NHL or Bust

by Hannah K.

As a (soon to be) sports and recreation professional, I get a lot of questions from parents regarding the development of their child athletes.  This being Canada, the birthplace and centre of the Universe for hockey, I get a lot of youth hockey-based questions.  A common question is around youth attending hockey-based schools and development programs.  Many parents want what’s best for their children and will do everything they can to try to give them the best chance of making the National Hockey League (NHL) but wonder if the expense and time spent away from home are worth it. I will give my opinion, but I find the most useful way to address this with parents is by presenting them with facts.

As a note, there have been several professional women’s leagues over the years, but they have only recently started paying players and it is a supplemental income, not a primary one.  For this reason, and the fact that there are few statistics available for female hockey players, this blog post will stick to male players.  When female players start playing hockey as a primary source of income the question can be revisited from that perspective.

There has been a trend in recent years of hockey schools and developmental programs popping up in high numbers across the country.  Many are affiliated with an elite level team and there’s significant pressure on parents to enroll their child in these expensive programs in order for them to get to the next level and ultimately to the NHL.  The schools tend to have a keen focus on hockey and very little academic focus because their credibility and therefore marketability is governed by the quality of teams and athletes that they produce, not by their students’ academic achievements.  They also insist that the child participate in hockey only and extend the season with camps and spring/summer/early fall programs to keep kids playing hockey, and paying money, year-round.

The first thing I’d like to address is the chance of a player making the NHL.  There have been several studies done on the slim likelihood of a child making it to the NHL, the most often cited one was done by Jim Parcels in 2003.  In Mr. Parcels study he follows approximately 30 000 minor hockey children born in Ontario in 1975.  The 1975 group was one of the stronger years for producing NHL players.  His findings were:

  • 30 000 played minor hockey;
  • 232 were drafted into the OHL (Major Junior), of these only 105 played OHL;
  • 42 were drafted by NCAA teams but this has been steadily trending down and full scholarships are pretty much non-existent now,;
  • 56 were drafted by NHL teams, 48 of those were signed by a team;
  • Of the 48 signed by teams, only 39 actually got an NHL contract;
  • Of the 39 with contracts, only 32 played in the NHL;
  • Of the 32 who played only 15 played more than one season;
  • Only 6 played 400 games, the league minimum to be eligible for a pension.

Those were pretty long odds back in 2003 for Ontarians (approximately 1 in 1000) but Hockey Canada uses a number of 1 in 4000 so the chances in the rest of Canada are even slimmer.

Another of the issues with these schools and camps are that they often carry a hefty price tag.  Most of the elite programs on the shoulder seasons of the regular season require the child to pay to play (generally a high price that includes paying for ice time, referees, coaches pay and travel and a profit to the organization) plus travel, lodging and food for the player and his/her parents.  Hockey schools across Canada have tuition and residence fees of up to $50,000 per year.  Often parents will argue that is an investment if their child can at least get skilled enough for a full University scholarship, but these are a myth as well.  According to Tim Turk Hockey,  the average sports scholarship in Canada is just over $1,000, not nearly enough to cover even tuition at a Canadian University.  NCAA schools in the United States can offer full scholarships for Canadian athletes, but it is a very rare occurrence as more and more American youth are playing hockey, and at a much higher level. Therefore, it is likely to occur even less, if at all, going forward.

Early specialization, as we have discussed in our class, can be a major issue in youth sport. In these hockey schools or intense training programs, there is often a huge emphasis on playing hockey and hockey only. Specialization can lead to burnout, injury, inability to learn transferrable skills, and an overall loss of interest for youth in their sport. There is some research studies done on professional athletes and their experience with early specialization vs. multi sport and often times they highly recommend to stay in multiple sports for as long as you can (Russell, 2014). Multi-sport athletes have a much more well-rounded skill set that makes them an overall better athlete and positions them for better hockey success.  Wayne Gretzky, Brendan Shanahan, John Tavares and other hockey stars were also great lacrosse players; Steve Nash could have been a professional soccer player but chose to be an NBA MVP.  Sydney Crosby teaches kids to play diverse sports at his hockey school in Cole Harbour, N.S. based on the same logic that I, and several others in the sports world, have been embracing.

So, based on all of the above, when pressed for my opinion, I generally make a recommendation similar to that of Mr. Parcels’ study.  If they want to put their child into developmental programs and schools in hopes that they will end up an NHL player, then they’re probably setting themselves and their child up for disappointment.  If they feel that participation in these programs is what’s best for their child’s full development and it does not interfere with school and other interests, then by all means enroll them, just be sure to temper your expectations to reflect the facts.


Russell, W. D. (2014). The relationship between youth sport specialization, reasons for participation, and youth sport participation motivations: A retrospective study. Journal of Sport Behavior, 37(3), 286.

Posted in Positive Youth Development | Tagged , , ,


by Priayanka D.

Youth sport is any event where the competitors are younger than adult age; whether they are children or adolescents. This includes school sports as well as sports played outside the educational system. Organized sports involve physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs, and often categorized as competitive sports. Today, youth are so over scheduled; taking part in a multitude of organized kids’ activities – from music lessons to soccer games and after-school tutoring. It’s clear why they would not want to continue that lifestyle at such a young age – most adults don’t even enjoy having such a large number of tasks to do.

There is a clear push for kids to specialize and achieve at the highest possible level. However, too much pressure from coaches and parents for the child to perform well can drive them away from the activity. Working too hard as a young child, practicing every day of the week and competing monthly can certainly take away the fun from the activity for youth. It becomes worse if there is no free play and every activity is completely structured. Kids need time to relax and have fun; it is their right to play.

Adults today, fail to realize that there is an overemphasis on winning at younger ages and it prevents children from developing at their own pace, it is stripping away their childhood before they get to enjoy it. This can be related to the Sport Enjoyment Model which is vital in the developing stages of an athlete. It was established by Scanlan et al (2003) with the effort of describing the components that encourage athlete commitment. The model can be applied across various contexts and can be used to identify the sources of commitment for athletes. Commitment along with goal-setting, imagery and performance evaluation has been proven as an indicator of athletic success (Abbott & Collins, 2004; Burton et al., 2005).

Youth may also try to stop their activity of choice when their parent or coach try to take over and the child loses ownership of the experience. This is applicable to parents who try to live vicariously through their children. Parents who did not have certain opportunities when they were young and try to provide all the right opportunities for their children, encourage them to be involved in organized sports that they (the parent) would have enjoyed as a child. Although the parents initially mean well and have good intentions, this may not be what the child wants and, therefore, the experience is more geared to the adult living a dream rather than the child having a positive or fulfilling experience. This can also apply to situations where someone is always standing over their shoulder, criticizing every move they make. When kids are constantly scrutinized by an adult, they can lose the confidence and motivation to continue that activity as the enjoyment is taken away and they are only left to feel bad about their performance – they become afraid to make mistakes. In the event where an athlete makes a mistake during a game and the coach keeps them out of the games following that one (whether for the season or for specific games); they are being punished for making a mistake and this can create a fear that drives players away or out of the game. Should kids sports not be all about them? Their opinions seem to get left out in many circumstances. According to a study done last year from George Washington University, kids say what makes sports fun is trying your best. Even when they lose, it’s okay – because they know they gave it their best. What took the fun out of sports was parents and coaches focusing too much on what was done wrong instead of the good things they were able to accomplish (Chad Rocker, 2015). Coaches and parents have the responsibility to create an environment that serves the needs, values and priorities of the kids. It is crucial to their development that they feel safe in their environment and they are allowed to fail in order to learn.

There is a cost to being competitive in organized sports and not everyone is willing or able to pay for it. Having to play at a competitive level can mean having to prioritize their commitments and interests and work tirelessly. Youth have to deal with the pressure of participating at a higher level, training year-round, getting individual coaching, attending multiple tournaments or games and attending training camps. When parents invest their own time and money into expensive equipment, they have even higher expectations of their children and look forward to a high performance at all or most events. This can place additional pressure and tension on the child.

Another reason why youth gradually lose interest in sports is due to the social and emotional changes they experience. Kids become more focused on, and influenced by their friends – many of whom may also be walking away from organized sports. They feel the need to “fit in” with their peers and to include social media, smartphones and the internet in their everyday lives more than physical activity. The blog page “24/7 Moms” has stated that youth engage in sports only because of friends and the enjoyment of participation than for the ability to feel healthy (Moms, 2015). Furthermore, it is often argued that sports should be characterized as joyful and provide both recreational and elite investment. The priorities of Generation Z are much different from the previous generations; how they socialize, study and spend their free time. It all happens at the same time they are going through major physical, emotional and social changes as well as facing pressure from parents to reduce or pare down their participation in sport and focus on school.

These changes are happening at every level of youth sport and there is a push to focus on developing athletes rather than winning. Another blog post done by Alex Evans, “Change is Happening and Clear Communication is Needed” speaks about athlete burnout among youth in sport – some of the changes are due to the fact that more and more youth are choosing to leave organized sport because they are experiencing “athlete burnout”. There should be some sort of conscious effort to address this problem, such as a long-term developmental plan for youth athletes. This can help sport organizations and coaches focus on building the necessary skills for a lifelong love of the sport rather than the instant gratification of winning. This will help to better understand why the changes were necessary and what needs to be done in order to make the changes – youth are the future of sport.


Abbott, A., Button, C., Pepping, G-J., & Collins, D. (2005). Unnatural selection: Talent identification and development in sport. Nonlinear Dynamics Psychology and Life Sciences.

Chad Rocker, (2015). Isn’t It all about the Kids? Blog Post, Word Press.com

Kelly Wallace, (2017). In Coach’s Rant, a Lesson for Parents and Athletes. CNN News Cast.

David Benzel, In Youth Sports, Doing Your Best is Always Considered a “WIN”.

Moms, (2015). Fantastic Ways to Get your Kids Interested in Sports. Blog Post, Word Press.com

Posted in Coaching, Positive Youth Development, Sport | Tagged , ,

How Sports Impacts Body Image in Adolescent Girls

by Tony C.

Adolescence is a time when a lot of physical and psychological changes take place. Although most youths cope with this stage successfully, some tend to develop mental health disorders which make them question their body image. Body image refers to an individual’s mental image of his or her personal physical appearance and the related feelings, beliefs, and even sensations. For adolescents, body image is extremely important, especially since they tend to use their physical characteristics to describe themselves. A majority will find a lot of negative aspects in relation to their appearance. This is what impacts their self-esteem and self-worth.

The modern society plays a major role in establishing what seems to be an acceptable body image and what is not. Society tends to glorify physical appearances such as slim, perfect shaped bodies. This is a bad influence on women as their perception of body image is reduced to mere physical appearance (Haugen, Johansen, & Ommundsen, 2014). The same is not the case for boys whose body image is the least of concern. Hence, when girls grow up and reach adolescence, the perception of their physical appearance tends to decline significantly. This is the reason why adolescence seems more stressful for girls than boys as the females compare themselves to what society expects them to look like (Rosdahl, 2014). Therefore, if the physical appearance is not ‘model-like’, their self-esteem lowers.

Participating in sports activities directly influences how an individual develops his/her self-concept, self-esteem and competence (Rosdahl, 2014). When adolescents who are athletes are compared to those who are not athletes, the former are found to have a much higher self-esteem (Dorak, 2011). While focusing on gender, the female athletes showcase higher physical self-concept compared to those who are non-athletes. Also, for both the athlete and non-athlete females, the older they get, the lower their physical self-concept becomes. Overall, the male youth generally showcase better perceptions of their physical abilities and appearance than the females.

Individuals who participate in physical activities tend to have a better body image perception compared to those who are not physically active (Mak et al., 2016). Generally, boys are more engaged in physical activities compared to girls. This could be the reason why, while growing up, they also showcase positive feelings about their bodies compared to females. In addition, girls who participate in physical activities tend to have higher athletic competence and body image compared to those who do not work out in any way (Rosdahl, 2014). Hence, the individuals who are more satisfied with their weight and appearance are male. This is because most females do not work out, thereby leading to a majority being dissatisfied by how they look physically.

Females tend to report higher self-esteem when they engage in leisure sports activities, but lower self-esteem when they engage in competitive sports (Mak et al., 2016). Therefore, even though participating in sports may be a way of predicting self-esteem, the type of sport activity and the gender orientation of the participant is also an important factor to consider (Haugen, Johansen, & Ommundsen, 2014). This could be because competitive sports encourage participants to feel physically inadequate in case they lose to the other team. In addition, the orientation impacts the results as some female adolescents may feel like sporting is a male activity. However, if the participant feels satisfied with the resulting weight as a result of physical activity, then the perceived physical attractiveness is also improved.

Although significant differences are present when comparing body satisfaction in athletes and non-athletes, the same cannot be realized when analyzing their perceptions of health and nutrition (Rosdahl, 2014). Also, it is important to note that in most cases, girls who participate in sports activities are much older than those who do not participate. This could be due to the fact that most adolescents are already conscious of their bodies, which is why they are more willing to work out to ensure they attain the kind of body they want. Most have the perception that if they work out physically, they will lose weight and get the curvy body that is depicted in movies or advertisements as being the most attractive.

It is clear that there is indeed a relationship between sport participation and the resulting perception of body image in youths. Some may argue that the perceived competence tends to directly influence physical self-esteem, which is what will affect the resulting activity behavior in youths (Dorak, 2011). Those who feel like they have a high physical competence are more likely to engage in physical activity than those who do not feel competent enough. This is how the relationship between youth sports and their body image is formed; the youth who participate in sports generally feel like their physical competence is high. This physical competence is what encourages them to participate more in sports. Once a youth is active physically, their bodies become fit thereby improving their body image and the resulting self-esteem.

Considering the fact that the younger girls who do not participate in physical activity are also at a point where they are yet to become more physically conscious, it is clear that this is the time to introduce them to a physical activity program (Mak et al., 2016). Therefore, once they become adolescents, they will feel more competent to continue with physical activities which will help them to improve their self-esteem and self-concept. However, this recommendation does not indicate that those who are already adolescents will not benefit. Trying to encourage them to participate in leisure activities will promote a similar result, where their body image perceptions will be improved. It is not mandatory to engage in competitive physical activity, especially if the adolescent feels uncomfortable in such a situation.

Since the relationship between youth sports and body image has been established, it is clear that encouraging sport activities from a tender age is important. At this time, the individual is yet to get to a point where they are so focused on their body appearances. Hence, it will be easier to encourage them to try out new physical activities without impacting their self-esteem. With this approach, the child will continue to appreciate physical activity even as she grows into the adolescent stage. The sport activities tend to improve self-esteem and body image. However, even those who are already adolescents will need some kind of intervention that will encourage them to embrace physical activity that they are comfortable with.


Dorak, F. (2011). Self-Esteem and Body Image of Turkish Adolescent Girls. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal39(4), 553–561.

Haugen, T., Johansen, B. T., & Ommundsen, Y. (2014). The role of gender in the relationship between physical activity, appearance evaluation and psychological distress. Child & Adolescent Mental Health19(1), 24–30.

Mak, K.-K., Cerin, E., McManus, A., Lai, C.-M., Day, J., Ho, S.-Y., Day, J. R. (2016). Mediating effects of body composition between physical activity and body esteem in Hong Kong adolescents: A structural equation modeling approach. European Journal of Pediatrics175(1), 31–37.

Rosdahl, J. (2014). The Myth of Femininity in the Sport of Bodysculpting. Social Alternatives33(2), 36–42.

Posted in Gender, Positive Youth Development | Tagged , , ,

Childhood Needs Outdoor Play

by Selina F.

Some of my fondest memories as a child involve going outside to play with my sisters and cousins, and roaming about the backyard. I would make mud pies in the rain, chase around my younger sisters, and get all rosy and sweaty while doing so. It was something I looked forward to most days, coming home from school and going to build a snow fort in the backyard, or riding my bike up and down the alley way. Outdoor play had a huge impact on my happiness and health as a child, and I believe that it has had a positive influence on my overall development. One thing that may not be understood, is what the absence of outdoor play is doing to the development of youth, and how missing out on it can have a serious impact on the health and growth of a child.

Outdoor play is rapidly disappearing in the society we live in today. More and more parents are becoming increasingly worried about the safety of their kids, and giving them less freedom when it comes to leaving the house alone or with friends. In a study done with 830 mothers in the US, it was found that although 70% of today’s mothers played outside daily when they were children, only 31% of them allow their children to do so today (Mainella, 2011). This could largely be because parents are afraid to let their children out of their sight because of predators and “stranger-danger”. Although crime statistics may not back up a notion that kids are in tremendous danger of being kidnapped, parents are still more aware of the danger compared to previous generations. This is not to say being protective of your child is wrong, but being overprotective and withholding the opportunity for them to play and create on their own, can be detrimental to their development.

Another reason for the decrease in outdoor playing time is the rise of modern technology and increased media exposure. Children of this generation are exposed to more technology and media than any other generation before. Along with their busy schedules, having all their free time taken up by iPhones and tablets is preventing them from gaining interpersonal skills and autonomy that they would develop through playing outdoors on their own, and with their peers. In addition, with too much screen time, there is now something we refer to as “the over scheduled child”. This refers to the kids who are always rushing from one scheduled activity to another. Their lives consist of: going to school, going to their scheduled after school programs, going home, eating, doing some homework and then going to sleep. These packed schedules leave no room for unstructured, creative outdoor play, and this causes children to miss out on opportunities that can only be received through outdoor play. Through their busy, over scheduled lives, a child nowadays barely has any free time, and when they use that free time, it is spent staring at a screen, or being cooped up inside under the watchful eye of their parent. They are not getting the opportunity to explore their creativity, develop their imaginations and dexterity, and increase their physical, cognitive, and emotional strength (Ginsburg, 2007), which they could gain through play.

Outdoor spaces can be a powerful setting for children, which can provoke positive youth development and give them a sense of well-being, a sense of place and community, and a sense of belongingness. Children are naturally drawn to playing outside and there are numerous benefits of play: it allows them to explore their environment, develop muscle strength and coordination, and to gain self-confidence.  Playing outdoors also increases flexibility, fine and gross motor skills, and a wide variety of physical skills including how to fall and pick yourself back up (Alfano, 2018). Today, we get into our heads that children are not capable of doing things on their own, or are not allowed to be unsupervised at any time. This way of thinking is not positive, and does not make the youth feel confident that they are trusted by those in their community. By allocating time out of each day for youth to be able to get outside and play freely, we can help them develop core competencies like confidence, responsibility, and accountability, which will make them a better and more valued youth in the community.

By allowing youth to play outdoors, we are giving them the opportunity to create and play how they want. This teaches them how to be leaders but also how to work in a group and problem solve if things don’t go the way it was planned. It also teaches them how to enjoy themselves, just by being physically active in any way they choose, rather than having to conform to one sport, and be lead through strict drills by an adult. If given the opportunity to play outdoors, and as they please, youth can push their boundaries and try new things. This helps them get over the fear of failure in any sports or activity setting, and allows them to feel more confident when trying new sports or activities. I encourage parents to take a step back, and trust their communities a little more by allowing their children to have some unstructured play time in the backyard or in the street, and allow them to learn and grow from being on their own without supervision. Other ways to incorporate outdoor play is letting them go to a park to run around and create their own fun, even if it means you are sitting in the park at a faraway bench, you are still letting these children develop these assets by being alone and roaming free.

The truth to all of this is simple: childhood needs outdoor play. Without it, children are missing out on developing core assets that will help them manage tough situations when they are older, and that can eventually help them become well-rounded and cognitively competent individuals. I strongly believe that youth need outdoor play, and that giving them freedom to go out and venture on their own can have a massive positive impact on their development. Children use play to learn to engage with the world around them and thereby gain understanding, develop new competencies, and increase in confidence and capacity (Mainella, 2011), which eventually, helps them to develop their personal identity.



Alfano, Kathleen. “The Benefits of Outdoor Play.” Fisher Price, 2018, http://www.fisher-price.com/en_US/parenting-articles/outdoor-play/the-benefits-of-outdoor-play.

Ginsburg, K. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119, 182–191.

Mainella, F. P., Agate, J. R., & Clark, B. S. (2011). Outdoor‐based play and reconnection to  nature: A neglected pathway to positive youth development. New Directions for Youth Development, 2011(130), 89-104.



Posted in Outdoors/Nature, Parents, Positive Youth Development | Tagged , ,

Youth Development and Physical Literacy

by Roxanne S.

Youth nowadays would prefer to be engaged in online gaming rather than going outdoors and engaging in free play.  Youth are now more involved in non-physical activities, not only because they do not want to, but because they do not know how.  Furthermore, youth tend to be more engaged in low-yield activities such as watching television and being on the computer compared to a high-yield activity such as outdoor sports.  The fundamental goal is to get youth to engage in and to show appreciation for physical literacy.  The development of physical literacy is relevant to young persons as they carry out their everyday activities.  The youth of today are referred to as digital natives and spend most of their time interacting with technology.  Physical Literacy is defined as:

“a disposition acquired by individuals encompassing “the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to maintain physical activity throughout the lifecourse” (Capel & Whitehead 2010, p. 18).

Physical literacy involves more than just movements.  It allows for youth to understand and react to the environment effectively (Whitehead, 2001).  In an effort to develop youth holistically, they should be able to balance their emotional, social, educational and physical aspects of their lives.  The way in which teachers and parents select, organize and deliver tasks to youth to perform is a significant factor in youths’ abilities to develop the skills needed to achieve physical literacy.  Therefore, interacting with the environment and engaging in physical literacy is essential for the development of youth.

Physical literacy has become a prominent concept in many countries (Edwards, Bryant, Keegan, Morgan, & Jones, 2017; Silverman & Mercier, 2015), and is needed to complete an individual’s life.  In recent studies, educational organizations around the world have contended that physical literacy should be given the same educational value as literacy and numeracy (Edwards et al., 2017).  This demonstrates how important physical literacy is and the level of demand.

Since most youth spend so much time on their devices, they tend to lack the fundamental movement skills.  Being physically competent is the ability to move using no more than muscles, strength and joint flexibility (Whitehead, 2001).  Being able to master the fundamental skills such as running, climbing, skipping, jumping and balancing at a young age allow the youth to make the transition from easy to difficult tasks and build on those skills as they get older.  When youth are physically literate, the use of motivation, confidence and competence allow for them to obtain developmental assets.   Being motivated allows youth to become more resilient, self-determined, have a sense of belonging and demonstrate a high level of self-autonomy.  Moreover, having confidence, encourage youth to build teamwork, leadership and good decision making skills.  Being competent allows for the mastery of skills whereby youth acquire knowledge and understanding of the environment they live in.  Engaging in sports can develop youths’ physical literacy by allowing them to practice, play, master and value their engagement in sport.

Though parents are aware of the benefits of their kids being physically literate, they are still hesitant in allowing their kids to play freely.  The fear of the world we live in means we oftentimes do not feel safe. This forces parents to assume the roles of ‘helicopter parents’ who do not allow their kids to engage in unsupervised play time which can allow them to discover their physical abilities.  As a result, parents become overprotective and this hinders the kids’ potential so that they would not get hurt.  Arguably, kids who are allowed to play freely are able to be more diverse in sports, make better decisions and are generally in good health.  In order for youth to be physically literate, parents need be aware of its benefits and allow kids to play freely.  Parents should ensure that their kids are not over-scheduled with only academic achievement, but instead create a balance between academics and play.  In doing so, youth are able to develop positive values and creativity.

Parents, teachers and caring adults should implement more free time to allow kids to play.  Parents can give their kids more leeway to explore challenges and solve problems on their own.  In addition, parents can demonstrate positive parenting practices that can supervise and improve youths’ interests.  Also, teachers should try to incorporate flow in activities by implementing a balance between the players’ skills and the level of difficulty.  They should strive for drills to always be creative, fun and challenging.  Activities should also be modified to keep youth interested and motivated to do better.  Teachers can implement a Sport Education program that can allow youth to become competent, literate and enthusiastic sportspersons (Hastie & Wallhead, 2015).  Community members can also contribute to youth development and physical literacy.  National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) and HighFive training are tailored to help assist youth in developing fundamental skills and foster interaction and creative thinking.  There are programs are in place to help train volunteers into caring adults and create an environment that is safe and supportive. During facilitation of youth development and physical literacy, adults should ensure that they provide positive feedback, reinforce good behaviors and cater to all learning styles.  They should also ensure youth are highly motivated and are cognizant of the assets they can derive from being physically active.

In closing, physical literacy is a lifelong participation in physical activity and can be engaged and enjoyed by all.  Furthermore, having the youth engaged in locomotion frequently, can develop their physical, social, emotional and cognitive domains.  Teachers, likewise parents should play a major role in developing the youths’ fundamental skills which in turns increase their motivation, competence and confidence.  Being physically literate can resonate with the youth as they grow up and can perform task with ease as they go off to college and into the world of work.


Capel, S., & Whitehead, M. (2015). Learning to Teach Physical Education in the Secondary School: A companion to school experience. Routledge.

Edwards, L. C., Bryant, A. S., Keegan, R. J., Morgan, K., & Jones, A. M. (2017). Definitions, Foundations and Associations of Physical Literacy: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine, 47(1), 113–126. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0560-7

Hastie, P. A., & Wallhead, T. L. (2015). Operationalizing physical literacy through sport education. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 4(2), 132–138. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2015.04.001

Silverman, S., & Mercier, K. (2015). Teaching for physical literacy: Implications to instructional design and PETE. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 4(2), 150–155. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2015.03.003

Whitehead, M. (2001). The Concept of Physical Literacy. European Journal of Physical Education, 6(2), 127–138. https://doi.org/10.1080/1740898010060205


Posted in Positive Youth Development | Tagged , ,

What is ‘IDEAL’ anyways? Females in sport held to a high standard, by themselves and others.

by Brittney P.

Female athletes face scrutiny for being ‘in shape’ and the ‘perfect weight’, while playing sports, especially aesthetically pleasing sports like dance, gymnastics or swimming for example (Kantanista et al., 2018). Elite athletes are harsher on themselves and can generate a negative portrayal of their bodies. Elite athletes are more likely to be hard on themselves compared to non-elite athletes who participate at recreation levels, for example. Low body fat and thinness are requirements for good performance for some sports. This can be a huge factor in youth developing eating disorders including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (Bratland-Sanda & Sundgot-Borgen, 2012). Young females fear getting fat will end their potential career in the sport they love so they will restrict their dietary intake. Gaining weight can affect their performance. Females are much more likely to partake in eating disorders such as abuse of laxatives and diet pills, diuretics, self-induced vomiting, and fasting, with the aim of attaining superior physical condition and achieving top sporting performance.

Young females feel a pressure to look a certain way and it’s hard for them to gain confidence, a sense of self worth, while looking at photos that are not what these people’s bodies actually look like. It would be hard to believe in your abilities if you are striving for unattainable goals. It is important that young girls gain an internal sense of overall positive self-worth and self-efficacy and feel worthy of success and happiness. Confidence is an important part of youth development and if young females are confident in themselves they probably won’t turn to risky behaviour like eating disorders.

You always see a girl with a great body on the cover of magazines, athlete or not. This doesn’t help youth gain a sense of true a healthy self. These girls featured on the magazines could be dealing with eating disorders themselves or the picture could be so photo-shopped and edited; maybe the girl doesn’t look like that in real life! Youth are growing up staring at photos of strangers who have completely changed their looks with filters and apps. It’s not real. This ideal body image that people portray is mainly lies. It’s important for youth to have good role models in their lives to look up to. When a young girl is looking at and striving to be like someone who is on the cover of a magazine, it is important editors realize this. Promoting only skinny, pretty and toned models sets unrealistic goals for youth. Role models help youth discover how they wish to become in the future, so magazines need to show healthy women of all sizes. I think that the Victoria Secret Fashion Show is a good example of promoting sex to youth and that being skinny is everything. They have been experiencing a bit of backlash because they haven’t changed their sales demographics and do not sell their products to women of all sizes, still in 2018. Instead they put on a huge fashion show that showcases tall and lean models. A lot of them honestly have the exact same look. Young girls can watch the show and then strive to be just like them, which can increase the chance of risky behaviour to attain this look.

Girls who play leanness sports at a competitive level are facing this epidemic that being skinny will make you faster. Families have a big impact on youth upbringing and could support girls by striving to provide a healthy context for youth development. Families can create a healthy environment for adolescents, in particular, to learn to make better decisions and improve their self-esteem. Families provide familiarity, stability and structure so they play a big role in the development of their children. A good example of creating a healthy environment would be parents preparing their children’s meals and teaching them how to prepare food for themselves. Making sure children eat a variety of foods from a young age. This can be hard, but it’s important to build a healthy food relationship. Parents may need to be educated that real vegetables and fruits are good for youth development. Parents can have healthy snacks prepped and real food should be available at school for a reasonable price. Schools that have water stations and fresh fruit available for kids to grab if they are hungry can also help children develop a positive, healthy relationship with food. After school programs should also provide healthy options for youth maybe including the price of these snacks in their program, so children can eat there.

Nurturing relationships are important and parents can be on both end of the spectrum of being ‘involved’. You can have parents who are not involved, which can mean the athlete lacks the necessary instrumental and emotional support at home that would enable them to pursue their goals. Children can feel alone and strive to meet their goals to be recognized. The athlete wants to be the best and is willing to anything to do ensure that happens. Parents can also be over-involved, causing the athlete to perceive high levels of parental pressure (aware parents investment). This can impact the athletes’ social self-esteem, self-confidence, and enjoyment of sport/leisure activity, anxiety levels and decision-making skills.

Families ideally provide high levels of love and support. This happens when communication is open to seeking advice, when boundaries and rules care clear, and when parents try to monitor their youths’ lives, respectively. When parents are investing so much money into their children as an athlete they cannot use that as a lever. Expectations can be high, but with unconditional support for the child.

When youth have a positive identity, they hopefully will not turn to risky behaviour, like eating disorders, to maintain an unrealistic weight to keep elite status. Youth have a sense of control over things that happen to them, and we want youth to grow up with a high self-esteem. Youth need to respect their bodies and know how important that is. When youth feel a sense of purpose, they feel loved no matter their shape or size.


Bratland-Sanda, S., & Sundgot-Borgen, J. (2012). Symptoms of eating disorders, drive for muscularity and physical activity among Norwegian adolescents. European Eating Disorders Review, 20(4), 287–293.

Kantanista, A., Glapa, A., Banio, A., Firek, W., Ingarden, A., Malchrowicz-Mośko, E., … & Maćkowiak, Z. (2018). Body image of highly trained female athletes engaged in different types of sport. BioMed research international, 2018.
Posted in Adolescence, Gender, Positive Youth Development | Tagged , , , ,

“It felt like I lost everything” – Effects of Long-Term Injury on Youth Mental Health

by Hilary S.

My Story

When I was fourteen years old, my life revolved around a soccer ball. I was on a field eight times a week, played for a competitive club team, played on the provincial team for my age group and played as a call up for at least three other highly competitive teams. Safe to say, soccer was the most important thing in my life at the time. Then I lost it, and it felt like I lost everything.

On the morning of one of the last regular season games of my u14 season, I begged my mom not to make me play later that afternoon. When she heard the words come out of my mouth, she was shocked, it wasn’t like me at all. She believed that I was a happy young soccer player who only wanted to improve, and that meant that I wanted to play as much as possible. What she didn’t realize, was that I was tired. Looking back now, I believe that by the age of 14, I was burnt-out. I was playing an immense amount of soccer while also playing volleyball, taking voice lessons, playing the clarinet and babysitting. Not to mention, I was still interested in being a “normal” teenager who had time to hangout with my friends. Trying to juggle it all, while having a parent who was constantly pushing me to constantly be the best at everything, was exhausting. Only, just telling my mom I was tired, wasn’t good enough. She said, like she always did, “you made a commitment to this team, you are going to play”. So I ended up, resentfully, playing in the game. It wasn’t any more than 10 minutes into the first half, when my life changed forever.

I felt my right knee buckle as I was trying to clear the ball with my left foot. While I was slightly disappointed to be injured, in a way, I was sort of relieved to have an excuse to not play soccer for a little while. I was so tired and just wanted a break. With an injury, no one could force me to play. It wasn’t until I saw my physiotherapist that I began to worry. My physio told me that she believed my ACL was torn, and there was possibly damage to my meniscus. Almost immediately after she told me, I began to sob. All I knew about ACL injuries was that they required surgery to fix and were often career ending. After putting so much time and effort into my soccer career, I now felt like it was all for nothing. Sure enough, after getting an MRI and seeing a knee surgeon, it was confirmed that my ACL was torn. From there I had to wait 8 months for surgery and then another 10 to rehab. Those 18 months were some of the hardest in my life and looking back now, I realize that I was suffering from some serious mental health issues.

The Problem

An area of youth development which I wish had been studied more extensively prior to my injury is the effect long-term injury has on youth athletes’ mental health, specifically if the injury forces the youth to drop out of sport. Literature is limited on this subject; however, I believe it is becoming increasingly important to recognize the impact injury has on youth in sport and recreation. Especially, as evidence has shown that injuries are far more prevalent in youth sport today, as it is becoming increasingly more competitive and the focus is geared more towards winning as opposed to fun.

Feelings of sadness, loss and even grief are normal when athletes sustain long-term injuries (Edwards, 2017). Often, feelings of denial and anger also creep into the athlete’s mind after being diagnosed with a severe injury (Lawrence, 2017). Then there is the loss of identity that many elite young athletes experience when sidelined for an extended period. There is plenty of evidence which suggests that in today’s western society, youth are specializing in sport at too young of an age. When youth are so devoted to just one thing, for what is essentially their entire life, if they lose it, they can lose themselves, and be left thinking “Who am I now” (Lawrence, 2017). During development, older youth are already dealing with the intense pressure to fit in, to belong and to just be accepted in their everyday lives. So, if an unexpected injury sidelines the youth and keeps them from participating in sport, which could potentially be the only place where that youth did not question their importance, value or worth, the feelings of sadness, anger and grief could become even more damaging.

Some athletes can thus develop significant mental illness after suffering a long-term injury; either from the culmination of negative feelings, painful rehabilitation or as the pressures of life outside of sport accumulate. (Edwards, 2017). Sabato, Walch and Caine (2016) reported that immediately post-injury, depression symptoms of at least moderate severity were observed in as much as 27% of the sampled youth athletes. They also reported that approximately 21%, 17%, and 13% of athletes exhibited mild-to-moderate depression symptoms at 3, 6, and 12 weeks post-injury, respectively. Dr. Misia Gervais is a sports psychologist at Brunel University who conducted a study where she found that 99% of professional soccer players reported experiencing some sort of psychological disruption, such as anxiety or isolation, after sustaining a long-term injury (Lawrence, 2017). It is, therefore, plausible that serious mental illnesses may not merely enhance the risk of injury, but similarly impede return to play, and increase re-injury upon return, due to cognitive, physiological, and neuromuscular deficits (Sabato et al., 2016).

What does all this mean then for youth development through sport? Plainly, professionals in the sport and recreation industry must begin to recognize how big of an issue this is, and then seek to have more research done on the subject. I realize now, after two additional, career ending, knee injuries and subsequent surgeries, that I was not alone in how I was feeling. However, I wish I would have known that back then. I certainly experienced denial and anger upon being diagnosed, then I grieved, and finally, I had to attempt to regain my identity. I was fortunate to have had a good support system, in addition to my parents, wherein I was able to engage in positive experiences outside of sport and was able to see the value in other aspects of my life. Unfortunately though, many youth do not have any resources outside of their sport or recreation activity. So, it is vital that sport and recreation organizations do what they can to help see the affected youth through such a difficult time. For example, at elite youth soccer academies in the UK, having some form of sports psychology program is a requirement in order to obtain the highest level of qualification for a club (Lawrence, 2017). Parents and coaches can also play an important role in noticing behavioural changes in their injured children. However, it must still begin with their ability to understand that psychology is one of the foundations on which our whole lives are built, sport included (Lawrence, 2017). Thus, youth serving sport and recreation organizations must first begin by acknowledging that these sorts of mental health risks are incredibly prevalent in youth who endure long-term, sometimes career ending injuries, and then, must realize that they have a duty to these kids to help them come out stronger on the others side. This could mean organizations might require their staff to have proper mental health first aid training, or at the very least, ask them to vigilant in regard to the behaviour and actions of their injured players. In short, sport and recreation professionals must take action to combat the manifestation of mental illness in injured young athletes before sport becomes more of a risk to youth development, than a benefit.


Edwards, C. (2017, July 5). The impact of injuries on mental health. Retrieved from http://www.samhi.ca/impact-injuries-mental-health-dr-carla-edwards/

Lawrence, A. (2017, June 18). Denial and depression: recovering from long-term injury isn’t just about the body. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/jun/18/qprs-chris-ramsey-reflects-mental-effects-long-term-injury

Sabato, T. M., Walch, T. J., & Caine, D. J. (2016). The elite young athlete: strategies to ensure physical and emotional health. Open access journal of sports medicine, 7(1), 99-113. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S96821

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