“Incorporating Children with Behavioral Disorders into Sport and Recreation”

By Katelyn P.

With the rising demand for recreation and sport programs to be incorporated into youth development, there also needs to be an emphasized importance on community-based activities for children with emotional and behavioral disorders as-well as children without disorders. Recreation leaders have a duty to provide superb programs for all children participating. Children with behavioral disorders are often looked at as being “unruly” or “disobedient”; however, if sport and recreation leaders were educated on how to help these children in the area of youth development through recreation programming, it would set them up for overall success in the future.

In Thomas E. Keller’s article titled, “Factors Associated with Participation of Children with Mental Health Problems in Structured Youth Development Programs”, he discusses a study that examines the involvement of children with behavioral disorders in positive youth development programs and investigated factors associated with their participation. It was discovered that active participation was associated with the impact of the child’s mental health condition. The amount and level of participation was also affected by participant’s parent’s education level. The purpose of this study was to attempt to mobilize a wide variety of community resources to address mental health issue and to foster adaptive function in an array of domains.

Emotional and behavioral disorders in children can manifest in a number of ways. A child with these conditions can suffer from depression; have difficulty building all types of relationships and struggle with grasping concepts in the educational environment. Life can be difficult for these children and the parents of the children. Children with behavioral disorders have trouble focusing and concentrating in an array of areas. This can lead to easy distractions and a short attention span making a child to misbehave and act out. Barbie Carpenter explains this concept in her article: “Ways to Help Children with Emotional Behavior Disorders”. In this article Barbie further expands on the various types of behavioral disorders and ways to cope and help the children with these disorders.

Structured programs have a lot to offer the youth in today’s society. Recreation provides an opportunity for children and youth to have a social outlet and it allows them to develop critical thinking skills as well as a variety of other crucial life assets. These assets are important to children while they age because they ensure that children will have a productive and positive future. If children with behavioral disorders are constantly being punished and removed from activities and classes because of their sporadic behavior, they will not be granted with the motivation to change their behavior for a positive outcome.

Being involved in many sports as a child, I have had the opportunity to play with individuals that had behavioral disorders. One of my teammates in high school was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and she was constantly being penalized for being “too hyper” and “easily distracted”, in the coach’s opinion. This did nothing positive for her experience in the sport or for her development into adulthood. I believe, through my own personal experience in this case, in a team atmosphere, an individual with ADHD enhanced the rest of the teammate’s experience. Having someone that has a positive impact from ADHD that is usually always in a good mood can improve the overall environment of a team bonding experience.

Sports come with so much politics and negative energy in today’s society. Ensuring leaders have the proper training (ex: High-Five program) we can provide and learn how to cope with issues as they arise. As youth leaders in any domain, we as a society need to come together to provide every child with the opportunity to experience fair recreation and leisure activities.

What is your opinion on children with behavioral disorders being involved in recreation and sports programs?

Contributing articles:

  • Keller, T., Bost, N., Lock, E., & Marcenko, M. (January 01, 2005). Factors Associated With Participation of Children With Mental Health Problems in Structured Youth Development Programs.Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 13, 3, 141-151.


  • Barbie Carpenter. (August 16, 2013). Ways to Help Children with Emotional Behaviour Disorders.




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3 Responses to “Incorporating Children with Behavioral Disorders into Sport and Recreation”

  1. hvesterb says:

    Youth development is a concept that should be free of discrimination. I believe that all children, regardless of ability, should have equal opportunity to experiences that will enhance their well-being and grow into contributing healthy adults. Organizations that are alienate and reprimand differently abled children are failing to recognize basic principles of youth development. Youth need to be supported by caring adults who recognize that youth are assets in the making. One could argue that this is even more important for vulnerable youth. Moreover, punishment tends to result in feeling discouraged and inadequate, thus halting a child’s enjoyment and participation.

    I completely agree with your notion that having high quality well-trained leaders is at the core of youth programs that facilitate optimal development for each and every child involved. High five training would build the knowledge and skills of youth development advocates to provide support free of ignorance. Another resource that would prove to be very effective is the Developmental Assets created by Search Institute. These 40 assets can offer a framework for program design; the more assets a child can gain the more likely they are to thrive. This is true for youth with or without behavioural disorders.

    It blows my mind that organizations are failing to recognize the powerful impact they can have on society- healthy youth leads to contributing adults, which, in turn builds a cohesive and successful society.

  2. blpye says:

    I agree with the idea that youth with disabilities of any kind should without a doubt be integrated into recreation activities. While organizations such as Para Sport and Special Olympics are essential to allow those who have different capabilities to participate in sport and recreation, I believe children also have a right to be integrated into “normal” society. I remember one of the first soccer teams I ever coached was a girls under 10 recreational team. On this team I had a girl with Down’s Syndrome. Her mother was a little apprehensive about her playing on a team which was not run through the Special Olympics, but this girl really wanted to try soccer, and there was not a soccer Special Olympics team in my area for her age. The other girls, sensing she had different capabilities than they did, took her under their wing. They could be seen inviting her into their group for warm ups, cheering her on when she would get the ball and once, the other team (who was winning by a huge margin) allowed her to take a shot and score. The opportunity to play on a sports team had a profound impact on this girl, who wanted to play soccer just like her older sister.

    In the post, you also mentioned sports for individuals with ADHD. So often, they are overlooked as having a disability, and since they do not fit under an organization designed specifically for them in sports, it can be difficult to provide opportunities for them to play. However, like most children, they yearn to be active. If we do not provide those opportunities for them in a safe, controlled environment they will be forced to find other outlets for their energy, such as fighting, or youth gangs, which only furthers the idea that they should not be allowed in traditional sport. We need qualified leaders to design programs to stimulate these individuals (and other children). Like you mentioned, it could even be a learning opportunity for those around them!

  3. jordandavenport says:

    I agree that all youth should have the same opportunities with recreation programs no matter what their disability may be. It is unfair to make youth feel left out who may have a disability. I agree with you when you talk about how a teammate with ADHD can bring positive atmosphere when dealt with in the positive way. I strongly believe that this lies in the hands of the coaches or leaders, the disabled individual needs to be offered the proper training to be able to deal with these situations. With the training programs that are offered in this day of age there is no reason why children with behavioral disorders cannot be given the same opportunities as other youth in sport and recreation. If we do not have caring adults that are willing to provide a safe and interactive environment it can be detrimental to all youth development, not just those with learning needs.
    I believe that youth without disorders can be educated from this as well; it exposes youth to different types of disorders and can educate them to know that these individuals are not unable to participate in these activities, they just learn differently and may need a little more time to grasp certain skills.

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