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Best Practices To Support The Development Of Sport And Recreation Among Youths

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Youth sport has been recognised as an important practice for many generations but only recently has the development of youths in sport been seen as key way to produce better physically and mentally strong athletes. Not only does this create better performing sport teams and individual athletes but it improves the state of physical health in the world. For example in the US, little league baseball began in 1939. Then sport around the world for the youth population began to evolve from child- centered “play” to actual organized and competitive sport. Youth development has become a very important part of each and every kind of sport in today’s world. From my research, I have found that Sport New Zealand, in their publication entitled ‘Good Practice Principles – Children and Young People in Sport and Recreation’ has devised ten good practice principles for children and young people in sport and recreation. In this essay I will refer to each of these as best practices to support the development of sport among youths. These principles should be applied by coaches, parents, instructors, teachers and administrators involved in leading, supporting or managing sport and recreation opportunities for children and young people. These practices are meant to encourage a safe and fun environment for youths to learn and express themselves through sport.

“Sport is neither inherently good nor bad; the positive experiences of sport do not result from participation but from the nature of the experience. In the hands of the right people with the right attitudes, sport can be a positive, character-building experience.” – (Dr Stuart Robbins, Straight talk About Children in Sport, 1996.) The principles and practices described in this paragraph are those outlined in the report by Sport New Zealand and if applied, can deliver a positive experience for young people which is character-building as referred to by Dr Robbins. The first principle outlined in the report by Sport New Zealand is to create a safe, social and physical environment. Children and young people must feel physically and socially safe when they participate in sport and recreation. It is therefore key that sport and recreation providers take responsibility for ensuring that the children and young people in their care when participating in activities are free from physical, social and emotional harm. Providers must have procedures in place to limit or minimise the risk to children and young people and make sure that the facilities are safe and accessible.

This includes making sure that the equipment used during activities or training is the right equipment suitable for the activity, that protective equipment is available where necessary and that it is not faulty in any way. Keeping children and young people safe also means that they should be treated with respect and fairness and encouraged through positive reinforcement when learning new skills and taking part in new activities. The second principle outlined in the report by Sport New Zealand is to treat children and young people with dignity and respect. Young children and youths should be treated with respect and dignity whilst participating in their sport and physical activities. Negative statements or actions towards a child have an effect on their self-esteem, this negativity will then in turn affect their love of the sport or activity. Repetitive criticism and being set up to fail are examples of bad coaching behaviour and more often than not leads to participants wanting to drop out of the sport or activity. The children involved should be given the opportunity to suggest ideas about what they want to do during the session. As a coach you should be able to create an environment where each and every child feels accepted and equal to the other participants. The third principle outlined by Sport New Zealand is to model good behaviour and values. Children are easily influenced by the characteristics and morals shown by parents, coaches, instructors and teachers. That’s why it is very important when being one of these role models you portray the correct traits and behavioural characteristics to teach the children how to act. You must be able to always act with integrity and always show respect to other teams and referees.

As a role model you must also demonstrate fairness as a key factor in sport participation. Another principle by Sport New Zealand is to be consistent. This means to be consistent with the rules of the activity or sport, be consistent with the moral message and competitiveness between the different types of activities done by young people. Develop a consistent message with other coaches and providers so that there is an easy transition for the young people for example between school and club because the overall purpose/message is the same. Another one of the principles by Sport New Zealand is to become familiar with the developmental ages and stages of young people involved in physical activity. We need to understand that each child develops at their own pace, according to Sport New Zealand, “chronological age is a poor indicator of development and progress, especially in sport.” (Sport New Zealand, 2012, Good Practice Principles: children and young people in sport and recreation.) Children develop both physically and mentally at completely different rates. Young people’s minds are usually not fully prepared for team sport or competitions, it takes time for a child to fully learn how to they can use their different muscles to become better at sport. Being forced to stick to one activity or position in a sport from a young age can also limit the overall body development of a child and make them believe that they are not capable of more. When children are involved in multiple sports they are working more of their bodies muscles making them an overall better athlete when they get older, this also reduces injury. The sixth principle from Sport New Zealand is to simply let children play. Play is so important for the development of a child in sport and physical activity, play allows for the development of self-esteem, social skills and physical development of muscles and reflexes. The next principle by Sport New Zealand is to ensure that there is full participation and inclusion.

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Every child or young person has the right and should be encouraged to participate in sport and recreation, regardless of their ability, social background, race, gender or any other factor. This means that those in charge must plan to accommodate differences in physical ability by offering a broad range of activities, slightly changing activities and making sure every participant is seen as equal to ensure that everyone can be included. The eight principle by Sport New Zealand is to modify or adapt activities to suit the ability of participants. Many sport providers have realised that the needs and abilities of children are different from those of adults. As a result, they have created slightly different versions of their sport and fun games as a better way to meet the needs of younger participants. Modifications should not only relate to skill development, but can also be applied to competitions such as the Paralympics. The ninth principle outlined by Sport New Zealand is to provide an appropriate amount of activity. Sport and recreation providers and coaches should consider the importance of the frequency and duration of the sport activities. They should be able to consider the needs and wants of the participants because majority of children’s parents will be working so the coaches of these activities should be able to work around that and make the sporting hours easiest for the children and their parents to attend. The final principle of Sport New Zealand is to prepare children and young people to compete successfully. Children and young people cannot compete effectively when they do not have the required skills. This is not just technical/movement skills but also the attitudes and values that allow ‘good’ sport to happen. Organised sport coaches need to be able to correctly instil good sportsmanship and values in the children before they are allowed to compete.

These ten principles as set out by Sport New Zealand outline the important actions that need to be taken by coaches, teachers and instructors to insure that the development of young people in sport is kept to a high standard as the development of young athletes is one of the most important stages of an athletes career. This development stage is so important because this is where all of the young people will learn how they should act through the morals instilled in them by their coaches. They will also learn how to interact with other people from different kinds of backgrounds as they will be interacting with their fellow teammates. These young athletes will also learn how to have fun through physical activity and develop both physically and mentally. The main reason this stage of an athletes development is so important is because at a young age we are at our most impressionable, so the environment that you grow up in usually shapes you into the person you will become as an adult. For this reason Coaches and instructors of physical activity with young people have a very important role in developing the future athletes of the world. Therefore the principles that Sport New Zealand outlined in their report are focused on informing coaches and instructors and set out the guidelines and rules they should follow in order to successfully develop the youths into the best individuals and sports persons they can be.

I personally agree with all ten of the principles outlined by Sport New Zealand as each one in its own right is very important for the overall development of youths in sport but the ones that struck me as the most important for a coach/instructor to understand were principles one, three, seven and ten. The first principle is important in my opinion as safety when it comes to dealing with young children is key, not only will unsafe environment possibly harm a child but will then most likely deter them from wanting to continue that sport or even physical activity in general. The third principle is especially important because modelling good behaviour and values is so valuable to the development of the young person’s character and personality. This will teach them how to act properly and respectfully making the social environment in sport a lot more friendly. The seventh principle is to ensure there is full participation and inclusion, this principle is especially important for building self-esteem amongst young people as throughout the early years of life boys and girls tend to have low self-esteem and if not included in things like physical activity with their peers may never learn to develop key social skills or learn how important physical activity is for your overall health. The tenth principle is to prepare children and young people to compete successfully. This is one of the most important principles when is it comes to specifically dealing with sport because competitive sport can be very challenging for young children to understand and can become very overwhelming due to things like pressure from parents or coaches to perform well or if they are told they are not good enough to make the starting team. This is why coaches need to be fully informed on how to make sure that their team or group are fully prepared for competitive sport.

In conclusion, I believe that the principles as set out by Sport New Zealand perfectly outline how to aid the development of a young person in any kind of physical activity or sport. The ten principles cover all bases when it comes to needs of a young person in sport, from mental and social development to the physical development of the young athletes, with keeping a main message of fairness, respect and enjoyment at heart. These practices discussed in the report, in my opinion work best for supporting the development of sport among youths because they inform the coaches and people responsible for the young peoples development on how to perform their jobs as role models in a successful and impactful way.


  1. Sport New Zealand, (2012), Good Practice Principles: children and young people in sport and recreation
  2. Dr Stuart Robbins, (1996) Straight talk about Children in Sport, Advice for Parents, Coaches and Teachers, Coaching Association of Canada

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