Getting Youth Involved In Sport and Recreation

by Danielle H.

In today’s society, it is not uncommon to see girls play hockey, or to see boys participate in dance. However, that hasn’t always been the case. In earlier cultures, sport and recreation have been seen as more masculine activities (Davis & Weaving, 2010). Although society has changed, it seems to be challenging to get youth ages 10 and up to participate in recreation and sport, especially females. Some studies suggest that it is because of puberty, and other studies suggest that it is because of peer pressure and peer groups (Class lectures). In my experience as a recreation leader, youth ages 10 and up seem to be conscious of their appearance. They do not like their peers to see them sweat, or mess up their hair. Peer pressure can also be a huge factor preventing youth from participating, especially if they are not good at the specific activity, or if there is a bully participating in the activity.

There are various ways that we as recreation leaders, coaches, volunteers, and parents can assist in promoting physical activity. A specific study done in the mid-1990s, suggests that we listen to youths’ opinion to allow us to make it easier for youth to participate in recreation and sport (Eley, Kirk, & MacPhail, 2003). If we accompanied this survey with the “Ladder of Youth Participation”, I believe it would be a perfect way to get youth involved.


The ladder of youth participation consists of different levels of youth voice. (Class lectures). If we allow youth to be involved and allow them to share their ideas with adults, it seems like the best case scenario. We have the youth, who know exactly what is going on in their generation, and you have the adult, who can help implement their ideas. In my experience, it has been great to address that bullying will not be tolerated before any activity has started, as well as discussing consequences. To help eliminate peer pressure, and encourage all youth to participate, I always offered rewards at the end of the activity. Whether that be free play at the end of the day, or a special treat. It was also very challenging to get girls to participate in certain activities. They would usually just stand in the corner of the gym in a circle and talk to each other. In these cases, I would pair them up, participate with them, or encourage them by saying if they all participated then they could pick an activity on a certain day.

There are various ways we can get youth to participate in sport and recreation. Even though sometimes gender is an issue, or age is an issue, there is always a way. It is our job as recreation leaders, parents, coaches, and volunteers to help make this happen. Society has evolved, and allows all genders to participate in sport and recreation, it is our job to help implement this into society.


Davis, P., & Weaving, C. (2010). Philosophical perspectives on gender in sport and physical activity. London; New York: Routledge.

Eley, D., & Kirk, D., & MacPhail, A. (2003). Listening to Young People’s Voices: Youth Sport Leaders’ Advice on Facilitating Participation in Sport. European Physical Education Review, 9, 52-73.

Class lectures

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3 Responses to Getting Youth Involved In Sport and Recreation

  1. Kirstin33 says:

    As you mentioned above the struggle to get female youth to participate in recreation/sport/leisure activities is tough. One thing that I think will help out is if recreation/sport professionals value peer relationships as an asset. For female participants the social aspect to an activity is very important. If their friends are taking part in the activity they would be more likely to want to play too. Also, how you mentioned giving youth a voice and making sure they are actively participating and sharing their voice. This can be combined with the value for peer relationships by allowing the participants to choose which activity they would like to take part in during the program. Giving them the opportunity to pick an activity (so they can practice decision making and have autonomy) and allowing females to pick the same activity as their friends.

    As you have already said, it is very important for recreation/sport leaders to figure out a way that works with their group to make sure everyone is getting active. There is definitely something out there for everyone, we just need to get youth to try it out.

  2. laurjohn says:

    Awesome topic Danielle, it is certainly fitting in today’s society. As you know and mentioned above, it is a struggle to get all kids to participate in physical activities of all sorts. I feel that low self-efficacy is a strong determining factor of why some kids do not want to participate once they hit a certain age. Like you said, eliminating peer pressure is important. Boosting self-esteem and self-efficacy is tremendously important as well. Like learned about in Intro to Sport Psych, Health and Wellness and other relatable classes, self-efficacy is an important determinant and consequence of physical activity and exercise. So many kids think they cannot do something, even before they’ve tried it. Coaches and adults have the power to use motives such as imagery, workshops, rewards and other incentives with youth in sport to promote higher levels of self-efficacy, in turn promoting a healthier lifestyle for children.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your post! It is very challenging to get everyone to participate in the activities. However, I think you are doing a very good job! I loved your ideas: listen to youth voice, allowing them to share their ideas, discussions about bullying, rewards for participation, etc. Listening to youth voice allows them to think for themselves. In the current society, a lot of the parents make decisions for the child, therefore it is very good to take a moment and listen what they have to say. Allowing them to share their ideas can give them a sense of competency, even kids who are very shy could blossom up when you implement their ideas into your activity. Discussions about bullying, not treating the topic as something you shouldn’t do, but opening the floor to really let them think about it could give them more perspective. Sometimes children are very influenced by one particular view their parents have. Youth could see this perspective as the truth, however seeing everyone as valuable is very important. Rewards for participation, a lot of youth are first extrinsic motivated and need treats to get them going. When they get older they get more intrinsic motivated. Other factors to make your activities more appealing could be, goal-setting (when goals reflect personal interest, they will promote self-regulation, and youth are more likely to ‘go for it’), offering activities with a range of challenge levels (for example a climbing wall with different ‘difficulty routes’ where youth can work on their challenge level), implementing a variety of high yield activities (like, sports, hiking, biking, arts, photography, etc; they put greater emphasis on skill building and kids will pay more attention), scaffolding (peer scaffolding, where peers would help each other to achieve a certain goal could make them feel more competent and pay more attention to the activity), and one-on-one time (having short conversations with every child would make them feel more safe and welcome, therefore they will probably try harder to pay attention). I can see that you have a heart for youth and you offer them a safe and enjoyable environment where they can grow. You will do great in the future!

    Lisette, V.

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