Recreation, Sport and Leisure: Helping Vulnerable Youth

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

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4 Responses to Recreation, Sport and Leisure: Helping Vulnerable Youth

  1. mmurchie15 says:

    I am a firm believer that sports, leisure activates and recreation can have a huge impact on a child’s life, not only from personal experiences with SLR, but also from seeing what SLR has done (or hasn’t done) for friends of mine. Thinking back on my childhood, sports had a huge impact on who I am today. It effected everything from making friends, staying out of trouble, being more involved, and also played a major role in my development. For these reasons I am grateful of the opportunities involving SLR I had as a child, but I also see the effects youth can have if they lack SLR experiences.
    One of the reasons I am taking sports and recreation at university is because I always wanted to help youth who were not given the same opportunities as I had. The example of lack of SLR opportunities resulting in a negative influence on youth is my high school. From the time I entered grade 9, to the year I graduated, sports and afterschool activates had sadly gone downhill at my school, which had resulted in many teenagers being vulnerable to negative customs. I had friends who were great at hockey, however our school did not have a team my senior year. These friends let their grades and attendance slip that year. If there would have been a hockey team, maybe these individuals would have been motivated to keep their grades high and not miss as much time to continue to play on the team. Unfortunately, skilled athletes not reaching their full potential due to a lack of opportunities (mostly financial and/or family support) is common where I am from. Hopefully there will someday be better opportunities for youth in my hometown and other areas with similar problems.

    Great post Mike.

  2. What a good read Mike. You have touched on many great points revolving around the topic of vulnerable youth. Enabling opportunities for these select individuals is an important thing to accomplish within society. As you have said throughout your post it is important for youth to participate as they learn life skills and gain a better perspective on life. Social interactions are also very important as we have learned from class with the ideas behind bonding and bridging social capital. Even more than that it is creating a positive environment for youth to develop and to build those social networks that will open up future opportunities for them. I really enjoyed the statement of “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.” This was great and really brings together what youth development should revolve around. Favoritism is often one of the worst traits in any organization or program as it leads to people being treated differently. Just because one child has nicer things does not make that individual better than another. Working towards equality is important and I feel as over the years things are getting better within these ideas. You are seeing more maturity within youth which enables friendships to be created. Even though types of bullying is still seen throughout society I feel as that will never go away, but hopefully over the next few years there will be a decrease in these types of behaviors.

    Great post Mike!

  3. danielleunb says:

    Awesome post Mike. This addresses a lot of the challenges that youth are faced with as they grow older and try to create their self identity. That part that really intrigued me about this post what when you drew upon your personal experiences about the guy that was in the car accident. What a sad story and I can’t begin to imagine what he is going through. But it really is amazing how your team took initiative to keep him in the loop and to include him in team trips. It really must give him a strong sense of connection to the sport he loves and can no longer physically participate in and to you guys as friends who show compassion. Props to you guys!

  4. sthorne95 says:

    Great choice of topic Mike!

    Really enjoyed reading about your personal experience – its devastating when those things happen, but it is an amazing feeling to know that even though he physically isn’t the same, he is still treated the same and still feels as though he belongs – you guys are awesome!

    I definitely agree that sport, recreation, and leisure is an important aspect in youths’ lives. Being involved in extracurricular activities and sport(s) can provide youth with many positive outcomes in regards to their development. Sport, in particular, can provide youth with a sense of belonging, self-identity, inclusion, and much more. From my own personal experiences, being involved in basketball throughout majority of my time in school (grade 3 to 12) definitely gave me that sense of belonging and feeling of being a part of something, as well as my self-identity. Because of my involvement in the sport, I was able to develop and improve my skills in the sport which helped me to become recognized in my school, by other schools (parents, athletes, coaches), and by my community. It was because of this that I admired and enjoyed the time that I spent playing the sport, which allowed me to experience great opportunities (being the only girl allowed to practice with the varsity boys team) and to accomplish great things (female athlete of the year; multiple MVP awards, etc.). I felt like the court was where I belonged. Being involved in sport is the only thing that got me through high school – I was not strong in the academic part of school, but in order to play sports you had to have passing grades – therefore, sport can also act as a motivator.

    However, a question I have always wanted to know the answer to is: what do we do to include youth who are not “interested” in sport? The reason I ask is because out of the nine students in my class, there was only ONE student who did not play basketball, simply because he did not like playing sports. How do we get youth who “do not like sports” to engage in recreation and sport programs? How do we make it more appealing and interesting for them?

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