By Andrea R.
The belief that sport builds character has a long tradition. It was in the late 19th and early 20th century that “[i]mportant new ideas about human behaviour, individual development, and social life led to an emphasis on organized competitive sports as “character-building activities.” (Coakley & Donnelly, 2009, p. 66). Although we should recognize that there are many activities other than sports which can provide character-building experiences, and that different sports offer different experiences, the basic idea that sport has a strong potential to do so is still valid. Not only can sport and physical activity build character; they generally contribute to well-being and physical and mental health. Therefore, sport and physical activity contexts can contribute to positive youth development.
In all stages of adolescent development, different forms of sport and exercises are needed in order to account for the different physical, cognitive, social and emotional needs in each stage of youth. Ideally, specific organized forms of sport inside and outside school offer thoughtful concepts and programs that respect these different needs. What is most important, though, is the opportunity for kids to take part in sports and physical activity at all. And what is even more important is that they actually enjoy the sport they have chosen, so that they keep being engaged not only in their childhood and youth, but also in early and late adulthood – in other words, that they appreciate sports and choose to do sports as a lifelong activity.
In regard to the character-building aspect of sport, many children are engaged in competitive team sports, either because they chose these popular sports themselves, or because they might be driven there by their well-meaning and/or ambitious parents. These competitive and highly organized sports seem to be the dominant sport form in many societies today, and they are also known as power and performance sports. These types of sport emphasize attributes like strength, speed, and power, the domination over opponents, and hierarchical structures implicating that athletes have to obey to the rules of the organization and their coaches (Coakley & Donnelly, 2009). Competitiveness in these sports starts at an early age, and many adolescents might drop out of sports because their sport becomes too time-consuming, or even because of burn-out effects resulting from their (over)intense engagement in that sport.
It is vital that we show adolescents that there is also a great variety of alternative sport forms organized around ideas of pleasure and participation: “Pleasure and participation sports may involve competition, but the primary emphasis is on connections between people and on personal expression through participation.” (Coakley & Donnelly, 2009, p. 93). Hence, competitive sport forms and the idea that sport is enjoyable do not necessarily exclude each other. The idea of keeping children engaged in sport for lifetime is also taken up by Cross Country Canada. The association supports the Active for Live movement by offering various skill development programs for children. The program comprises three levels, each level focusing on different age groups. According to Cross Country Canada`s website, the program`s aim “is to assist children in the development of a love of the outdoors, a healthy lifestyle, excellent technical skills and a good level of physical fitness within a sport environment.”
Cross country skiing, like many other outdoor activities, is a physical activity that offers the opportunity to be competitive and to develop physical literacy. In addition to that, children can socialize and interact both with peers and adults, and they can get connected with nature in a most enjoyable way. Enjoyment is an important factor, if not the most important criterion at all, that prompts children and youth to find it worth engaging in an activity for lifetime. It is never too late to get started!
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Park, N. (2004). Character strengths and positive youth development. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591(1), 40-54