Youth sport participation has been found to have many beneficial physical, psychological, and social consequences, as well as risks for those involved. If the benefits are to outweigh the detriments, youth sport must be thoughtfully constructed. Research can play a major role in understanding how to positively structure youth sport. This paper describes how the youth sport landscape has changed over the past 4 decades and how these changes may influence the outcomes of involvement. Critical issues of contemporary concern in youth sport that urgently need scientific attention include physically based issues (e.g., role of youth sport in combating physical inactivity, youth sport injuries), psychological issues (e.g., reducing stress and burnout, enhancing young athletes’ mental health), access and structural issues (e.g., lack of opportunities for poor and less-skilled youth), sport culture issues (e.g., the professionalization of youth sport, child safety, maltreatment and bullying), issues associated with significant others (e.g., coach, sport parent, and peer influences and needs), economic issues (e.g., youth sport as business), governmental and legislative issues (e.g., the need to become more politically active in the setting of policy, legislation, and funding), and translational science and program-evaluation issues (e.g., the need for research dissemination and evaluation research).
Thelma S. Horn
Developmentally based theories in the social-psychology field emphasize the important role that significant adults play in relation to children’s psychosocial health and well-being. In particular, these theories suggest that the responses adults provide to children in reaction to their performance attempts may affect the children’s own perceptions and evaluations of their competencies, as well as their overall self-worth. In the youth sport setting, coaches may be the main providers of performance-related feedback. The purpose of this paper was to use current research and theory to identify and discuss 4 dimensions of coaches’ feedback that are relevant to the growth and development of young athletes: content, delivery, degree of growth orientation, and extent of stereotyping. The paper ends with recommendations for future research on the topic, with emphasis on examining developmental transitions and why coaches give feedback in particular ways.
Alan L. Smith and Daniel Gould
Stéphanie Turgeon, Kelsey Kendellen, Sara Kramers, Scott Rathwell, and Martin Camiré
The practice of high school sport is, in large part, justified based on the premise that participation exposes student-athletes to an array of situations that, when experienced positively, allow them to learn and refine the life skills necessary to become active, thriving, and contributing members of society. The purpose of this paper is to examine how we can maximize the developmental potential of high school sport and make it impactful. Extant literature suggests that high school sport participation exposes student-athletes to a variety of experiences that can positively and negatively influence their personal development, with coaches playing a particularly influential role in this developmental process. However, within this body of evidence, issues of research quality have been raised, limiting the inferences that can be drawn. Future research directions are presented that address methodological limitations. Furthermore, in efforts to (re)consider the desired impact of high school sport, a critical discussion with policy and practical implications is offered.
Gretchen Kerr, Anthony Battaglia, and Ashley Stirling
The recent, highly publicized cases of maltreatment of athletes have garnered critical attention by the public at large and stakeholders in sport, alike. For many, these cases threaten popular views that sport contributes in important ways to positive youth development. The growing evidence showing that maltreatment occurs to youth sport participants highlights the need for safe, harm-free sport environments as a fundamental prerequisite for positive developments to be reaped. By unpacking the case study of USA Gymnastics and Dr. Larry Nassar’s abuses in this paper, the authors show that for athlete maltreatment to occur and be sustained across so many victims and so many years, more than a perpetrator is needed. The nature of the environment, from the interpersonal level to organizational policies and societal influences, contributes to the occurrence and perpetuation of athlete maltreatment. Using Bronfenbrenner’s ecological-systems model, the authors argue for a systemic approach to preventing and addressing athlete maltreatment. Recommendations are posed for safeguarding youth athletes and fostering the sporting conditions in which positive youth development can occur.
Jeffrey J. Martin
This paper examines the factors that make up a high-quality youth-sport experience for special-population children. It is important to note that special-population youth are often very similar to nondisabled children (e.g., seeking enjoyment in sport), but they experience different contexts and socialization experiences such as fewer opportunities and more barriers to sport participation. The author first examines positive factors in the youth-sport experience and discusses mastery experiences and the generation of positive affect. He also discusses how sport can promote feelings of belongingness, freedom, and independence. In the second part of the paper he discusses how the youth-sport experience can contribute to a negative experience by examining bullying and teasing, as well as “inspiration porn.” Inspiration porn is a relatively new concept in the disability literature that has not been discussed in a sport context. The author proposes a five-component model that links anecdotal reports of inspiration porn to theory, thus providing a basis for future research on inspiration porn. Throughout the paper he examines research in each area, theories used, important findings, salient take-home points, and future research directions and imbues the paper in a disability social-relational model that asserts that individual, social, environmental, and cultural factors all play a role as proximal and distal influences in the sport experiences of special-population youth.
Stewart A. Vella
Mental health is one of the most prominent global burdens of disease among young people, while organized youth sport is one of the most popular activities for children and adolescents worldwide. Organized sport can be an engaging vehicle for the promotion of mental health, but participation also brings several meaningful risks and detriments for young people’s mental health. This paper contains a review of the evidence underpinning the relationships between sport participation and mental health during childhood and adolescence and also outlines the key areas of risk for mental health problems. Relevant theoretical frameworks are discussed, as are the key concepts underpinning 2 exemplar sport-based interventions to promote mental health and reduce the risk of mental health problems. Recommendations for best practice in organized youth sport are not available. However, relevant frameworks are outlined, from which administrators, coaches, and athletes can base the design and delivery of sport programs to be consistent with relevant theoretical and philosophical approaches such as the athlete-centered approach to youth sports.
Chris G. Harwood and Sam N. Thrower
The aim of this paper is to provide a comprehensive narrative review of extant scientific knowledge on the effectiveness of performance-enhancement-based interventions in youth sport settings. Specifically, the authors explore the effects of psychological interventions on the sport performance of young athletes (18 yr of age or under). Drawing on over 80 published studies that have attempted to enhance young athletes’ performances using a range of methodological and strategic approaches, four main clusters of research are presented. These clusters include single-strategy psychological-skills-training (PST) interventions, multimodal PST interventions, alternative single-strategy interventions, and alternative multimodal interventions. In each of these clusters, the landscape of work is overviewed and papers of particular methodological interest are highlighted before the authors draw out critical reflections, future research directions, and recommendations for supporting further scholarship and practice with young athletes.
Adam D.G. Baxter-Jones
In the early 1900s it was thought that exercise directly stimulated growth; however, by the end of the century it was suggested that young athletes were selected based on inherited physical attributes that enhanced performance success. In this paper, the physical attributes and normal patterns of growth of young athletes, both competitive and recreational, are discussed. Specifically, the paper addresses the question, Are young athletes born with physical attributes suited to a sport or does sport training produce these physical attributes? Variability in the tempo and timing of normal growth and development is addressed, and its relevance and influence on youth talent identification is discussed. This is pertinent in today’s context of sport specialization at relatively young ages. Regular physical training is only one of many factors that could affect child growth; however, distinguishing influences of training programs on growth from those associated with normal growth and development is problematic.