We are looking now looking at a situation in the Western world where obesity is becoming an epidemic. Reports suggest that over 35% of people in the USA (National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES)) in 2010. Reports also suggested that about 25% of people in Britain (NHS 2008) and Ireland (OECD 2010) are reported to be obese with growth estimated at about 1% per annum. This is a drastic rise in obesity levels from 1993 when just 13 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women reported to be obese. The importance of sport and physical activity is emphasised by Twisk et al (1997) who found that long-term exposure to daily physical activity was inversely related to body fatness.

If the growth rate continues at the present pace, over 50% of people in these countries will be obese by 2050 with significant costs to the exchecquer in respective countries through their health bill. Scarily, huge volumes of 4-5 year old children (24.5%) in Britain (NHS) reported to be obese in 2008. This does not account for the massive population of children that are overweight, not yet obese but will be by the time they reach adulthood.

Bearing this in mind, physical activity, sport and exercise is going to be ever more important going forward, not just for the enjoyment value within children but also to the state of the nations health. Therefore, the importance of the sports coach and the role that they play will be infinitely more important.

The child’s experience in sport is critical for the ongoing development of any athlete. If the experience is positive, the child will be more likely to continue participating. If the experience is negative, the child may drop out of sport, and lose interest in physical activity. According to recent studies, 45% of ten year old boys participate in sports. By the age of eighteen only 26% of them stay active. An overview of youth sports carried out in America showed that dropout is well under way at age ten and peaks at 14-15. This was found across a range of ten different sports. Presently, there is a huge drop out from sport among adolescents. In all sports, almost half as many 16 – 24 year old women take part in sport as men of the same age while only 15% of girls aged 15 in the UK meet recommended daily physical activity levels.

Some of the Reasons children participate in sports include

  • having fun,
  • improving skills,
  • staying in shape,
  • excitement of competition,
  • exercise,
  • to be part of a team
  • challenge of competition.

Sport England research suggests that in all sports, almost half as many 16 – 24 year old women take part in sport as men of the same age while only 15% of girls aged 15 in the UK meet recommended daily physical activity levels. The research points out that girls who don‟t drop out of sport say they feel a powerful sense of belonging and list friends and socialisation factor, team spirit and support as additional reasons to stay involved in sport.

Some of the reasons for given for dropout from sport include

-Loss of interest,

-Lack of fun and playing opportunities,

-Failure to learn new skills,

-Too much pressure,

-Coach was a poor teacher,

-too much time involved

-Coach played favourites,

-Over emphasis on winning.

Abraham Maslow, a famous Danish human psychologist established a hierarchy of needs from a human psychology perspective in the late 1960’s for the development of the child. In this author’s opinion, this is very much transferable into the sports coaching domain with relevance to athlete development. He explained that for one to reach their full potential in life, a feeling of belonging is central to reaching ones potential. This is also central to sports coaching as the social dynamic fostered by the coach can be a direct determinant of how an athlete feels socially within a group.

As kids develop at different rates, a weak 12 year old could potentially be an excellent 18 year old if given the correct coaching and time to physically develop. However the nature of team sports and often a coaches “must win” philosophy can have a huge impact of weaker players willingness to be involved, often leaving them feeling left out or unimportant. Needless disenfranchisement through lack of playing opportunity along the development pathway through lack of game time may mean they never reach that phase where they garner self esteem and the respect of their peers through their accomplishments let alone reaching their full potential (self actualization phase). This is often the reason for drop-out from youth sport.

The Relative Age Effect (RAE) is a commonly known factor in the dropout rate in sport. It briefly explains that a child born later in the athletic year is less likely to garner success in sport because on a general scale, they are less likely to be chosen on teams due to being physically weaker than those born earlier in the athletic calendar year. Obviously, this is nullified at adult level but a lack of feeling of belonging due to less playing opportunities on the path towards adult sport may impact on their likelihood to continue in sport. Thus a child born in December is more likely to drop out of sport than a child born in January in team sports where the cut off age date of birth is January 1st in any given year.

Too often, a win at all costs philosophy on a coach’s part results in players leaving their chosen sport because of lack of playing opportunity. Too often we see young players being left on the bench for the coaches pride when their team is winning or losing comprehensively. Under 12 teams are now being trained in an exceptionally serious manner with the criterion for success being whether a championship is won or not. When all is said and done, in the greater scheme of things, does an underage title really matter towards long term success? While it may encourage those involved playing, for those weaker kids not given opportunities, it may inherently tell them that they are not good enough to play. Remember that for every team that wins, there are a lot more losing teams. A sub on a losing under 14 team who rarely gets game time is not going to have a high level of self worth in relation to their playing capability, so a coach’s discourse will most likely have a much larger impact on an athlete’s feelings of self worth than they can imagine.

 As coaches in our hot pursuit of sporting excellence, we must not lose sight of the fact that children play for enjoyment, not success of the coach. A far more appropriate criterion for coaching success or lack thereof of an underage team would be whether the weaker players at under 12 level are still playing, developing and enjoying their sport as 18 year olds. If they are not, maybe one needs to ask questions of their methods, objectives and manner of coaching irrespective of how many championships a coach wins or loses.

As a coach of young players, one needs to ask and answer some of these questions?

  • Are the players having fun and enjoying the training?
  • Am I making them technically better?
  • Am i developing a love of the game in my players?
  • Am i helping all of my players feel wanted?

This can only be done by embracing each and every individual athlete as a person, creating a positive group dynamic and allowing all athletes to enjoy their sport for the right reasons. Yes there will be times when you want your strongest team on the pitch, but there are also times when winning or losing does not really matter. If it takes an extra effort to arrange friendly games to cater for weaker players, then that should be done. What right do we as coaches have to limit a players potential development or worse again, turn them off a sport they might love and contribute to the growing rise of obesity through mismanagement of youth sport.

Find us on Facebook: Elite Performance Sport Psychology