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.
Maltreatment in Youth Sport: A Systemic Issue
Gretchen Kerr, Anthony Battaglia, and Ashley Stirling
Mastery and Belonging or Inspiration Porn and Bullying: Special Populations in Youth Sport
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.
Mental Health and Organized Youth Sport
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.
Performance Enhancement and the Young Athlete: Mapping the Landscape and Navigating Future Directions
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.
Physical Growth and Development in Young Athletes: Factors of Influence and Consequence
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.
Promoting Physical Activity Through Youth Sport
Karin A. Pfeiffer and Michael J. Wierenga
Participation in a sport is widely considered a valuable form of physical activity, especially for children and adolescents. In addition, many think that sport participation translates to future physical activity. However, limited research has examined the ability of youth sport to significantly contribute to meeting daily physical activity guidelines (60 min/day of moderate to vigorous physical activity) and whether the physical activity behaviors of youth sport participants will translate into future, habitual activity in both the short and the long term. In this paper, available research on the role of youth sport in the promotion of physical activity is evaluated. Two major questions are used to frame the discussion: How much physical activity do youth sport participants attain during games and practices, and does sport participation during childhood and adolescence translate into habitual physical activity in adulthood? This is followed by ideas for future research and preliminary recommendations for best practices or policies.
Revealing Findings in Youth Sport Parenting Research
Camilla J. Knight
It is widely accepted that parents are a pivotal part of young people’s sporting journey, and over the last 4 decades there has been a substantial growth in research pertaining to youth sport parenting. The aim of this paper is to review the status of the literature pertaining to parenting in youth sport and suggest areas for future work. Specifically, the author provides a very brief history of sport parenting research before turning attention to the 3 areas of study that are currently attracting the majority of researchers’ attention: the influence of parental involvement in youth sport, factors affecting parental involvement in youth sport, and strategies to promote high-quality parental involvement. Future research directions pertaining to the sport parenting questions that are asked, the populations that are sampled, and the interventions that are developed and evaluated are subsequently provided. Finally, the paper concludes with some considerations for best practice in sport clubs and organizations that seek to foster more adaptive youth sport parenting.
Reviewers for the Special Issue on Contemporary Youth Sport: Critical Issues and Future Directions
Taking Stock of Youth Sport Group Dynamics Research: A Scoping Review
Brennan Petersen, Mark Eys, Kody Watson, and M. Blair Evans
Given the prevalence of group contexts in sport and the importance of the social environment for motivating youth participants, understanding and enhancing group dynamics are critical to facilitate youths’ participation in, and development through, sport. The current objective was to report on a scoping review that was employed to summarize research focused on the dynamics in youth sport groups. The review identified several themes that have been focused on with regularity (i.e., cohesion) and identified others with opportunities for greater incorporation in youth sport research (e.g., cooperation). Furthermore, encouragement is provided to move beyond survey-based, cross-sectional research and to give greater consideration to a developmental approach to understanding child and youth perceptions of the groups to which they belong. Overall, there are many opportunities for researchers to study the dynamics of youth sport groups with an aim to enhance the experiences of young athletes and facilitate group functioning.
Youth Sport as a Vehicle for Social Development
Sport is viewed as a setting with potential to offer social benefits to youth participants and alleviate broader social problems. Such promise requires intentionality of sport program philosophy, design, and execution. When designed with intentionality, youth sport can bring about positive change for individual youth and societies. This paper overviews the broad literature base, exploring 2 approaches to the promotion of social development through youth sport. One explores social- and/or life-skill development through sport for individual participants, whereas the other examines the role of sport in addressing broader social problems. Evidence-based strategies for fostering social development through youth sport are synthesized, providing guidance to coaches, administrators, youth workers, and others engaged in youth sport design, and exemplar programs that use youth sport as a vehicle for social development are presented. Limitations in youth sport research are summarized, and a call is made for more intentionally designed youth sport to promote social development.