How Overcoming Fear in Recreation and Sport is Important for Positive Youth Development

by Mitch M.

Society today creates many opportunities for youth to learn basic skills that will help them through their lives. Participating in recreation and sport can help teach basic motor skills and cognitive abilities (Malina, 2012). Youth participating in different types of sport and recreation activities broadens their abilities to learn. There are many different facilities that offer sport and recreation opportunities like aquatic centers and gymnasiums. Each facility allows for a new activity, but also creates a new environment for participants. Environments can generate new emotions that can negatively affect youth.

Fear is an emotion that everyone develops through their lives and learning to overcome or cope with this can be difficult. For the past six years I have been teaching swimming lessons for ages 1-70. Through my experiences I have seen multiple cases of youth and adults having some fear of water. This fear could vary from being nervous in the water to getting scared thinking about it. Many parents put their children in swimming to learn the basics and to get over the fear of water. I have also been told directly by a parent that “it is a skill everyone should learn”. As a teacher my job is to help overcome this fear, and how to successfully achieve this means determining several factors this environment enables.

Every person is different and I feel as psychological safety has a major impact on the individual in new environments. Most individuals that come to swimming lessons already scared of the water have had some sort of experience with it already. If this is the case, as a teacher, I want to change the environment to make it more enjoyable. One of the techniques I use is adding toys and a table to stand on that allows them to move through on their own without their face being near the water. This creates an environment where they can develop a sense of safety and independence which are two assets important for youth development (Johnston, Harwood, & Minniti 2013).

Another important factor that creates an issue in sport and recreation environments for some is other participants. Youth tend to find supportive relationships to be a main contribution to a positive experience. Ashauer and Macan (2013) explain that goal setting is an important to implicate in any recreation or sport program. Making a goal helps participants develop a plan they are all trying to achieve. If taking swimming lessons as an example; each child is looking forward to passing and learning to swim. You also tend to see encouragement from other participants when a goal is reached. Having this support allows for a positive environment to be created which in the end helps increase the chances of participants being successful.

Ashauer, S. A., & Macan, T. (2013). How Can Leaders Foster Team Learning? Effects of Leader-Assigned Mastery and Performance Goals and Psychological Safety. Journal Of Psychology, 147(6), 541-561.

Johnston, J., Harwood, C., & Minniti, A. M. (2013). Positive Youth Development in Swimming: Clarification and Consensus of Key Psychosocial Assets. Journal Of Applied Sport Psychology, 25(4), 392-411.

Malina, R. M. (2012). Movement proficiency in childhood: Implications for physical activity and youth sport. Kinesiologia Slovenica, 18(3), 19-34.

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4 Responses to How Overcoming Fear in Recreation and Sport is Important for Positive Youth Development

  1. danibhawk says:

    I think this is a great blog Mitch! I agree that participating in recreation and/or sport can help basic motor skills and cognitive abilities. As discussed in Youth Development through Recreation and Sport, positive youth development is key. Youth development is a process that helps youth at all stages in life, through various activities and/or experiences. Having a positive environment is an experience, in which you have discussed, that can have an impact on youth development.
    I believe that you did a great job as a swimming instructor, creating a positive environment for your clients that would have affected them in a positive psychological way. You also discussed that finding supportive relationships help youth gain positive experiences. Growing up I always found my coaches to be my mentors in life. Having a good coach, made my experience positive, and made me look forward to continuing that sport. The developmental elements of recreation consist of context, activity, and experience. In regards to context and experience, having a positive environment can help benefit youth in contributing to their developmental stages in life.
    Danielle H.

  2. Tristen B. says:

    Nice post, I like the toys and making the scene a bit friendlier for the people that are nervous around something that can be scary like water. I think the job of a swimming instructor would be very difficult once you start teaching the older population something that many children can do with ease. It’s also great to hear that older adults are getting into new things or overcoming their fears. It sounds like you did a pretty good job at teaching and helping people realize that swimming is a great physical activity, or that water isn’t as scary as they first thought. With the strong goals set, it is very easy to measure and with lessons being a set amount of time, it would be easy to know when you are behind or ahead. I enjoyed reading this post a lot.

  3. I loved readying your article! Teaching a diverse group, with the difficulty of fear, could be a challenge. The examples you named; table & toys, were very creative and effective in reducing psychological fear. Also, you brought up the importance of supportive relationships & goal setting. I remember swimming as a little child, doing activities with friends was so much fun you almost forget your fear for the water. And getting those diploma’s, through goal setting, is very satisfying.

    Next, your post invited for further analysis: How does emotional development differ in age groups and result in certain behavior? Two tools we learned in class: YMCA: Stages of Development & Stepping Stones. The first one focuses on ages 7-8 (e.g. peers take on greater importance and are typically same-sex ‘best friends’) and 9-11 (e.g. is eager, enthusiastic, and anxious to win). The second one focuses on early adolescence (e.g. experiencing elevated levels of emotion), adolescence (e.g. could develop negative emotions that affect behavior), and early adulthood (e.g. development of empathy and internal motivation). All this knowledge could help in creating activities and suitable lesson plans for different age groups, making the environment more suitable for their developmental stage, and reducing the level of fear.
    Lisette, V.

  4. kaylapainter12 says:

    Loved the points you provided, I really like your idea of adding in toys and methods to help make the children feel safe and also independent. It’s also nice to hear that there are older people who are taking part in overcoming their fear of water as well as children. As an instructor, I think that helping people overcome their fear can be an extremely difficult task, but I think you have a great way of helping to overcome them.

    Growing up playing soccer, I had many great coaches who were willing to help me overcome many fears of my own in this sport. Heading the ball at a young age can be extremely scary for many kids, but having a caring coach, who is willing to help you overcome a fear and help you overcome this fear definitely makes overcoming it much easier.

    Great Post Mitch!
    Kayla P.

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