Youth Sport

Chris Harwood, Sam Thrower

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionarypeer-review


Youth sport in its broadest sense refers to sport skill development sessions and competitive events participated in by children and adolescents, typically under 18 years of age (Vealey & Chase, 2016). For this reason, youth sport can be considered as an ‘umbrella term’ which is used to describe a wide range of individual, partner and team sport activities for young people. These activities vary significantly in terms of amount of adult involvement, level and intensity of competition and reasons for participation (Knight & Holt, 2011). However, in recent years, the term ‘youth sport’ has become synonymous with adult-structured and organised competitive events. Such events usually (although not always) take the form of a race, match, or game between two or more participants. Youth sport competitions are governed by specific sets of rules and equipment, which are often modified based on the age and developmental stage of the participants. Competitions are usually organised by chronological age (e.g., under 10’s, under 16’s) and skill level (e.g., school, recreational, club, regional, national and international), although some youth sports are starting to group children in accordance with their physical growth and maturation. It is the regulated, structured and competitive nature of youth sport, which distinguishes it from physical education and physical activity. However, given that youth sport participation typically requires some form of physical exertion, it can be considered as a specific form of physical activity. Participation in youth sport has long been associated with a range of benefits for children and young people, including positive physical (e.g., cardiovascular fitness, reduced body fat, improved muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and bone structure), psychological (e.g., higher self-esteem, well-being, life-satisfaction and happiness), intellectual (e.g., academic achievement, school attendance, adult career achievement) and social development (e.g., social skills, positive peer relationships, leadership skills) (see Holt, 2008). However, youth sport involvement has also been linked to a range of negative outcomes, including sport-related injuries, body image concerns, eating disorders, low confidence and self-esteem, high levels of aggression and violence, poor sportspersonship (e.g., cheating), performance-enhancing drug use and dropout/burnout. This is particularly the case if there has been an overemphasis placed on winning from an early age. As such, the extent to which involvement in youth sport leads to either positive or negative experiences and outcomes is largely determined by adult involvement (i.e., parenting, coaching), the prevailing culture, and the design of youth sport programmes. Providers of organised youth sport programmes typically come from the public, private and commercial sectors. As a result, youth sport programmes can be broadly considered as being either school (e.g., intramural sport, interschool sport, and school-based sport camps) or non-school based (e.g., community programmes, local clubs and leagues, sport camps, sport academies; Vealey & Chase, 2016). However, these programmes differ significantly in terms of their focus, objectives, and inclusion criteria. For example, some youth sport programmes focus on fun and enjoyment and are open to all participants irrespective of their skill level. Other youth sport programmes target specific ‘at risk’ populations and attempt to use sport as a vehicle to prevent young people from engaging in risky, illegal and/or anti-social behaviours (e.g., alcohol, drugs, crime). Many contemporary programmes are attempting to use sport as a way to develop life skills and promote positive youth development outcomes. However, there are equally increasing numbers of organised youth sport programmes which identify and select talented young athletes, focus on sport skill development and are primarily concerned with optimising opportunities for young athletes to develop and progress towards an elite level.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDictionary of Sport Psychology (1st Edition)
Subtitle of host publicationSport, Exercise, and Performing Arts
ISBN (Electronic)9780128131510
ISBN (Print)9780128131503
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2019

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