Each year in the United States, millions of preadolescent children participate in organized athletics. Some organized athletic programs are community based; others are school sponsored, either as extracurricula programs or as part of physical education classes. Most coaches in community-based programs are volunteers who have no formal training or expertise in coaching. The credentials and training of grade school coaches are highly variable. Therefore, many US preadolescents are involved in athletics without the benefit of specific program goals aimed at ensuring the most beneficial physical, psychologic, and recreational outcomes.
Coaches, officials, parents, and program designers all play critical roles in shaping the child's early athletic experience and the child's self-esteem. The goals of the program and the behavior of all of the adults involved should focus upon assisting the child to develop: (1) an enjoyment of sports and fitness that will be sustained through adulthood, (2) physical fitness, (3) basic motor skills, (4) a positive self-image, (5) a balanced perspective on sports in relation to the child's school and community life, and (6) a commitment to the values of teamwork, fair play, and sportsmanship. In addition, efforts must be made to make the sport as safe as possible.
Enjoyment of sports and fitness in childhood will increase the likelihood of a child pursuing these activities through adulthood. Children should be allowed to try a variety of sports and to choose sports that appeal to them. If children require more than gentle encouragement, then they are not ready for involvement. Unstructured free play should be encouraged to enhance enjoyment of sports, as well as to promote spontaneity and creativity.
- Copyright © 1989 by the American Academy of Pediatrics