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Physical activity and sport in programs important for today's generation of youth

This is an excerpt from Social Issues in Sport, Second Edition, by Ronald B. Woods, PhD.

Education–Development Programs for Children and Youth

Recent history has seen myriad uses of sport and physical activity to enhance the overall development of children and youth. Each program is designed to fit local needs and to complement other programs that may be available in the community. The emphasis of each program is determined by the founders and board of directors. Let’s take a look at some of the most common program philosophies (American Sports Data 2005).

Stand-Alone Sport and Physical Activity Programs

Stand-alone sport and physical activity programs are typically established to teach youngsters the skills and strategies of various sports and introduce them to competition. The expectation is that they will improve their physical capabilities, test them in competition, and build a foundation for later participation as they age and improve.

Team sports are particularly popular for teaching social and moral values, good sportsmanship, and teamwork. Many individual sports place more emphasis on developing independence, self-reliance,
self-discipline, and confidence. Examples are tennis, golf, martial arts, dance, swimming, wrestling, track and field, and a host of extreme sports.

Examples of stand-alone team sport programs are urban youth baseball academies in Compton, California and Hialeah, Florida. These academies have facilities and programs to introduce inner-city boys and girls to baseball and softball and renew interest in baseball in areas where baseball has become unavailable due to lack of public support, expense of maintaining fields, and lack of proper equipment. These academies are also an outreach program to African American and Hispanic youth, designed to enhance their quality of life; one of the program goals is to ensure that each child graduates from high school. Trying to counteract the image that baseball is not “cool” with inner-city youth, these urban youth academies offer programs, instruction, and competition free of charge to participants. They are supported by the major league teams in their city.

Similar to the urban youth baseball academies is another initiative of Major League Baseball, dubbed “RBI” or Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities. The youth of today may not remember great black players such as Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, and Roberto Clemente. In fact, the percentage of black baseball players has fallen to only 8% of all players in Major League Baseball in recent years, and the lack of popularity of the sport in cities where African Americans are the majority is clearly a factor.

At-Risk Prevention Programs

Many communities have used sport as a hook to attract children and youth who are at risk of delinquency from school and running afoul of the law. The Police Athletic League (PAL) is an example of a program that includes sports among its attractions, along with other activities such as arts, crafts, and dance. The local police department contributes to funding youth programs, and many officers volunteer as leaders and coaches.

Another organization that is particularly popular across the southern part of the United States is Boys and Girls Clubs. A typical program to attract inner-city kids might be a midnight youth basketball league to encourage kids to engage in sport rather than roam the streets looking for trouble.

In the northern part of the country, YMCAs and YWCAs or Jewish Community Centers (JCC) are plentiful and offer attractive facilities along with sport programs for kids. In many cases, the Y offerings include classes and programs for the whole family, which enables these facilities to function as family recreation centers.

Another example of an at-risk prevention program is Girls in the Game, founded in 1995 by a small group of women in Chicago to ensure that girls were exposed to and participated in sport and fitness activities. The target population was specifically one we identified in chapter 11 as least likely to be physically active—inner-city minority girls. The girls in the program are divided racially as 53% African American, 24% Latino, 7% Caucasian, and 16% other. By age groups, they are 14% ages 6 to 8, 35% ages 9 and 10, 28% ages 11 and 12, 13% ages 13 and 14, and 10% ages 15-18. Research has shown that girls who are physically active and involved in healthy-lifestyle programs have higher grades; are more likely to graduate; have higher self-esteem; and are less likely to drink, use drugs, or engage in risky behaviors. Sadly, today one in every six girls is overweight compared with 1970, when only one in 21 girls was overweight. Eighty-four percent of urban 11th- and 12th-grade girls do not take a gym class, compared to 48% of boys. It wasn’t long before the leaders of the program realized that their girls needed more than just sports, and the program was expanded. The girls wanted information on nutrition, health education, and leadership development; these components have now been integrated into the total program experience. Partnerships with the city of Chicago, the public schools, and public parks have provided the financial and facility support, along with the help of fund-raising and the largesse of private donors (Girls in the Game 2010).

A distinctly different program is designed to recruit coaches for Coach for America (CFA), the flagship program of Up2Us. The parent program Up2Us is a national coalition of sport-based youth development organizations. This program seeks coaches who will teach sports and nutrition to kids in under-resourced communities in the hope of preventing childhood obesity. Coaches also encourage kids to stay off the streets and stay in school and help them bolster their self-esteem and self-image. Coach for America is funded by an AmeriCorps National grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal government program established by the U.S. Congress.

Academic Enrichment and Sport Programs

Academic enrichment and sport programs have spread across the country especially to serve economically disadvantaged youth. These programs typically offer a safe haven after school and include physical activity and sports along with an academic focus. Tutors are often available, and time is devoted to completing school homework assignments. Many federal and state grants have been available to establish such programs because they promise to improve the academic performance of participants, encourage good citizenship, and yet still offer fun and recreation through sport. Organizations in this category often sponsor fund-raising events along with relying on grants to provide financial support. Typically the organizations are established as nonprofit so that they can raise funds and receive donations from businesses and individuals, and this money is tax deductible.

Golf and tennis have nationwide programs of this type called The First Tee and National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL), respectively. The First Tee is an initiative of the World Golf Foundation, and its stated mission is “to impact the lives of young people by providing learning facilities and educational programs that promote character-development and the life-enhancing values through the game of golf.”

The nine core values that the program espouses are honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment (The First Tee 2009).

The NJTL was founded by professional tennis players Arthur Ashe and Charles Pasarell more than 40 years ago, when it was the first program of its kind. While these programs are sponsored by their national sport organizations, their purpose is not to develop elite athletes but to expose underserved populations to the sport in the hope that they will become lifelong participants and spectators. Because these programs are either free or very low cost to participants, funding is a local challenge even for programs that are national in scope. In most cases, costs are reduced for programs like this through recruitment of volunteer coaches, and leaders and local chapters sponsor an array of fund-raising events to sustain their operations.

Academic Development and Sport Programs

Programs that integrate sports and academics seek to attract the interest of youth by combining the two. For example, an after-school enrichment class in math could use sport statistics as a vehicle to interest kids and show practical applications. Kids can practice and improve writing skills by writing about sport situations, athletes, or events such as the Super Bowl or other national or international championships. Reading about sports can stimulate a lifelong habit of reading in youngsters who might otherwise be uninterested in reading. Even history can come alive for young people who are exposed to information about where and how sports were developed, famous champion athletes, and world record holders.

Scuba diving courses can incorporate the rudiments of marine biology or oceanography to get kids excited about the sciences of studying bodies of water and their effects on society. Similarly, sport experiences can be the vehicle through which to teach young people moral codes and decision making and enhance character development. Social development is also often demonstrated by participation in team sports and activities and will later transfer to the classroom and the workplace if the experiences are properly structured and delivered.

An appreciation of the appeal of nature is often the focus of sport or physical activity programs such as snow sports, hiking, camping, or wilderness survival. Kids can learn much about nature, geography, forestry, and the environment through outdoor activities in the mountains, on the water, in the desert, or on a trip through the Everglades. When programs expose kids to nature and teach them how to interact with the environment, a by-product is an enhanced self-confidence to deal with unfamiliar or uncertain surroundings.

What all of these various educational–sport programs have in common is that they typically fill a need for after-school care in a safe environment that kids enjoy. In our society, with women now outnumbering men in the workplace and both parents working, kids are often left to fend for themselves after school unless they are enrolled in programs like these. The importance of physical activity and sport in programs is clear for a generation of youth who get too little physical exercise, often have poor diets, and are bombarded with technology like video games that has frequently replaced physical play and exercise.

Learn more about Social Issues in Sport, Second Edition.

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