Children in Sports From a Biopsychosocial Perspective Book Review

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Children in Sports; From a Biopsychosocial Perspective

Children and Youth in Sport: a Biopsychosocial Perspective by Frank Smoll and Ronald E. Smith is a comprehensive sports psychology book that focuses on children and their participation in sports from a physical, psychological and social perspective. The authors discuss how there is a strong tendency in our society to view participation in sports in a most favorable light. Children are encouraged to participate in organized youth sports programs because these programs are thought to promote such fundamental values as character, teamwork, determination, and commitment. However, this bias toward regarding sports involvement in a positive manner can be troublesome if it blinds us to recognizing that problems exist.

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In recent years we have come to realize that some professional level athletes have serious problems; drug and alcohol abuse, spousal violence, and acts of sexual aggression. We now know that the lives of professional athletes are not always happy ones, even when athletes are blessed with incredible talent and large financial rewards. But according to Smoll and Smith, we have been much slower to recognize the problems inherent in the world of youth sports. Perhaps this is partly because we are much more likely to pay attention to the problems of famous celebrities than to the problems of children. Or perhaps it is partly because we want to believe that youth sports programs are always a positive experience for children. According to the authors, "It is disturbing to look behind the facade and to realize that children participating in organized sport programs are sometimes unhappy, often pressured, and sometimes cruelly exploited" (p. 99). I think that this line of discussion would make an important and valuable contribution to a sport psychology class, considering that the children in sports today are the sports heroes (and villains) of the future.

Book Review on Children in Sports; From a Biopsychosocial Perspective Assignment

Another important topic discussed in this book is: Why have organized sports programs for children become so extraordinarily popular? According to the authors, there is no simple answer, and the complex answer involves understanding our society and culture as much as it involves understanding our individual psychology. The decision to involve a young child in a sports program is largely made by the parents, although the child has more say in the matter as she grows older. But once the decision is made, it involves the whole family, and parent and child become locked in a complex dance of action and reaction, cause and effect, as the child's involvement has a ripple effect on family relationships and motivations. To understand why participation in sports can cause the sorts of problems described above, Smoll and Smith believe we need to understand thoroughly these social and psychological pressures.

The first factor we must understand is that parents have a deep and powerful love for their children. Because they want the best for their child, they want their child's sporting experiences to be happy and productive. The result of these attitudes is that parents usually become very emotionally involved in the youth sports experience. If youth sports were just about play, they would not be such an emotional topic. But youth sports involve competition, and this is what makes them intensely involving. Parents see their children begin to compare themselves to others, and the evaluations are often not favorable. Their children experience failure and loss, and often this is an upsetting experience. Their young desires and hopes are often frustrated by the coldness of reality, and there is not much the parents can do to change it. This is frustrating, so the parents try to ease their frustrations by pushing their children to do better, therefore eliminating the negative consequences of doing poorly.

The process of identification helps us understand what happens to youth sports parents as they become more involved in their child's endeavors. It explains the incredible joy when a child succeeds, the devastating sense of personal failure when a child's team loses, the way parents can take criticisms of their child so personally, even from a coach. Unfortunately, the strength of the love of a parent for a child, which can be such a great resource to help the child cope with the challenges of becoming a good athlete, can become a handicap when the parent steps over the line and acts irrationally, or irresponsibly, because of the depth of the feelings they have for their child.

Another aspect of the identification process is celebrity adulation. In a society that focuses an enormous amount of media attention on celebrities, sports stars are among the biggest celebrities out there. There has been a great deal of debate about the extent to which these sports stars are role models for children in our society. Whether the actions of sports celebrities on and off the court noticeably influence the behavior of children is debatable. What is clearly true is that many children, perhaps most, entertain fantasies of living out experiences based on the actions of their sporting favorites. What Little Leaguer hasn't imagined at some time that he is at the plate with the score tied in the bottom of the ninth inning of the deciding seventh game of the World Series? It's a wonderful fantasy, both helping to motivate the child to continue her own sports participation, and adding excitement to her youth league contests. Smoll and Smith make an excellent point when they explain that children naturally identify with their sports idols, but parents also tend to have similar fantasies about their children. This is particularly true for parents of talented young athletes, who begin to allow themselves fantasies of "what if?" scenarios. This is when the need to pressure children to excel in sports may become excessive.

Another factor that helps to explain the emotional intensity created in parents by youth involvement in sports is the tendency to view the child's athletic success as a just reward for the parent's investment of time and energy. Many parents today view youth sports not as a fun activity for their child, or even as a means to promote good health and fitness, but as a means of achieving a desired goal. The goal can be a college scholarship, a contract with a sponsor, a professional sports career, or a variety of objectives reflecting the achievement of fame, glory, power, or material rewards. Parents today seem especially susceptible to this attitude when they see money spent on their son's or daughter's sport as an "investment, " because they expect some kind of payoff down the road. Instead of enjoying their child's sports experience, these parents spend time worrying about whether progress is being made toward the long-term goal of the investment. The effect of seeing sports as just a means to an end can be devastating to youth sports programs. When parents, coaches, and administrators focus on youth sports as a means of achieving their own goals, sports stop being for the kids. When the needs of the children are left out of the equation, sports become a hollow experience.

Competition between parents is another reason for such a strong emotional involvement. Youth sports competitions are emotionally intense because the parent is sharing the emotional experience of the child (often experiencing even more competitive anxiety than the child does). But children's sporting competitions also affect parents in another way. Parents sometimes feel competitive with other parents over whose child is the better athlete. There is a healthy basis for this competitive attitude. It is natural for parents to feel pride when their child succeeds in sport. But for some parents, feeling good about a child's sporting accomplishments only occurs when the child outperforms other children. These parents need to see their child win the race, score the most goals, or get the most hits in a game. If other… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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