Sport Psychology – Youth Development
Sport and exercise participation can be hugely beneficial for a young person in today’s world. Children who develop physical skills can continue to use them to promote a lifetime of athletic involvement. Not to mention, there is the old cliché that sport “builds character” theorising that sport contributes to moral development and social competence. Lastly, there are the positive effects of exercise on physical health and wellbeing. Which we all know about. However, just putting a child into a sporting environment does not automatically give them these social, physical and psychological benefits. Everyone involved in youth sport has a responsibility to consider the young athlete as a person first and foremost, so that all the positive benefits of sport can unfold.
The assumption that sport is always good for youth can be dangerous because we can neglect to consider the type of environment youth participate in. From a psychological perspective, it is important to consider the athlete as whole person and to keep in mind that sporting participation will not always contributing to positive youth development through experience alone. I am going to highlight several elements from a psychological perspective that promote positive, holistic development in youth so they can get the most out of their experience
1. Supportive relationships – The relationship between coaches and athletes is critical in youth development. The coach should offer positive support and make a point to interact positively with each member of a team or group during a training session. A young athlete needs to know they are not just a tool to be used by a coach to get a result. They need to be recognised as a young person and given positive support at all times.
2. Empower Athletes – If youth are given the opportunities to make autonomous decisions they will feel more motivated, they feel like they belong to something they can contribute to and they will develop their decision making and leadership skills. Will they stuff up? Yes. Which is great because these mistakes can be turned into positive learning experiences and help kids develop strategies to deal with failure, and to respond, learn from it and keep moving forward.
3. Mental Skill Building – We love to develop physical skills and physical fitness. We focus all our energy on it, hours after hours of training time. But if you ask any elite athlete what the difference between winning and losing at the highest level is, they’ll likely point to the mental side of sport. In saying that, it is also much more than creating mentally tougher athletes in the future. Building resilience and mental skills to be able to handle adversity is where the true benefit of sport involvement can transfer across to other domains in life. Simple skills like how to communicate effectively, use goal setting, engage reflective practice and learn focusing cues, can help teach young people the skills to be able to operate in future stressful situations and maintain resilience.