The Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model highlights how shortcomings in children’s activity contexts, such as poor sport program designs (early specialization) and negative adult influences (parents and coaches), can hinder rather than enhance positive youth development. It is emphasized that organized sport programs need to be consciously designed to assure that youth have positive rather than negative experiences, resulting in positive rather than negative outcomes. Numerous features and developmental assets are said to foster positive youth development, and presented an applied sport-programming model of positive youth development as a starting point for further theoretical and applied research. The model highlights the important role of policy-makers, sport organizations, coaches, and parents in creating sport programs that embrace particular setting features and developmental assets, so to in turn create competent, confident, connected, compassionate, character-rich members of society. Lerner and colleagues’ Model of National Youth Policy suggests that these processes will in turn lead to ‘contribution’, the sixth ‘C’ of positive youth development, so that youth will ‘give back’ to civil society, and promote the positive development of the next generation of youth. As researchers continue to gain understanding of the factors contributing to positive and negative outcomes in youth sport settings, and as more comprehensive models of positive youth development through sport evolve, we urge that policy-makers, sport organizations, coaches, and parents stay abreast of current research, and apply findings to youth sport programs. While organized sport has the potential to play a significant role in contributing to youths’ positive development, it is necessary to recognize that positive youth development through sport is not automatic, but to the contrary, is dependent upon a multitude of factors that must be considered when planning and designing youth sport programs.
Jessica L. Fraser-Thomas, Jean Coté and Janice Deakin
Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada