In doing this you should pay particular attention to considering the roles of influential others during the various developmental stages (as outlined by cote and hay, 2002) of a young athletes career.
“Whether children remain in sport and become involved in regular physical activity depends on personal experiences, which are heavily influenced by their social environment” (Cote & Hay (A), 2002: 486). This proclamation from Cote and Hay demonstrates that external influences are the dominant factor in children’s continued partaking of sport. This essay will consider the multi facets of any given child’s social environment, and analyse the extent to which each has a bearing on participation, whilst placing this in the context of Cote & Hays (2002) three stages of participation ” the sampling years, specializing years, and investment years” (Cote & Hay (A), 2002: 487). The essay will then progress to scrutinize policies that have been implemented to increase participation and manage the identified issues.
In a paper presented to Sport England Tess Kay referred to the family as “a critical agent for sports socialisation” (Kay, 2003: 39). The relevance of this assertion to initial child participation in sport is demonstrated by the study of Cote (1999) which stated “during the sampling years parents were responsible for getting their children interested in sport” (Cote, 1999: 401). Thus parents are the initiators to sport participation, responsible for the activities they are exposed to and the key influence in whether children move on to the specializing stage of development.
Cote’s (1999) study showed that in the sampling phase parents main emphasis “was to have their children experience fun and excitement through sport” (Cote, 1999: 401). He goes on to state that this is important as the motive for initial child participation is enjoyment (Cote 1999), hence continued participation by children after the sampling stage is often dependent on the type and emphasis of support offered by parents. Parents should ensure “deliberate play” (Cote & Hay (A), 2002: 491) is the focus as “emphasis on performance may influence children’s motivation for participation to the extent they drop out of organized sport” (Cote & Hay (A), 2002: 486). This is a key issue for clubs and policy makers as adult norms and values can transcend into the youth sport structure through parents, having a detrimental effect.
Values such as increased adult expectations for personal performance, physical excellence and stress on achievement lead to a neglect of enjoyment, and dropping out inevitably follows (Cote & Hay (A), 2002). “Parental expectations influence the decision to engage in particular activities” (Cote & Hay (B), 2002: 512) and require a delicate balance as high and low expectations are associated with less enthusiasm from children and thus lack of participation (Power & Woolger, 1994). Negative experiences with parents are an important factor that helps explain the decrease in sport participation as children age.
During the transition from the sampling years to the specializing years, “parents roles should be to facilitate rather than direct sport involvement” (Cote & Hay (B), 2002: 513), this with reasonable expectations will encourage continued participation. My experience was one of parent facilitation as I was encouraged to pursue whatever sport I enjoyed the most by my parents. Increased awareness of this issue is needed, as many parents would believe their attitudes were having a positive not negative effect on participation. This may have to come by clubs being directed by government policy, and then educating parents making sure the emphasis from them is on enjoyment at the early stages of sport involvement (as was found in Cote’s (1999) study). This would allow increased participation into the later stages of sporting development.
The previous paragraphs have highlighted the issues of support emphasis from parents. The focus will now change to the type of support needed by parents through the developmental stages and how this affects clubs and policies in terms of continued child participation. In the sampling stage Cote and Hay (2002) concluded that emotional support in terms of being there for comfort and security in times of anxiety and stress was the most important factor. In practical terms this may require clubs to encourage parents to come and watch sessions or just educate them in the benefits of positive feedback to the children. My parents often came to watch me play badminton, which gave me satisfaction and made me want to continue to play and impress them. As children move into the specializing years Kirk et al (1997) summarize that “families make a substantial contribution to their children’s involvement in sport through commitment of their time particularly through transporting, spectating and often as club volunteers” (Kirk et al, 1997: 70). This combined with financial and emotional strain allows the participation in sport to continue at the higher developmental levels (Cote, 1999).
The increase in commitment needed from families and children at the specializing stage can put strain on the athlete-parent relationship. Hellstedt (1987) suggested that a moderate level of involvement promotes the best interest of the child, even if it means sacrificing personal interests. (Cited in Cote and Hay, 2002: 506). Parental involvement can be viewed by the athlete as facilitative or debilitative towards their progression. An over involved parent for example could cause a negative effect on the relationship by placing pressure on the child. Cote’s (1999) research showed that parents who followed Hellstedt’s moderately involved model and “facilitated their children’s involvement in sport rather than directing them” (Cote, 1999: 406) assisted continued participation in an active lifestyle. Thus encouraging parents to follow the moderately involved model is a key issue for clubs and policy makers pursuing progression of elite athletes, and general increased partaking in active lifestyles by children.
An important contemporary issue in terms of family involvement that is raised by Kay (2003) is “most sport research assumes the traditional model of the family…treating it as a one dimensional construct rather than a complex and variable social institution” (Kay, 2003: 44). This is a relevant issue for sports participation as factors such as financial and time support which shape continued participation are affected. From Kay’s (2003) research “two broad contemporary family scenarios need consideration from sport policy makers” (Kay, 2003: 56). First how single parent families resource constraints, typically limited parental time and limited income, pose obstacles to providing opportunities for children to participate in sport. And second, parental time shortage in dual work households again posing obstacles to regular participation. It is thus important that future mass participation policy ensures the “family” is not seen as operating in one crude form and that contemporary situations are recognised. This along with Kay’s (2003) suggestion of more quantitative research into the links between family and sport participation should ensure continued involvement in active lifestyles.
Away from the family physical education plays an important role in acquiring and sustaining children’s interest in sport to encourage continued involvement outside of the school environment. This essay will argue in agreement of Houlihan (2000) that the National Curriculum for Physical Education (NCPE) was “constructed around conventional disciplines and traditional content” (Houlihan, 2000: 173) and as such forms the base of a pyramid structure for youth sport, where marked decreases in participation occur as development in sport increases (Kirk & Gorely, 2000). Built into the pyramids design “is the systematic exclusion of young people” (Kirk & Gorely, 2000: 123) inhibiting continued participation in sport.
It can be seen that this structure provision is stopping willing and able young athletes from continuing to participate in sport, as where does a young person go when they are prevented from reaching the next level. Recent initiatives such as PESSCL have aimed to “enhance the take-up of sporting opportunities by 5-16 year-olds through high quality P.E, and improving club links” (www.teachernet.gov.uk). This along with Sport England’s 1999 non school based but still relevant “more people, more places more medals” (Kirk & Gorely, 2000: 123) approach shows modern policies taking an inclusive method, attempting to create situations where “participation in physical activity across the lifespan is promoted alongside an emphasis on elite development” (Kirk & Gorely, 2000: 124). Therefore sport development structure starting at the base of physical education, is an issue that has been recognised and acted upon to encourage progression through Cote and Hay’s developmental stages and continued participation in sport by children.
Along with structure both Penny (2000) and Houlihan (2000) criticised physical education for its exclusion of continued participation through content. The NCPE can be seen as narrow, centring on the “acquisition of physical characteristics associated with elite performance in selected sports” (Penny, 2000: 139). The “Raising the Game” initiative is a clear example of this as it “emphasized the priority of competitive team sports within the curriculum” (Houlihan, 2000: 173). With such an exclusive content the curriculum can be seen as blocking participation to the specializing stage as it limits the number of sports children are exposed to at the sampling stage. The narrow focus in terms of skills and knowledge obtained could lead to children losing interest at an early stage or not having the skills to progress to the specializing stage, therefore not continuing in an active lifestyle.
This exclusion issue is now being tackled by the government and catering for provision in physical education. For example the Active Schools Programme (1999) that aims to provide all pupils with high quality, sustainable opportunities to learn foundation skills and participate in sports of their choice (Houlihan 2000). This along with Sport England’s “Sport for All” policy, are examples of initiatives promoting wider opportunities and participation in physical activity within and outside schools.
This is the start of the “fundamental change to the framework” (Penny, 2000: 143) that is needed but as Houlihan argues there are very few mass participation initiatives. I argue that there is still a performance emphasis in a narrow field within the NCPE, with programmes such as the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (a government-funded programme, aiming to help committed athletes combine their sport and education and develop their talent for the future) (www.tass.gov.uk) promoting excellence rather than mass level participation. The unbalance needs addressing to allow more children to access and continue to participate in a wider variety of activities through the development stages. This could be achieved by emphasizing Siedentop’s educative goal which is “inclusive and primarily for the developmental benefits it provides participants” (Siedentop, 2002: 349) rather than pursuing a performance agenda.
A final issue this essay will pursue is how relationships with coaches and peers affect participation. “The coach-athlete relationship can ultimately influence the athletes sport enjoyment and decision to continue participating in sport” (Cote, 2002: 523). In Mcphail et al’s study all the coaches at Forest Athletic club had undertaken some form of coach education. This allowed them to be knowledgeable enough to create a “climate conducive to the educative goal” (Mcphail et al, 2003: 264). They focused on the development of the performer as a whole and created an enjoyable environment. Hence making the focus enjoyment rather than winning, a factor favourable to continued participation. This encouraged continued involvement into the specializing stage. The education of coaches is a key issue for clubs and policy makers as educated coaches are more likely to create favourable conditions for continued participation and exert positive influences on children, again making them more likely to continue to participate. Without coach education clubs can operate “multiple agendas which contain conflicting expectations from coaches and athletes” (Kirk, 2003: 44).
Mcphail et al also found that specializer’s “talked about the importance of friendship to their continuing participation” (Mcphail et al, 2003: 264). I have experienced this myself with wanting to go to football every week to see friends that were not at my school. The clubs emphasis on the educative goal and enjoyment appeared to have assisted in this process. Therefore advocating once more coach education and the importance of clubs encouraging strong peer relationships to foster continued participation.
This paper has shown that participation in youth sport is a complex social phenomenon which is very much multi dimensional issue. However throughout a common theme has emerged. If “influential others” pursue a sport education agenda in the earlier stages of development it facilitates enjoyment which in turn leads to continued participation in the later stages of development. This has been shown in terms of parents, coaches, and schools. It has been shown that youth sport is a crowded policy space (Houlihan, 2000) with many parties often competing with conflicting interests, a prime example being National Governing bodies pursuing excellence and schools pursuing participation. It is important for policy makers to have an objective view of youth sport taking into consideration contemporary social issues and formulating balanced policies, which allow the quest for excellence to stand side by side with mass participation allowing as many children as possible to continue to participate in an active life style.
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