The Sports Professional as Youth Mentor
Athletes and sports professionals sometimes struggle with maintaining positive reputations.
High-profile incidents across different leagues and major sporting events can cause a lot of damage to the reputation of athletes in general. People can become disillusioned with the role of athletes in society at large.
Such perceptions are a real shame, because athletes have real potential to affect positive change, especially in education and youth mentorship.
Embracing Competition and Cooperation
Unchecked drives to win among athletes have caused a lot of controversy. Competition is the bread and butter of sports industries, but it’s only healthy up to a point. I’m not talking about controversies around bat flips here; I’m talking about harmful cultures like the prevalence of pharmaceutical abuse in everything from the NFL to bodybuilders and weight trainers.
It’s important to remember that conversations like this require nuance.
Many athletes struggle with addiction, and there are so many reasons that people abuse drugs that have nothing to do with their ethics or commitment. Changing the kinds of cultures that create and enable drug abuse has to begin with what we teach children about sports.
The news isn’t all grave. It’s entirely possible to overcome these challenges and for sports professionals to be part of teaching new generations how to compete safely and ethically.
Athletes can be part of setting the example, and they should be. It’s on sports professionals to start seeking opportunities to lead both by example and by active involvement in youth sports programs. There are plenty of athletes out there creating an inspiring narrative about what sportsmanship means.
There’s so much to learn in sports beyond physical health and athletic ability. Fair play, hard work and sportsmanship are American ideals, and they’re often exemplified by participation in both national and international sporting events. It would be short-sighted to think that these events don’t have direct learning consequences for the kids who look up to sports professionals. You’re an influencer and an inspiration. Unfortunately, it can take a lot of work to undo the damage of peers who can’t see the influence of their actions.
There are plenty of examples of athletes who use their prowess and fame to inspire, to teach, and give back to the communities that support them.
In the end, the positive effects of becoming a role model will outlast the negative press that comes with unfortunate lapses in sporting events.
Anything you do to inspire, to teach a young person will have long-lasting influence that you might not be able to track. But it’s powerful.
Youth Sports Programs Need Support
Listen, cuts are coming to public education and afterschool programs. Whatever your politics are, I think we should be able to agree that extracurricular sports activities are vital to not just the development of physical skills, but soft skills that are transferable to so many careers.
On top of that, exposing children to a wide variety of sports increases the effectiveness of their physical development as well as reduces the risk of injury. So even if sporting activities don’t disappear completely, a lack of variety hurts the positive outcome.
So, as a professional in your field, I think it’s important to keep an eye on what’s going on in your community. If you notice programs struggling, maybe it’s time to start coaching, start helping to improve community sports spaces, and start thinking about what it means to be a mentor.
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