More than 1,200 children and adolescents (10-16 years) were monitored over a two year period, during which they were asked, at one-year intervals, to estimate their sense of self, their physical and social abilities, their health, how often they drink alcohol and smoke and how often they act ethically. The study compared children and adolescents active in club sports with those not participating in clubs.

The results of the study were that young people who took part in club sports reported a stronger sense of self, experienced themselves as physically and socially more competent, perceived themselves as having fewer problems with their health, acted somewhat more ethically, and drank less alcohol and smoked less often than their peers who were not active in a sports club.

However, the results show that developments in both groups over time are largely similar and the differences between the two groups are primarily ascribable to the fact that children and adolescents who come from favorable conditions are over-represented in club sports.

“Sports therefore functions partly as an arena for social selection, where children and adolescents with already well-developed characteristics are more likely to start playing a sport, while young people with less well-developed characteristics often give up on sports. This leaves children and adolescents with more positive psychosocial characteristics in organized sports,” says Stefan Wagnsson.

“This shows that the activities pursued in various clubs don’t have much of an impact on the development of young people. Instead, this is determined by factors related to the children’s gender, natural maturity, and ethnic and socioeconomic background. It is very probable that the character-building that takes place in the home and in school, where children and adolescents spend the largest proportion of their time, is what has the greatest impact on young people’s psychological and social growth,” maintains Stefan Wagnsson.

However, the study revealed that club sports do have unexploited potential to be a strong character-building environment. When children and adolescents experience that they are part of a group with leaders who discuss how people should treat each other, where everyone is noticed and respected and receives praise regardless of their level of proficiency, this increases the probability of young people in sports being molded in a favorable direction.

Title of dissertation: Föreningsidrott som socialisationsmiljö – en studie av idrottens betydelse för barns och ungdomars psykosociala utveckling (Club Sports as a Socialization Environment – A Study of the Importance of Sports for the Psychosocial Develpment of Children and Adolescents)

Stefan Wagnsson, PhD in education. Active in the subject of Sports Science at the Division of Health and Environment at Karlstad University.
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