Yes, it is ethical to expose children to highly competitive youth sports. Exposing a child to the setting of competition prepares them to deal with stressors and emotions which should be experienced during the growth of a child. These stresses and emotional scenarios such as winning, losing, being happy, sad, crying, frustration, accomplishment, anger, cooperation, and many other emotions that arise while playing a competitive sport are accompanied by important social and emotional skills involved in the developing youth. This is not to say that if a child doesn’t play a competitive sport they will not experience these positive and negative stressors; the structure of competitive sports allow these emotions to be felt by the child more often, which in turn will help them gain an understanding and sense of why they are feeling how they are, and enables them to practice what they should do in social and emotional instances.
Leigh Arinello wrote an article in the Huffintonpost, describing her own children’s dealings with trash talk in competitive sports. She said, “…they brush it off and realize some people are simply jerks.” Other children however, can experience a negative reaction to the language. They may in fact copy what they hear and in turn begin changing what they believe and how they express themselves. On the other hand, the child might find the involvement and struggle in competition fun. In the book, Practical Philosophy of Sport and Physical Activity by Kretchmar, he expresses that “fun is a powerful extrinsic value.” And when something is fun it is a good indicator of continued participation in that sport. This could possibly lead to future physical activity and enhanced health. (pg. 236-238)
A controversial answer to the ethics of youth sport lies in the many thoughts being viewed as slightly bias because of personal experience of competitive sports at a very young age. If done correctly, competing in youth sport at a young age is most certainly ethical. The key revolves around one word, “fun”. Children desire to have fun each and every day of their lives. Parents, coaches, and leagues need to understand that children competing must be having fun while playing sports. It is only when fun is the #1 priority that sport will bring extreme pleasure along with developmental growth. When sport is no longer fun for children, harmful effects can occur. Charles Bonasera, a professional psychotherapist and former Director of the Sport Stress Clinic in Amherst, New York wrote an article “Children in Competitive Sport”. He describes competition in our youth to be a key to childhood development, and preparation for a solid foundation.
It is important to learn about competition at a young age in order to help prepare for the highly competitive world that surrounds us. Competition is everywhere in the world; competing to get into certain colleges, specific jobs, and even when buying a house. By teaching the value of competition to our youth we will be able to help build a foundation for success. Youth sport needs to focus on the desire to have fun and to bring socialization along with teamwork to maximize our children’s potential. Coaches need to realize they are only in these children’s lives for a short period of time and a positive impact is a must for proper development. There is both physical and emotional development that occurs in youth sport. Coaches and parents need to understand that rigorous training and practice can’t start until the child’s body fully matures allowing them to keep up with the demands of intense physical conditioning. This can vary from child to child but most should be able to handle intense training by high school. The emotional development from youth sport is the most important. Competition can help children reach down deep to accomplish something they never thought they could. When children find they can accomplish a task in which they thought was impossible, it leads to emotional strength which can be used later on in life. As long as youth sport is centered on having fun and children becoming the best they can be, it is ethically acceptable. Youth sport can become very dangerous though. Some parents and coaches try living vicariously through these youth athletes and that is when trouble can occur. If parents or coaches push children too hard for perfection at a young age, it can lead to the sport losing it main point of being fun. Children try to please their parents and coaches so when expectations are too high and cannot be met by the player’s capabilities, harmful effects occur. High expectations lead to resentment, disappointment, and eventually a complete loss of interest in the sport altogether. In order to keep competition ethical in youth sport, having fun should be the #1 priority, win or lose.
An unethical look at children competing in youth sports lies in the exposure of the media. With sports on TV being a major part of the lives of Americans, many people have to stop and think is the effect of TV on children and the sports they play in their own lives? In turn, we have to consider what type of influence these high contact, violent sports have in the daily lives of youth who are playing them. It can be a common misconception that youth sports do nothing but good things for kids and provide tons of benefits and really should have no issue. While there may be some benefit, let’s look at why the benefits don’t quite add up to the risk of these youth sports.
In an article out of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, numerous correlations were discovered between many youth sports, not just contact sports, even out of school clubs, and the likelihood of fighting and carrying weapons to school. It was an interesting find considering that many past studies would find the opposite. The Tribune Business News reported similar findings of increased violence in youth sports and noted much of what we see in little league fields, youth hockey rinks and pee wee football can be attributed to the violence that is seen on TV in professional sports. The NBA events in 2004 between Indiana and Detroit were noted as huge and influential events in the influence of violence to all viewers. Post events included the Stockton sports event that resulted in an assistant youth football coach blindsiding a 13 year old player, and other events between woman basketball players, parents poisoning opponents, and youth hockey fathers taking it a little too far. The youth of sport as we see it has been a lot less sportsmanship and love for the game and instead more violence, competition, and a “winning is everything” type of mindset. Children see these parents and pro athletes acting out, and they are extremely susceptible to bring what they see by fans off the field to their own play on to the field and even to school and social events. The sports themselves is not what is creating violent behavior, it is the environment in which it takes place, which is just as dangerous. Youth sport associations should really take the issue seriously and bring youth sports back to learning and making friends, not just for winning and making pro athletes out of every kid.
Another unethical outlook on children in youth sport is the abuse factor. Sadly there is abuse constantly within youth sport. The amount of verbal, sexual, and physical cruelty children face while participating in sports is higher than it should ever be. Having a child under the age of 14 participate in group sport is practically setting then up to be abused in some way. A question we should be asking is; does youth sport make children more aggressive then they should be? This May, a referee “died in a coma ten days after being punched for giving a yellow card to an athlete in a recreational league soccer game, Clark Power – Huffintonpost”. If this is what a child does as a result of being exposed to an abusively acceptable environment during a recreational game, what is the sporting world coming to? Why would we allow such actions to be okay in any environment? Is it worth it to lose your life over a game?
Ultimately the answer to the question of ethics in youth sports is a toss-up. It is ethical by way of the argument that it builds character and teaches children how to react in different environments. It also promotes teamwork and responsibility and is supposed to be a fun extracurricular activity also promoting health and fitness. On the other hand it can be seen as unethical, due to the facts of a violent and abusive environment. This is unfortunately inevitable in competitive sport. In addition, contact sports continue to promote violence and can be a danger to children who are still developing cognitively and physically. Finally, we see the horrible reality of the large chunk of children who are forced to play sports. The fun is ultimately sucked out of the game and it becomes more of a job and an ultimate dread to attend practice and games. Unless coaches and parents change their perspective of team sports and make it about their children having fun, instead of themselves living through them, competitive youth sport will always be trumped by the unethical.