Sports For Senior Citizens and The Youth

One of the most amazing trends for more than a century and a half is the constant increase in the human lifespan. Between 1840 and now. Human lifespan has increased for about 3 months each calendar year, so much that even children born today, especially in the most advantaged countries in the world, can expect to live for 80 years and more.

Although, many people attest to the health benefits of exercising the body; yet, this acceptance does not always equate to regular involvement. People’s understanding of how exercising benefits them does not seem to reflect in their attitude towards exercise. As a result, this gap between what people know to be important and their actual health behaviors remains a critical concern for researchers and policy makers alike.

It is not surprising that the ‘aged’ tend to withdraw from participating in physical and sports activities; considering the negative stereotypes towards aging as well as the elderly that prevail in Western society. From studies also, one can deduce that the aged are stereotyped themselves which in turn influence their decisions to either partake in physical activity, sport, and other health-promoting behaviors or not. In fact, evidence points to the fact that many older women believe that activities which involve much energy and are physically fatiguing are too risky for their health; consequently, they tend to avoid sports and exercises.

The fact remains, however, that those who stay active above and beyond recommended levels may perform an important social role, as they can exceed societal expectations of what it means to grow old. For example, Ed Whitlock, at age 69, set a world record for being the oldest person to run a marathon in less than 3 hours. Though Now 75, Whitlock has the only three under-3-hours performances by a septuagenarian. Considering that in 1908 the world record for a man of any age was 2h, 55minutes. Whitlock’s accomplishments is really impressive for a man of his age. Older athletes, like Whitlock, appear to be a privileged group who possess the time, ability, desire, health, and disposable income to consistently train and travel to sites of competition. Nevertheless, older athletes have become an identifiable, yet growing, group in contemporary Western society whose experiences and lives we know so little about.

Research done in the past has placed focus primarily on the health benefits of the aged’s involvement in physical activities, with little-emphasized research focused on outcomes associated with older persons’ participation in organized sport activities. While studies showing the benefits of physical activities to children as well as adolescents’ health and wellbeing are properly documented, a far less empirical research has focused on the physical and psychosocial outcomes associated specifically with sport participation. However, with the uprising of psychological research focused on ‘positive psychology’ and ‘positive development,’many conceptual frameworks are being used, at present, to study children’s positive development through sport.

Although researchers who examine human development have primarily focused on the younger population; moreover, in the past, developmental theorists debated that growth and character building happened primarily in childhood and adolescent period; hence, sport was considered important for young people and not necessary for older people. More recently, however, many have debated and induced that the potential benefits of leisure involvement in sports leads to a healthy development in later life especially for the aged. In particular, sports participation is now available to older people as a means to maintain their health and wellbeing. Provided that the surge in retiring baby boomers may lead to an appreciable increase in the number of older adults participating in Masters sport, the physical, social, and psychological outcomes of sport for older adults are worth examining. (Masters sport is one which provides opportunities and outcomes that reach beyond normal involvement in physical activities, such as walking or doing an exercise class. Masters sport also gives room for older people to be a able to enjoy a more regular and healthy competition against others within a similar age range in a variety of individual and team activities). Competitions vary from occuring weekly in one’s locality to big-time national and international multi-sports events, held every two to four years, respectively, and in different countries. Despite the fact that competition is inherent in Masters sport, the core values and social discourses underlying this movement are participation for “fun, fitness, and friendship,” which is quite similar to how sport among the younger ones is cultured.

This article aims at introducing conceptual frameworks from developmental psychology that are useful in deriving understanding about Youths’ positive development through sport, and to further explore these frameworks in the context of positive development in older persons through sport. It is true that there are quite distinct differences between younger and older people from a developmental perspective; however, in the application of such models to the specific context of sport participation, there seems to be similar outcomes experienced, regardless of age. In the paragraphs that follow, this article will show how research on sport participation applies to youth development, consider relevant aspects of youth development as they broadly apply to development later in life, and also explore areas of future research related to positive aged’s development through sport.

Positive youth development research stemmed from practitioners’ and researchers’ growing concern for the health and wellbeing of adolescents. In the past, the methodology used in dealing with adolescent problems and issues was a top-down “deficit reduction” approach, where the problem was identified; for example, obesity in childhood; and funding was provided to address the problem. However, youths who are “problem free” are not necessarily “fully prepared” to be engaging and contributing members of society. As a result, positive youth development research generally uses a bottom-up“asset-building” approach to youth development, where youths’strengths are identified and built upon.

Youths’extra-curricular activities have been pictured as tools through which positive youth development can be improved upon. Sport, as the most popular type of youth program, has been of great importance to developmental and sport psychology researchers alike. In recent years, many studies carried out have examined varying facets of youth development, some of which have clear-cut applications to older persons. This article particularly, is interested in showing studies suggesting that participation in sport activities provides something meaningful and laudable above and beyond that achieved through normal, non-competitive involvement in physical activities.

 

Qualities related to sport participation in youth

Sport participation is often lauded as an optimal avenue on which positive characteristics like sportspersonship, fair play, empathy, and graciousness can be built; however, there is very little research examining the evidence for this position, but there is more research on the associations between sport participation and qualities which include moral values, moral reasoning, and sportspersonship. Prior work in this area has been largely drawn from designs which do not give room for an identification of cause and effect.

Over the years, people have advocated that youth activities, sports inclusive, should emphasize the development of competence, character, connection, confidence, and care or compassion in youths. Many of their theories suggest that if these five desired outcomes are developed or nurtured in youths, then there will be a resultant and commensurate development for contributing members of society. To be more specific, youths will give back to the society and contribute value to the positive development of the next-generation youth.

Also, some others developed a list of expedient developmental processes, resources, and experiences for children and adolescents based on scientific literature and wisdom from practitioners. These developmental assets in discussion are divided into two broad categories: external and internal assets, and are further divided into more subcategories which include, but are not limited to the following: support, empowerment, constructive use of time, commitment to learning, positive values, social competence, and positive identity. A thorough examination of these assets have confirmed their part in especially preventing negative outcomes in youth development and promoting positive outcomes.

It is also important to note that sport is an ideal activity for the development of many of these assets. As a matter of fact, sport programs appear to be unique from other extra-curricular activities that people may be involved in, given sport programs’facilitation of several important developmental characteristics such as goal-setting, effort, time management, physical skills, emotional regulation, teamwork, social skills, leadership, and so on.

Furthermore, a recent qualitative study examining the impacts of positive and negative developmental experiences in competitive swimming on adolescents, shows some of the methodology through which youths’ positive development may likely be occurring. In particular, swimmers highlighted how much time and effort required to achieve results: early morning practices, bulkiness and duration of practices, intensity of training camps, etc, as well as the sport’s focus on self-development such as personal best times, graded time standards, etc, contributed to their development of a strong work ethic, commitment, discipline, and perseverance.

Discoveries which suggests that sports may also foster negative experiences are of some important concern; however, recent work proposes that negative experiences like stress can lead to positive development as it will help adolescents to learn how to overcome many issues.

It is therefore important that sport activities should be encouraged among both the aged people and the younger generation. It is really expedient, the immense benefits that are derived from participating in sport activities — from social benefits to emotional well-being of participants.

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