By M. Thomas
Youth are all vulnerable. To some extent vulnerability comes from the inexperience of life, however; looking closer at the vulnerable youth population, we see financially insecure families, special needs children and medical situations which create adversity in their lives. These children don’t start off on an equal playing field as other children may in life, however; from sports, leisure and recreation (SLR) activities children can receive structure, support, and a self-identity which may be the only opportunity they have for success.
The positives from being involved helps these children be a part of a team atmosphere, or an activity, which other children with the same passions are involved. If a child comes from a broken home this is their outlet where the child can escape from their family atmosphere. Having the other children around allows them to connect and start relationships which are an important part of a child’s development. These activities can teach a child to work hard not only in that activity but also in school; to become successful. The relationships that they make give them a reason to go to school and want to be successful to stay with their established group of friends. The article Youth Sport Programs: An Avenue to Foster Positive Youth Development states “Structured voluntary activities such as sports, arts, music, hobbies, and organizations offer the best contexts for initiative development, as they are voluntary (require youth to be intrinsically motivated), require attention (elements of challenge), and require effort over time.”(Fraser-Thomas, Cote, Deakin) Coaches or teachers leading the activity are there as another adult figure in the child’s life that they can reach out to for guidance in life situations. In recreational activities, a child from a low income family can feel the same as the entire group knowing that they are seen for what they produce whether it is artwork in an art class, to how they play on the field in a sport. To know if SLR is positively influencing them teachers can see their attendance or marks in school from the time they were not involved, compared to the time being involved. SLR positively influences the child if they continue to come to practices and games’, investing their time in something is positive, compared to the negative extra circular activities they could be involved in.
Many children with medical issues feel isolated. The medically fragile children have to travel for treatment which can be difficult as they lose out on opportunities and quality time developing relationships. Unfortunately, in these situations many of the children are identified by the illness they are fighting as opposed to who they are as individuals. With a sport, these children can feel connected to other children for positive reasons, not as a child who may have cancer, and this is important for them in their treatment process. I worked with a young player who used to attend the UNB V-Red hockey camps and play in summer tournaments, for the Reds, two summers ago until he was involved in a motor vehicle accident leaving him with an inability to speak or control his muscles. He was at the Stan Cassidy rehabilitation center in Fredericton working on getting his speech back as well as learning to walk. He has made great progress and through this difficult time, he continues to come to the rink and watch us practice as well as attend games. Often, he comes down to the dressing room to interact with the players and you can tell he understands what’s going on and the conversations had with him, even though there is no response. Recently, he attended two games in the United States traveling with the team on the bus along with his father. I believe keeping the connection to the program has helped him through this challenging time and brings excitement to his life.
In conclusion, SLR can impact many vulnerable youth in various situations known or unknown to their peers, however; the positives it brings to their lives giving them experiences and connections to one another is important to their development. A simple activity can change them and steer them in the right direction, giving meaning at a time they feel lost or undervalued in their life.
Fraser-Thomas, J., Cote, J. & Deakin, J.(2007). Youth Sport Programs:an avenue to foster positive youth development. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy
In class material