Health and wellness tips from Indiana University
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Aug. 3, 2006
Kids join youth sports programs in droves -- and drop out in droves. Twenty million to 30 million 6- to 18-year-olds participate in youth sports programs, but around 80 percent opt out by the age of 12. Coaching and the "fun factor" contribute to this attrition rate, say Indiana University coaching experts. Kids join such programs largely to have fun -- and they drop out when it's no longer fun. Pressure and competition need to take a backseat to the development of fundamental skills and enjoyment. "In this country, we often use a 'warm body approach' in youth sport coaching," said David Gallahue, dean of IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and co-author of Understanding Motor Development: Infants, Children, Adolescents, Adults (McGraw Hill, 2006). In other words schools and recreation programs in the U.S. frequently resort to taking what they can get, often turning to well intentioned but ill prepared parents with little or no coaching experience to work with young athletes. Countries such as Canada, Australia and Great Britain require youth coaches to have certain levels of certification. If no certified coaches are available, no teams are created. Coaches and parents should take as much pressure off of the kids as possible, because undue pressure can drive young athletes away from the sport prematurely. "Parents and coaches should not attempt to live out their own fantasies and shortcomings through their children," said track and field expert Phillip Henson, who helps coordinate the coaching minor degree program in HPER's Department of Kinesiology. "The primary purpose of youth sports is to have fun." Gallahue, who has advised USA Gymnastics and U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association on coaching education, and Henson, who directed the field events at the 1996 Olympic Games, offered the following suggestions to parents and coaches:
- Parents should look for the narrowest age range possible, with two-year spans being preferable. Kids who are closer in age get along better. They have similar physical, social and cognitive development levels, although their skill levels could vary widely.
- Very few sports require athletes to specialize before the age of 10 to be really good. For sports such as gymnastics, figure skating, diving and alpine skiing, early specialization may be a plus. Just about everything else requires no such early specialization, Gallahue said.
- The primary focus in youth sports should be on developing skills, not just on competition. Children do not automatically acquire basic skills such as swimming, throwing, bouncing and balancing -- skills that can lead to more specific sport skills, such as throwing a baseball or dribbling a basketball, Gallahue said. They need the time and space to practice, as well as quality instruction and positive encouragement. The bulk of youth sports, even at the middle school and high school levels, should focus on developing skill and tactics, he said, with a growing proportion of the time devoted to actual competition. In the early years, for example, 80 to 90 percent of the practice time should be devoted to skill development, with this decreasing to 40 to 60 percent in the later years.
- Helping children find success is key to making youth sports fun. Parents and coaches should help kids set realistic goals -- such as achieving a personal best -- that do not hinge on winning or losing a match.
- Children should not be treated like miniature adults.
- Attempt to take as much pressure off of the children as possible. This includes pressure to win, or to "be the best." Value needs to be placed on the needs of the children not the performance.
- New coaches can find coaching resources at Human Kinetics (http://www.humankinetics.com/), a publisher of sports and physical activity media.
Deliberately intimidating -- how to beat the stress of law and medical school. At some point during their first year, virtually all students working toward a professional degree in law or medicine have doubts about finishing, said Mac Francis, director of the Health Professions and Prelaw Center at Indiana University Bloomington. "Your first year is shocking, especially in the beginning. It's just overwhelming. The first night in the first class, it can seem as if you've been given more homework than you would normally get in an entire semester. It's very intimidating and deliberately so. That's what it will be like for many professionals, with lots of pressure and lots of time on the job. You do need to learn how to manage it." Francis said that drop out rates are actually very low (less than 5 percent), despite myths that only one in three students finish. Even so, psychologist Chris Meno reports that a large proportion of students seeking help from Counseling and Psychological Services at the Indiana University Health Center are in graduate or professional school. "These students often start with the attitude that they are going to 'just do school' for three or four years and not have any other life. It's not long before they run into trouble with their physical and mental health," she said. Below, Francis and Meno offer their advice on minimizing stress during the hectic first months of medical or law school.
- Eyes on the prize. "Keep your goal in sight. Focus on becoming that attorney or doctor," Francis said. "Don't get swept up into the competitive frame of mind. It's scary when you are used to being the head of the class, and suddenly you are surrounded by people who are all at the top, and you are getting C's. But you can graduate with C's, and no one ever looks at your grades again."
- Sleep, nutrition and exercise. Prioritizing self-care will do more for your performance than trying to study around the clock, Francis said. "You can literally study all day and still not get it all done. You have to give yourself some time to recover."
- Have a little fun. "Focusing solely on school leads to burnout -- after a while, your body, mind and emotions start to break down, and you can go into a depressed or anxious state," Meno said. "Taking some time outside of class to have fun is necessary to recharge and maintain your focus."
- Talk about it. Many students feel reluctant to admit that they are struggling in law school or medical school, but find that when they do speak up, their friends echo their insecurities. "There is no reason to isolate yourself from your classmates. Everyone is in the same boat," Francis said.
- Get a "mental massage." Help is available from health centers and other student organizations at most schools. "Grad students have often managed their time and stress levels well in college, but in graduate school these skills are put to the ultimate test. Talking to a counselor can really help students develop better skills in time management and stress reduction," Meno said. "To some people mental health services still have a stigma, but there was also a time when massage was viewed in the same way -- as something you only got when you were in really bad shape. Now we know that counseling and massages are great for prevention and maintenance."
- Educate your family and friends. A common frustration for graduate and professional students is the sense that family members don't understand what they are going through, Meno said. She recommends that students sit down with their parents and/or partners and explain the process from start to finish. "Most importantly, let your family and friends know what they can do to support you. Be direct, but also be willing to negotiate. It is important to make some time to spend with your family and respond to their needs as well."
- Hang in there. "You do get used to it," Francis said.
Francis is also an attorney and labor arbitrator with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. He can be reached at 812-855-1873 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Meno is also the coordinator of outreach and consultation at the Indiana University Health Center. She can be reached at 812-855-5711 and email@example.com. Top
It's never too early to start researching and planning for summer camp 2007. This is a great time of year to start chatting up parents in the neighborhood or at school about the camps their children attended this summer. "For children with disabilities, the camp experience can help to build self-esteem, make friendships and develop life skills," said Gary Robb, director of the Indiana University-based National Center on Accessibility, which has created two on-line resources for parents, Discover Camp (http://www.ncaonline.org/discover) and University Challenge Courses (http://www.ncaonline.org/challenge/). NCA provides training, technical assistance and research on the inclusion of people with disabilities in parks and recreation. "While it might be too late to actually attend camp this year, it's a great time to start planning for next summer." With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a growing number of traditional camps have staff trained on techniques and adaptations for including children with disabilities. Specialty camps for kids with disabilities are conducted throughout the United States, often run cooperatively with disability/advocacy organizations such as Easter Seals and United Cerebral Palsy. "Inclusive and specialty camps are great opportunities for children with disabilities to become involved in outdoor recreation," Robb said. Here are some tips for finding camps:
- Helpful Internet resources: The American Camping Association camp Website includes a searchable database, http://www.CampParents.org; Discover Camp offers tips for parents, http://www.ncaonline.org/discover/index.html; Discover Camp also has a searchable database of recreational programs, http://www.ncpad.org/programs/.
- Parents can talk to other parents about their kids' camp experiences, compiling a list of the camps' names, locations and specialties so they can contact the camps for more information.
- In addition to day camps and residential camps, which could involve more travel, parents can check out the offerings in their local parks and recreation departments.
NCA is a center of the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies in IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Robb can be reached at 812-856-4422 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Top
EDITORS: This monthly tip sheet is based on Indiana University faculty research, teaching and service. "Living Well Through Healthy Lifestyles" is the guiding philosophy of IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. In keeping with that philosophy, this tip sheet offers information related to both physical and mental well-being. Faculty in other IU schools and departments also contribute their expertise in this area.