Sports and Children: Consensus Statement on Organized Sports for Children(*)

Bulletin of the World Health Organization, September 1998 | Go to article overview

Sports and Children: Consensus Statement on Organized Sports for Children(*)


FIMS/WHO Ad Hoc Committee on Sports and Children(1)

Introduction

For children, regular physical activity and sport, together with a balanced diet, are essential to promote optimal growth and maturation and to develop sufficient physical fitness and mental vigour. The psychological and social benefits of regular physical activity help in coping with stress and anxiety, counterbalance the burden and symptoms of quiet sitting and mental concentration, and have a favourable influence on self-image and social relations. Participation in a variety of sports and exercises at a young age is important also for acquiring the necessary skills and experience to maintain regular exercise throughout life.

While children have participated in spontaneous sport and games since the dawn of recorded history, the organization by adults of competitive sports for children and adolescents is relatively recent. This development, however, has now spread worldwide and encompasses both developed and developing countries.

Although the overall goal of the International Federation of Sports Medicine (FIMS) and WHO is to encourage all children and young people, including the disabled, to become involved in regular physical activity, the present statement focuses on the benefits and risks of organized sport for children, as one element of physical activity. Its specific purpose is to encourage sports governing bodies, health professionals, parents, coaches, and trainers to take opportune action to ensure the health and well-being of child athletes.

The statement focuses exclusively on competitive sports for children and adolescents within organized sports settings (clubs/associations), including schools.

Benefits of organized sports for children

In the organized sports setting it is possible to manage the amount of exercise taken by children and adolescents as well as the circumstances under which the exercise is administered. Sports-associated illness or injury can thus be minimized. Properly structured, organized sports for children can offer an opportunity for enjoyment and safe participation by all healthy children, regardless of age, sex or level of economic development, as well as those with disabilities or chronic diseases.

The potential benefits of organized sports for children and adolescents include improvement of health, enhancement of normal physical and social growth and maturation, as well as improvement of their motor skills and physical fitness, both health-related fitness and sports-specific fitness, particularly for those who are physically and mentally challenged. In addition, organized sports competitions for children and adolescents can, if properly structured, play an important role in socialization, self-esteem, and self-perception, as well as improving psychological well-being. Organized sports can also establish the basis for a healthy lifestyle and lifelong commitment to physical activity.

Risks of organized sports for children

The potential risks of organized sports include increased occurrence of illness or injury. At present, there is no clear evidence that the risk of acute traumatic injuries is greater in the organized sports setting than in similar exposures in free play activities. On the other hand, the potential for overuse injuries resulting from repetitive microtrauma appears to be specific to children participating in organized sports activities. Overuse injuries are very rare in children who participate in free play or uncontrolled sports activities.

There is also a potential for catastrophic injuries among children who participate in organized sports, e.g. cardiac arrest following chest wall impact, as well as head and neck injuries. Organization of children's sports activity by adults does have the potential for abuses to occur if those who set the amount of sports participation and the training regimen are inexperienced and use adult models. …

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