During the London 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games television viewers will be regaled with stories of how athletes overcame adversity, training setbacks, injury, or even personal tragedy to reach the pinnacle of their sporting careers. We will surely hear about the various ‘life lessons’ these athletes learned through sport. But can sport really help develop life skills?
Researchers have scrutinized and criticized the popular view that ‘sport builds character’ and helps children learn life skills. In fact, there is evidence showing youth sport participation has been associated with negative issues such aggression, breaking rules, adults modeling inappropriate behaviors, and among older adolescent athletes, the misuse of alcohol and illegal drugs. On the other hand, numerous positive developmental indicators have been associated with sport participation, including improved self-esteem, emotional regulation, problem-solving, goal attainment, social skills, and academic performance.
So how can sport produce both positive and negative outcomes? It is because the outcomes of sport are contingent on the ways in which sport is delivered by parents and coaches and experienced by children. Different types of delivery and experiences will lead to different types of outcomes. Positive outcomes, such as life skills, must be directly taught to young athletes. They do not naturally occur just by playing a sport. As youth sport researchers often say, “life skills are taught, not ;
So, do children learn life skills by playing sport? The balance of evidence is children can learn life skills by playing sport, but only when sport is delivered in appropriate ways.
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