What is the impact of sports on young children – specifically boys – and is this a good or bad thing? As a former collegiate athlete and stepmom of a now teenager (yikes!) these are questions I’ve been asking lately. While I will always advocate for the positives of sports, I have to also be honest about my health struggles (both mental and physical) surrounding athletics, too. There is also the pressure of performance and ‘living up’ to the models you idolize after. . . and I have to imagine the same goes for the opposite sex.
There’s no doubt in my mind that sports heroes impact young boys, but is this a good thing? Here are some of my thoughts:
1. Role Models
Professional athletes are often seen as role models for young boys. As these young boys follow their favorite player or team, they learn positive lessons such as hard work, dedication, teamwork, and perseverance.
But it is also important to remember that professional athletes can have a negative impact on young boys if they are not careful. For example, some players may be involved in activities like partying, drinking, gambling, or recreational drug/steroid use that should not be encouraged.
2. Perceived Success
It is easy for boys to think that life is easier than it really is when they watch their sports heroes succeed at the highest level. Not only does this make for unrealistic expectations, but it can create feelings of envy and jealousy if boys feel like they don’t measure up or can’t achieve the same successes.
Sports can be an excellent way for boys to blow off steam and work through their emotions (in a healthy way!), but it can also lead to an increase in aggression if they take the wrong lessons from their heroes. For example, some boys may become overly aggressive on the field or court, leading to dangerous situations for themselves and others.
4. Unrealistic Body Image
Boys can start to feel inadequate about their own bodies when they idolize professional athletes with seemingly-perfect physiques. This can lead to unhealthy behaviors such as excessive dieting or exercising in order to try and achieve an unrealistic goal of looking like their hero.
5. Confidence & Drive
Despite the potential pitfalls of sports heroes, they also have many positive impacts on young boys. Professional athletes can help motivate and inspire them to reach their own goals and become better people in general. Some boys will even collect memorabilia, for example, Kevin Burge Sports Cards or autographs from their favorite players to motivate them. In addition, boys can learn invaluable life skills from professional athletes that will stay with them throughout their lives.
So. . . do athletics and sports heroes impact the lives of young boys in negative ways? Overall, it’s a mix. There are some great things (teamwork, building strength, having an extracurricular focus, etc.) and some negatives (body image, mental health, and unrealistic expectations). What’s important to keep in mind, especially for parents and coaches, is focusing on the realistic.
Setting healthy expectations, having open communication, and reading your player’s/child’s body language and warning signs can ensure that sports are a fun and productive outlet – not a stressor.
Parents and coaches should emphasize healthy life skills such as good nutrition and positive self-talk instead of focusing solely on athletic performance or body image. With guidance from adults, boys can form positive relationships with sports heroes that will benefit them throughout their lives.
Featured Image Credit: Nicole Green