Recreation and Sport Studies

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


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?


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.

sport specialization

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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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?


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

Joe T.


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.


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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Why it’s time to legislate physical activity for our kids

As a graduating undergraduate in RSS, an article I would recommend reading is:

We all know that today’s kids are not active enough and apparently this is a concern of ours. Research shows that even through the continuous efforts of health, sport and recreation professionals kids are still inactive.


“The 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada report card tells us that only 7 per cent of Canadian kids ages 5-11 years are active enough to meets Canada’s basic daily physical-activity guidelines.”

The facilities are available, the outdoor space is available, and there is more organized sport and recreation opportunities than ever before in our history. In fact, 75% of Canadian children are in an organized sport. The report card tells us that it is our culture of convenience has lead to Canadians moving less. Our country value efficiency, we want to do more in less time and it has a direct coloration with the promotion of children’s health. We do not value active transportation, healthy food preparation methods or free play, and when we do see these types of behaviours, we make a mockery of it. For anything to change, this mentality that society has adopted needs to change.


What can we as RSS professionals do? We cannot force parents to make their children active in their spare time. We can, however, work collectively, drawing on our resources to mandate and legislate physical activity in schools. It takes planning and political will. Physical activity should be a public-health priority (like obesity or cardiovascular disease) and the creation of compressive programs that can serve every Canadian child need to be enacted.

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Bullying in Recreation and Sport Settings

As a graduating undergraduate in RSS, an article I would like recommend reading is:

Bullying in Recreation and Sport Settings: Exploring Risk Factors, prevention efforts, and Intervention Strategies 

The research journal article is a good read for RSS students and is going to be the subject of discussion. The article is going to be summarized and critically analyzed on certain key points of interest.

Bullying is a social phenomenon that is defined as “repeated negative actions that involve a differential of power whereby the individual who is more powerful attacks or harasses the individual who is less powerful with an intention to harm or disturb” (Olweus, 1993).

The rates of youth being victimized, bullying, or functioning in both roles are different amongst nations.  In the US, 22% boys and 16% of girls reported being victims or bullies. Lithuania in this case has much higher rates of bullying.

People who are victimized by bullies can suffer from a range of problems like bodily harm, depression, social anxiety, loneliness, and thoughts of suicide. People who have been bullied reported having higher rates than those who were not bullied to experience health maladies such as sleeping problems, stomach aches, and headaches.

What is more, bullying is known to ostracise under-represented populations like immigrants, the disabled, overweight, sexual minorities, and more. People who are bullied tend to be more likely to not participate in sports or recreation activities. Being subject to bullying, while simultaneously participating in sport or recreation activities can even further intensify the ostracization the victim receives. Where the phenomenon of bullying really becomes an extraordinary problem is that bullies tend to be disenfranchised people themselves who experience internal problems like anxiety, depression, academic challenge, and lack of social skills. In a sense, bullies in themselves can be subjects of wide societal bullying. It is an interesting scenario where the bully and victim end up being more similar than not based on their respective internal struggles.

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Physical Literacy – Urban vs. Rural Areas

Physical literacy in urban and rural areas should be significantly different, but it mostly depends on your family and your neighborhood. As we all know, physical literacy is the mastering of fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills that permit a child to read their environment and make appropriate decisions, allowing them to move confidently and with control in a wide range of physical activity situations (Mandigo, Francis, Lodewyk & Lopez, 2009). Many people suggest that physical literacy “just happens” in child development. This is only true in certain children who are raised in environments where physical activity is encouraged but is also a way of life. On the other hand, some children are raised in more dangerous environments where free physical activity is not encouraged, in order to stay safe. Physical literacy can be developed through a sport or activity, or acquired through the movements that you are comfortable with naturally.

Screen time is becoming the first choice for many, so this means there are less physically literate youth today in both rural and urban areas. For all children, it seems that their parents want what is “safest” for them, so they could end up just putting them in front of a screen to keep them occupied instead of sending them outside to play with friends. Recesses are becoming shorter and physical education classes are no longer mandatory in every school.

Initially, we assumed that there was a cut and dry difference between rural and urban physical literacy, but we found out they were pretty similar. When looking at rural communities, they could have smaller opportunities for recreation and sport activities, or longer commutes to participate in activities (especially if they live in really small areas). On the other hand, some rural communities have loads of recreational activities and yard space so the kids can start working on fundamental movements at a young age. Most of the time, rural town residents are able to walk most places they need to go. When looking at urban communities, there could be an outstanding number of recreational and sporting activities, but more competition. Individuals in this area may have to drive to most of the places they go, which means they will not spend as much time outside.

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To Specialize or not to Specialize, that is the Question

Early sport specialization is a concept that presents coaches, athletes, parents, sport administrators, and health professionals with a myriad of problems.

Early sport specialization can be defined as:

  • “Children who limits participation to a single sport on a year-round basis with a deliberate focus on training and development in that sport” (Wiersma, 2000);
  • “All athletes limiting their athletic participation to one sport on which they practice, train, and compete throughout the entire year” (Hill, 1993);

Research indicates that:

  • 98% of young athletes will never reach the elite level status;
  • Due to physical, emotional, cognitive, and psychological factors natural talent does not transition from youth to adult performance;
  • 70% of children are dropping out of organized sport by age 13;
  • There is a 32-46% increase rate of athletic injuries;

There is a wealth of evidence that supports the concept of early sport specialization. It is essential that coaches, athletes, parents, sport administrators, and health professionals, consider the adverse effects. The risks have been characterized as harmful to youth. Fostering positive youth sport experiences and focusing on the fundamentals will widely benefit our future generation!

  1. As BRSS Student about to graduate, how do you educate stakeholders in the sport industry about the downsides of early sport specialization?
  2. Have you experienced burnout?

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