Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity


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Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the governing body for college athletics. In recent years, the corrupt nature of this “non-profit” organization has begun to rear its ugly head. This hypocrisy is the center of Ben Strauss and Joe Nocera’s novel, Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA.   The NCAA was originally created as a way to protect athletes, but this protection has shifted to a flat out exploitation of their ‘amateurism’ status. There is outrage when it is discovered that these amateurs accept impermissible benefits or violate any absurd rules yet the organization itself is free to impose any sanctions they wish and profit off of the young athletes. Specifically, the authors examine the two money-making juggernauts in college sports: basketball and football. Strauss and Nocera provide a series of compelling case studies revealing the impure dealings of the organization and how they rule with an iron fist.

I was a women’s hockey player at the University of Connecticut (UCONN). Did I feel the athletic department or the NCAA was exploiting my talents for their own bottom line? No, never. But then again, my jerseys weren’t being sold on ShopNCAAsports.com….

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Former Duke basketball standout and current ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has become one of the NCAA’s biggest critics.

They also weren’t being sold at the campus bookstore, and I wasn’t portrayed “anonymously” in EA Sports video games, oh and my games also weren’t attracting thousands and thousands of fans. Overall, it sure felt like the NCAA and the school itself was actually spending a lot more money on me than what I was actually worth. Textbooks, gear, apparel, tutors, advisors. Seemed like a great deal to me. Maybe this is how they are able to justify it- there are 480,000 student-athletes that compete across 24 sports at the Division I, II and III levels as part of the NCAA for a total of 19,000 teams. A much smaller percentage, approximately 90,000, of these athletes compete in the two sports focused on in this book and fore the most part the scandals tend to occur at DI level.

For every student that is deemed ineligible or wronged by the NCAA, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who reap the benefits of representing their schools. But does this make it fair? I don’t think so. The authors focus solely on basketball and football student-athletes in their novel, it would be interesting to read about both the plight and delight of athletes from other sports as well as a way to compare and contrast their treatment. Athletes from the aforementioned sports generate immense revenue for their universities – shouldn’t they be entitled to even a small piece of the billion dollar pie?  Economist Andy Schwarz details many of the excuses used to justify not paying college athletes. He then proceeds to debunk every single excuse. Schwarz’s work is discussed at length in the novel as well. The NCAA seemingly makes up things as it goes. Continually adding pages to the rulebook and creating investigations out of thin air are commonplace. Rules that are long outdated are in dire need updating – Title IX? (That’s another controversial discussion for another day)

The book’s title has some racial undertones because of the word “Indentured.” One of the more controversial points Strauss and Nocera make throughout the book is the racial stereotypes that the NCAA consistently draws upon when pursuing investigations. There are quite a few people getting filthy, filthy rich at the expense of college athletes. These people ironically seem to be older white men profiting off of  young, typically African-American men. I think it would be unfair to cast a net of racism over the organization, while there are definitely instances and arguments to be made, I think to call the organization’s practices racist could potentially distract from the true issues at hand. Greed. Money. Control. These are the issues that should be focused on – exploiting ALL athletes (regardless of colour) for their work. The labour issues are not due to race and should not be framed entirely in that way.

It is obvious that the questions surrounding athlete exploitation in the NCAA have no easy answers. The system has flaws on so many levels it is difficult to even begin searching for a solution. The NCAA isn’t the only guilty party – I have seen firsthand how student-athletes abuse the system for their own personal gains, and also how schools break the rules for the athletes thus increasing their susceptibility to punishment. In fact, there are so many guilty parties in the tangled web of corruption and exploitation it is impossible to cast sole blame.  Strauss and Nocera don’t provide any concrete fixes but they do continue the conversation. Continually stirring the NCAA pot is what must be done in order to one-day overhaul the system as a whole.

Strauss and Nocera take a firm stance in their critiques of the organization. What they don’t do is mention the seemingly rare instances in which the NCAA shows compassion and bends its rules in favour of the athletes. It would be interesting to see how many instances like this exist, however, it seems the bad will forever outweigh the good. I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to get a glimpse into the America’s biggest cartel, the NCAA.

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The Race to the Bottom: Youth Sport and the Increase of Competition for Younger Participants

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Sports have been a staple of childhoods across North America for centuries. The organized and structured games that children play are effective activity for solving problems and improving quality of life for individuals and society alike (Coakley, 2011). This is based off the acceptance that sport is a perfect avenue for leaders to instill the values, social norms and desired ideologies of their culture. However, academics have debated the timing of the intervention of organized sports in childhood, particularly those that are based on competition, with many critics concluding that structured play is having a damaging effect on youth (Cote, Lidor, & Hackfort, 2009) (Gould, 2010).

The rise of organized and competitive youth sport has been well documented, especially in the United States. Various books and media have explored the topic, with a large consensus being that the current delivery practices are having a negative impact on participants. One major theme found in the literature surrounding organized competitive youth sport is the prevalence of early specialization. The age that parents and youth are entering the field of organized and competitive play is plummeting, as more pressure is being applied to “get ahead” in the race of sport excellence. This pressure is developing at two particular levels – amongst parents and sport providers.

When understanding the trend of early specialization, it is important to understand the sport system in which the context is set in. For the United States, Tom Farrey’s book, Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children, provides a short and simple explanation of the American youth sport system.

According to Farrey, the American’s poor showing at the 1988 Olympics led the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to shift its focus on funding athletes (Farrey, 2008). The organization, which is responsible for coordinating and leading elite level sport in the country, began to strategically invest in competitors who were identified as having the potential to win medals, rather than the previous method of investing in all athletes who could meet an international standard for Olympic qualification (Farrey, 2008).

The USOC’s shift in policy caused a ripple that altered the entire sport system in the United States. Public money for grassroots development, the foundation of any strong sport system, was further reallocated for elite performers. This lead to many public sport associations, particularly school-based physical education programs, to cease operations, which lead non-public enterprises to quickly take over the amateur sports industry (Farrey, 2008). These organizations, such as Little League Baseball, Pop Warner Football, and YMCA, instituted pay-to-play models of business, which resulted in the exclusion of participants from low-income households (Friedman, 2013).

Following this shift in policy, youth sport in America has grown into a multi-million-dollar industry. These non-public organizations continue to push for a greater share of the industry, which has caused a fierce competition for participants. In a bid to increase their revenues, the directors of these organizations set their sights on hooking participants, and their cash flush parents, in earlier.

Non-public organizations have played on a theme that has roots in youth sport since it’s inception in the United States. Since the late 1800’s, scholars argued that sport, specifically those competitive in nature, was a device for moral development and social norms (Coakley, 2011) (Chandler & Goldberg, 1990). This was the foundation of school based sport, which was used to prepare students both physically and mentally for the industrial society that was emerging at the time (Friedman, 2013). This trend in sport continued until the 1960’s when a trend called the self-esteem movement began.

The movement marked a shift away from competition in public programing, as it was believed to be detrimental to youth development. Instead, a focus was placed on building confidence and pride in one’s own talent, while re-framing from comparing a child’s abilities to others (Friedman, 2013). This compelled parents, who possessed the financial resources, to pay-to-play providers such as Little League Baseball and Pop Warner Football to provide their kids with the foundation of values to succeed (Friedman, 2013). It was this belief that the pay-to-play organizations expanded upon and monetized.

Americans, like the vast majority of people, are willing to do anything for their children. Parents want to provide their children with a better life, and for them to enjoy everything they did in their youth. This means sports, and parents will do everything in their power to provide their child with the best chance at athletics. Sports in the United States favour early starters, and pay-to-play organizations are compelling parents into entering their kids in organized sports at younger ages.

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How Specialization is Hurting the Future of Sport

We have seen the recent trend in many nations to increase funding in elite level sports in which they have a competitive advantage while cutting back in sports in which don’t see much success.  The idea of “inspiring a nation through world-class success” (British Ministry of Sport) is very far-fetched and seems like a way governments can justify the ways they invest in sport.

This potential for glory seems to be the main catalyst for parents to invest in their children’s athletic careers as well and usually results in focusing on one sport at an early age and putting all available resources into that sport.  The way countries and individuals are investing limited resources into sport, there has to be a growing concern that many sports in certain regions will essentially “die” at the expense of achieving success in other sports.

For example, if you aspiring to be an elite level pentathlete in Canada, there is no question that you have a much tougher hill to climb than someone who has the desire to become an elite-level hockey player.  The impact that the allotment of funding has on society may be very detrimental.  As Havaris and Danychuk (2007) point out, it seems as though there needs to be more clarity of the priorities and goals of national sporting bodies, such as Sport Canada.  Are their goals to win more Olympic medals? Or are they to increase development and participation across the country and across all sports?

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The gap between sports seems to be widening, which in my opinion is decreasing the overall participation of youth across all sports.   When I was growing up, my friends and I all played numerous sports, and it wasn’t until I graduated high school that I was forced to ‘specialize’—and that wasn’t that long ago.   Now, kids are having to choose one sport at an increasingly younger age if they want to be able to compete amongst their peers.  When faced with this decision, someone is much more likely to choose a sport in which there are resources and programs nearby to support them.  This increase in specialization is seen across all regions and you can look at the distribution of medals across different sports in the Olympic Games to see this trend.  As Houlihan & Zheng (2013) indicate, countries like Canada are not going to invest money into a sport, such as table tennis, only to be embarrassed at the Olympics by a perennial powerhouse like China.  If we are dedicating all of our resources into a very limited number of sports, what happens to the individuals who are interested in the sports that do not receive any funding or resources?  Either they are forced to choose another sport or they don’t participate at all.

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Effects of sport specialization

This focus and strive for elite level success is having a trickle-down effect and pushing kids and parents to choose one sport at a young and younger age and to train year around for that one sport.  There is a growing belief that the more money a family invests in their child, the more successful they will become.  We are seeing an increasing investment in sport specific training as parents and athletes are trying to find an edge in an ultra-competitive youth sporting scene.  The cost of youth sport is spiraling out of control and unless you come from a family that has the ability to invest thousands of dollars into your training, it is becoming increasingly difficult to compete.  It is too expensive to play multiple sports now, which is another reason participation rates are falling.  This early specialization can lead to burnout, social isolation, and injury among other things (Malina, 2010) and in the end there is no evidence that early specialization increases the chances for youth to make it to an elite level (Baker, Cobey & Fraser-Thomas, 2009).

This trend toward sport specialization at a national level and at an individual level may have a great impact on the industry of sport.  The increase in funding in certain sports and decrease in others will in the long term impact the growth of these sports.  The sports receiving the majority of the resources will continue to be successful at the elite level and attract coaches and players to grow those sports.  The sports that do not receive the resources will continue to decline as less and less youth are participating and coaches become harder and harder to find.  If the trend to invest in the most successful sports continues, over time we will see many sports continue to decline and eventually die out in particular regions because of the lack of resources and facilities.  This will only foster the belief that early sport specialisation is necessary and may discourage a large number of youth from participating in sport altogether.  As Green and Houlihan (2009) indicate, national sport policies are structured so that “excellence” is the only outcome.  National sport funding policies across the world must be reassessed if we want all sports to be developed rather than only a select few.

Specializing in sport is occurring at an increasingly younger age

Specializing in sport is occurring at an increasingly younger age


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$tudent-athletes, $pectacle & $ustainability: Case study of the NCAA

It is increasingly apprarent that the sustainability of university athletics in the United States is a problem. According to this article, US colleges are spending 7 times more on athletics than academics. This is compounded by questions of how to fund the NCAA as spectacle, most specifically in terms of football and men’s basketball.

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Compounding the economic issue is a philosophical one about the role of athletics within broader mission of higher education, especially if it is a case of:

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Finally, the issues facing the future of the NCAA are relevant to Canadian education institutions and athletes, as we often compare approaches in a variety of inititatives.

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Resources in grassroots recreation: Organizational capacity and quality of experience in community sport.

Sharpe, E.K. (2006). Resources at the grassroots of recreation: Organizational capacity and quality of experience in a community sports organization. Leisure Sciences, 28(4),385-401.

After examining Sharpe’s (2006) case study that explored the Appleton Minor Softball League, our class actively discussed problems that affect the experience of those youth sport participation.

At the end of the study, one problem that really stuck out was the importance of winning and losing that seemed to be stressed on these kids. Unfairness was a big issue as parents were upset that some teams were much better than others, and umpires sometimes would not make the right calls.

Now, I personally define recreation as “physically and/or mentally active relaxation”. Recreation should not be something you win at, but rather enjoy doing. Whether that is because you love a certain sport, you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, or you just want to have fun with your friends, recreation should not be competitive. It was sad to see through this case study that the tyke division (5 – 7 year olds) had the most troubles of unfairness.

These kids should be concerned about learning more about the sport, and enhancing their social and physical skills, instead of focusing on who wins or loses, or which team is better or not. We discussed how some leagues have now begun to exclude scoreboards for certain ages, this way, learning and fun come before winning.

Let’s take out the scoreboards, and have parents and coaches put emphasis on learning and development at a young age, instead of keeping score. Players and volunteers alike should not feel any pressure in a Rec. league. Competitive leagues should be competitive, recreational leagues should be those looking to have fun, improve their skills, then perhaps advance to the higher leagues if they want too.

What do the readers think? What is your definition of Recreation? Is removing the scoreboard a good idea? Or even more radical which was an idea brought up in class…should PARENTS be removed from games?

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A bit extreme perhaps, but its exciting to think about what would happen.

Joe T.


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Technology’s influence on childhood obesity

Jamie Buote and Desiray Wells

Technology is more advanced than it ever has been before as we have witnessed growing up. Technology can have a very positive influence on our society as a whole but also can have a very negative impact on society if not used in moderation.

Technology can indeed affect one’s lifestyle and health. It seems like the facts are all there but parents are negligent when it comes to reducing the amount of screen time their children watch per day. From the ages five to seventeen one third of Canadians are obese. If we look at the statistics globally there is an estimated 43 million children under the age of 5 who were diagnosed with obesity in 2010. This large number is a 60 percent increase since 1990.

So what are children doing different these days than in the past? Well according the American Academy of Pediatrics children and adolescents can spend up to 7 hours of TV, internet usage and video games per day. But the recommended time for this is only 1-2 hours of screen time a day! This is a huge difference. All these extra hours of screen time is taking away from quality family time, reading, homework and exercise.

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With obesity comes serious consequences, obesity can harm nearly every system in a person’s body including heart, lungs, muscles and bones, kidneys and digestive tract as well as the hormones that control blood sugar and puberty. These are just a few of the health risks that one is exposed to when they are obese. The main cause of obesity is sedentary living and poor nutrition and these causes are all increased by the use of technology. It has been proven that when an individual is watching television or playing video games they are more likely to be sedentary for longer periods of time along with increased snacking habits of high fat, high sugar, and high sodium foods. This can put someone on a fast track to obesity where they will be exposed to these health risks.

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