It has often been said that the most important thing children gain from sport is enjoyment. However, youth sport additionally plays a huge role in the personal development of children and provides valuable lessons and life skills.
Life skills are defined as “ranges of transferable skills needed for everyday life, by everybody, that help people thrive” (Jones & Lavallee, 2009, p.162). Sport provides a multitude of such skills. For example, focus group research with British adolescent athletes investigated what life skills were perceived as necessary and their relative contribution to personal development (Jones & Lavallee, 2009). This research highlighted two particular categories of life skills: personal and interpersonal skills. Personal skills included discipline, self-reliance, goal setting and motivation, whereas interpersonal involved social skills, respect, leadership and communication. The variety of skills mentioned highlights how sport provides a diverse range of skills that are not only advantageous in their sporting setting, but with the correct application can also be transferred to other life settings (e.g. school and other extra-curricular activities).
Positive development has also been shown to be associated with psychological need satisfaction (Taylor & Brunner, 2012). In other words, positive development can better occur when an individuals’ needs for competence (perceived ability), autonomy (the degree of choice) and relatedness (the feeling of belonging) are satisfied (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Taylor & Brunner (2012) investigated the developmental experience of elite youth academy football players. The results showed that players were more likely to have positive developmental experiences (e.g. seeking leadership opportunities and being able to control their emotions) if their psychological needs were met. This research highlights the importance of the role that coaches play. They need to carefully consider the environmental they create, as one which satisfies players’ psychological needs will optimise the potential for positive social development.
The examples above are not to say that enjoyment is not an important part of the sporting experience for children. On the contrary, research has shown that enjoyment is an essential consideration for children choosing to begin sport, and also just as importantly, their continued participation in sport (McCarthy, Jones, & Clark-Carter, 2008).
In summary, youth sport provides many positive experiences which are fundamental to childrens’ perceived enjoyment of the experience, but it also offers the opportunity to enhance positive development and provide valuable skills that will undoubtedly be useful later on in life.