Research Update: Can Sports Promote Competence? Coaches, Parents and Administrators Need to Foster Emotional Growth for Youth through Sports

Article excerpt

Participating in sport provides many opportunities for enhancing psychosocial growth and development in children (Horn, 2002; Smith & Smoll, 1996). In fact, sport can play an extensive role in determining if children will be lifelong participants, be physically fit, have positive social and emotional development, learn moral values, and have an increased sense of self (Ewing, Gano-Overway, Branta & Seefeldt, 2002). Development in these areas is linked to the perceptions that youth form regarding their level of competence in sport.

The concept of learning emotional Competence through sport has received little attention by researchers. While sport participation alone does not automatically enhance one's emotional competence, it can be said that sport does provide ample learning opportunities. Children will be successful if coaches, administrators and parents assist them with positive development of healthy perceptions regarding their competence, understanding the value of their participation, and realize the full range of benefits associated with sports.

The extraordinary growth in youth sport participation over the last several decades has not been matched by the number of trained coaches working with these children (Turman, 2003). In 1995, an estimated 38 million children participated in sports (Seefeldt & Ewing, 2000) by an estimated 3.5 million coaches (Seefeldt, 1999). Of those coaches, about 90 percent have no formal training from a coaching education program for developmentally appropriate practices and expectations, first aid, prevention and care for injuries, or emergency management (Seefeldt, 1992; Seefeldt & Ewing, 2000).

The significantly small percentage of trained coaches calls into question the integrity of the educational opportunity that sport is providing our youth, particularly if we are counting on sport to help foster positive social and emotional development. Therefore, we must investigate how coaches can assist in the development of emotional competence.

Emotional Development

Emotional development in sport can be associated with two phrases in psychology literature--emotion regulation and emotional competence. Emotion regulation can be defined as the process of adjusting (increasing and decreasing) or redirecting emotional responses (Spinrad, Stiffer, Donelan-McCall & Turner, 2004), in order to reach a goal (Cole, Teti & Zahn-Waxler, 2003). For example, coaches could manipulate the emotions of their players by giving a "win one for the Gipper" speech similar to Knute Rockne's famous diatribe while coaching the Notre Dame football team to a second half win.

Contexts in which sport are acted out are not limited to the regulation of emotional display by its participants. Therefore, the concept of emotional competence may better define the objectives of youth sport programming. Cervantes (2003) defines emotional competence as "learning to reflect on, label and explain feelings in precise language; learning to regulate feelings in socially appropriate ways; and learning to recognize, understand and respond appropriately to one's own and others' feelings" (p.139) (Mayer & Salovey, 1997; Saarni, 1999). Sport has the potential to provide young athletes with opportunities to learn about appropriate internalization and social integration of their emotions, and interpreting and responding to other's emotions.

For example, athletes will deal with winning (learning appropriate display of excitement in the face of the opposition) and losing (learning to balance sadness with perspective for lessons learned). By learning to control one's emotions (emotion regulation) during competition, children will benefit from learning socially acceptable behaviors during a myriad of sport experiences (emotional competence), including tryouts, meetings, practices, games, tournaments, team parties or social gatherings.

Role of Coaches

Children collect information from various sources in order to formulate perceptions of their own abilities and that of their peers. …