Role of Performance Sport in Child & Youth Development

Why is sport important and engaging for youth?

As an athlete in my youth, as a  parent, teacher, education administrator and coach I can both personally and professionally attest to the incredible importance of sport, particularly organized and performance sport, in child and youth development.

Sport is physical as are the young – as a child/youth’s body develops they are intensely engaged in this process, and they need to be physically active in order to develop properly and fully.

Health is the absence of illness, fitness on the other hand, is the presence of physical capability, and the fitter youth are the more capable they are.   Both general physical and sport specific fitness are essential to proper development:  children and youth need to develop their stamina (aerobic capacity), their suppleness and flexibility, their agility, timing and coordination of gross and fine motor skills, and their speed and their strength.  Participation in multiple sports and cross training is essential to their full physical development.

Of course fitness is not just about physical capabilities – there is a tremendous amount of research which supports the importance of fitness – regular physical activity in sport –  for cognitive and social development.  Children and youth who are physically active and engaged in sport develop a fuller sense of self and increased self-confidence.

Physical activity is exhilarating in itself – it is its own reward and most often brings with it a sense of increased well-being and self-worth.  This is in fact what makes sport so much fun – it is not just good for us – it makes us feel good

Sport, because of its physical (concrete vs abstract) nature allows children and youth to learn so much about themselves and what they are capable of – it is in the present leaning – 100%  experiential .  Furthermore, and very important for the young, feedback is instant – it happens simultaneously with their participation/performance.

Challenge is also very important for children and youth – sport gives children and youth the opportunity to challenge themselves in a contained (definable) environment.**   Sport creates a pathway to and through challenge – the challenge is magnetic.

Part of the process of self- awareness and self-identification is dreaming of whom to be – this is a natural/youthful use of one’s imagination – it is part of the focusing of one’s life.  Sport figures very  strongly in this process for youth – sport lets, actually encourages, kids to dream big and chase their dreams in a consuming way.  For us as parents and coaches we see the value of sport in preparing our children for life after sport – for children and youth they are their sport – the importance for them is now.  And this is when their physicality is there for them – performance sport is youth in action.

Sport is fully engaging – it simultaneously involves action in the physical, cognitive, effective and social domains – very few other activities open to children and youth are so engaging

** This is the role of rules in sport – to contain the environment and define the activity within the environment or field of play.

Elite athletes know that preparing and playing to win is what is important – not the winning but rather the preparing and playing to win.  The effort put into winning is what is important. This is what is referred to as process victories vs outcome victories – these are individual athlete defined and centred.

Consider the following benefits of Sport:

Fitness established in youth sets the stage for life long benefits

Sport creates Body Awareness vs Body Image – function vs fashion

Excitement of movement – kinesthetic reward

Multi Dimension Learning – Experiential Learning &  Abstract Learning

Process Reward vs Outcome Reward  – How we work is as important as what it achieves

Challenge and the means to meet it

Shared Experience – family, friends & strangers – common ground

Success – self measured – transference of achievement


Building Athletic Success

The elements of a successful performance sports (ski) program are:

(1) Planning and commitment to the plan – establishing a doable YTP (Yearly Training Plan) for each athlete/team with specific requirements and goals based on:

(2) Fitness – the basis of athleticism is fitness and the basis of all sport is athleticism – to paraphrase an old truism it is “success of the fittest”, to this end an off season and in season fitness training program are crucial – a program which in the off season builds fitness and during the season maintains;

(3) Time on Task under the guidance of experienced coaches – learning new skills and having time to practice to mastery is essential – the rule of 10,000 applies – Free ski 10 days each for Slalom and GS X 5 years = mastery.

(4) Technical skill mastery established in free skiing and transferred to race environments – skiing is an open ended sport and conditions are never the same run to run or day to day;

(5) Opportunity to ski variable terrain – most importantly access to the steeps – learning to control and use the forces that increased pitch produce;

(6) Event specific training on variable terrain and conditions;

(7) Train to Race volume – the train to race ratio during the competition period should be a minimum of 2:1, therefore, a 16 race season should be supported by 32 days of specific race training = 48 day competition season;

(8) Individually appropriate competition calendar – races selected for challenge and probability of success;

(9) Ongoing athlete/team assessments and goal evaluations.

We have the capability of successfully designing and delivering a program which meets each and all of these elemental requirements.  To do so we will have to travel to train on the steeps, that is critical to the technical mastery and event specific training.  This can be accomplished by running spring, summer, pre-season on-snow camps and by extending our regular program to other venues in Ontario and Quebec.    We can also consider mid-season training camps (extended long weekends) when the schedule permits to venues like Lake Placid or Mont St Marie…there are numerous possibilities when there is commitment.

Reasons why you should attend a summer and/or pre-season ski camp:

(1)  Focused time on task – you will get a number (6-10) consecutive days training which you rarely get during the winter season  and which do not interfere with your school commitments.   During summer and pre-season camps you can stay focused on technical developments as you are not under pressure to prep for an upcoming race.  You can do thousands of technical turns in very controlled conditions – skill mastery is possible in the right environment;

(2) You start the on-snow season at home in December ready to begin race preparations – you are not playing catch up with other teams;

(3) Successful technical achievements made in summer/fall camp are a strong motivation and confidence building force as you enter the fall dryland season and your first on snow days of the winter.