Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Sports for Children: Advancing
Children’s Healthy Development through Sport, Recreation and Physical
The United Nations Convention on the
Rights of the Child declares that every child has the right to recreation
How participating in sport and physical
activity can help children:
- Physical activity is a prime contributor to
children’s healthy development, and there appear to be long-term benefits
extending into adult life.
- Recreation and sport activities have an obvious
positive link to excellent physical growth in children through the development
of gross motor skills (running, jumping and other use of large muscles),
strength and endurance.
- Participation in physical activity also leads to
improved body image as well as contributing positively to physical health and
- Physical activities also promote social and
emotional growth. Two of the most important indicators of healthy social and
emotional development are the resiliency of a child and a child’s
opportunity to enjoy caring relationships with adults who are important to that
child. Both of these can be developed through participation in organized
- A resilient individual is one who has the
capacity to effectively cope, adjust and respond to the problems and issues she
or he faces in everyday life.
- Recreation activities provide a safe and
supportive environment for children and youth to explore their strengths,
develop skills and test their limits. Children’s self esteem is nurtured
by the mastery ofage-appropriate skills and the achievement of reasonable goals.
This mastery contributes to the development of a resilient child. This means
that a physically active child, regardless of circumstance, is more likely to
- Positive play experiences also foster moral
development in children by helping them to learn to give up instant
self-gratification for a more sophisticated moral code based on fairness and
mutual satisfaction. By learning to respect and apply the rules of the game,
children learn to empathize with others and appreciate fair play.
Physical Activity and
- Recreation and physical activity is particularly
important to helping adolescents though the years of transition to adulthood.
The ongoing social relationships that develop from participation in physical
activity and recreation provide a core of social resources that can support and
protect children and youth as they mature.
- High self-esteem, which can be developed by
participation in sport and recreation, can lead to a higher level of motivation
and can buffer young people against adverse influences such as substance abuse
and delinquent behaviour.
- Academic performance may be enhanced by an
increase in a student’s habitual level of physical activity. Participation
in extra-curricular activities lowers rates of school dropout, especially among
- Physical activity and recreation provides youth
with the opportunity to develop leadership skills by participating as coaches
and team leaders.
- Once children fall behind in their "recreational"
skill development, they are less likely to pursue sports and arts programs at
school because they cannot keep up with their peers, they do not make the teams,
and their self-esteem suffers. Another consequence is that these children have
time on their hands – time they may use getting into
children and youth do?
girls age 5 to 12 years old spend approximately 14 hours a week in physical
activity. Only one-third of Canada’s children and youth meet the energy
expenditure standards for optimal health and development.
- Enroll in sport programs, before and after school
activities, youth groups, day camps and other less-structured recreation
sport and recreation programs...could significantly reduce the incidence of
behaviour and emotional disorders in children and youth."
What does a good sport and recreation
program look like?
- It encourages participation by children in
planning, carrying out and evaluating activities and gives children choices
about what they can make, do or play.
- Play is the central theme. The program gives
children enough time to do the things they want to do and it encourages
imaginative, self-directed play within an environment of respect and fairness.
- Children learn by doing. A good program gives
children the opportunity to master new skills by providing developmentally
appropriate opportunities for children to learn. It gives children challenges
but the leaders do not expect perfection. All children feel like winners
because personal bests and improvement are stressed over winning,
children’s individual strengths are appreciated and children are
encouraged through positive reinforcement. To encourage an experience of
success, rules are often simplified for younger children.
- The program helps children build friendships.
Friends help introduce children to the world beyond their family. A positive
relationship with a friend can help children overcome other problems in their
lives. A good program is one in which children learn each other’s names,
teasing and name calling are not tolerated, diversity is supported and
celebrated and children learn to share and cooperate.
- Caring adults provide consistent support to the
children. A special relationship with an adult can help children overcome
adversity and provide a positive template for future relationships. In a good
program the leader knows the children’s names, looks the children in the
eye, greets the children on arrival and departure, smiles and talks with them.
Children and youth are more
likely to participate when their parents participate in sport and recreation.
Joint child-parent activities have a strong relationship with
interaction and stability.
- Low family income is a significant barrier to
participation in sport and recreation activities. About three-quarters of
children in low-income families (family income less than $40,000) rarely
participate in organized sports, compared to one-quarter of high-income
- Harassment and bullying are serious issues in
sport and recreation. For tips to protect yourself or your children, read
Voices for Children, "Bullying: Support for Peer Intervention", 1999 and "Good
Sports Don’t Hurt" (MCZCR, PRO, 1996) available through PRO at
- Opportunities for girls and young women to
participate in sport are much more limited than are those for boys, however the
positive impact on children’s development is gender neutral. To learn more
about encouraging girls’ participation, contact the Canadian Association
for the Advancement of Women in Sport at www.caaws.ca
- Eating disorders are a problem in sport and
recreation, particularly once children enter the competitive stream. Contact
www.caaws.ca for more information.
Programs in Action:
Through Activity and recreation) is a non-profit organization which provides
free recreation to children age 5 to 15 who live in economically disadvantaged
families. The program offers skill development in a variety of sport and
non-sport activities to raise children’s self-esteem and self-confidence.
STAR is committed to actively pursuing high-risk children (and their families)
to gain their involvement. For more information email
email@example.com. Hi 5
– Quality at Play is a program of Parks and Recreation Ontario
(PRO) which is committed to assisting children along the path of healthy
development through developing and maintaining a high level of knowledge and
expertise in child development among recreation and sport practitioners;
assisting parents with making informed choices about their children’s
recreation activities; and providing practitioners with the tools for enhancing
and maintaining a high level of quality in programming. The City of Toronto is
committed to Hi 5 in its recreational programming. For more information, email
Capability Profile is a coaching assessment tool in development by the
Ontario Physical and Health Education Association (OPHEA). It is to be used by
coaches to help them provide quality leadership to enhance the psychosocial
development of children in sport. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Youth RoadRunning is a program
of Participaction designed to support at risk youth through participation in a
running club. For more information email email@example.com
Making All Recreation Safe
(M.A.R.S.) is a program of Canadian Parks and Recreation Assocation, for the
purpose of prevention of harassment and abuse, particularly in children and
youth. In playgrounds, schools, on sports fields, and in community spaces. For
more information email firstname.lastname@example.org
Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport: www.caaws.ca