Supporting young athletes so they flourish in their sport but also have doors left open academically if they become injured, or don’t make it in sport is essential but tough. A number of researchers round the UK and abroad are studying youth athletes and their social environment to understand how they can be best supported. Some of the latest findings were presented at a sports psychology conference in Leeds last week.
Researchers at Victoria University in Australia found that there are difficulties experienced in dual careers (e.g., school and sport) of junior elite athletes that could have a detrimental effect on their wellbeing. They found the use of productive coping strategies had a direct, positive effect on life satisfaction so suggest it is important to teach and optimise coping skills to help them manage the constant tension between school and sport.
Taking this a step further, researchers Camilla Knight (Swansea University) and Chris Harwood, (Loughborough University) looked at specific ways that those around youth athletes (parents, coaches and peers) can support them in these dual roles. They found all the supporters seemed to understand the demands of upon the youth athletes and placed great value on education, supporting their sporting and academic engagement, providing integrated support, educating athletes regarding the demands they would encounter and trusting athletes to guide their development but that where additional support would be valued was around financial assistance and further integration and communication.
Finally, three researchers from the University of Stirling looked at what may stop youth athletes dropping out of their sports and found that social support from those around them raised their intention to carry on with their sport.
Take away points if you are supporting a youth athlete:
- Teach your athlete coping skills to help them manage the tension between school and sport.
- Remember it may well be the social support you and others are providing which keeps the athlete doing their sport
- Help your youth athlete communicate how they are feeling around their dual role and any stresses this is causing them.