Is sport (always) good for young people?



Is sport good for you? I’d like to say yes, but sometimes I feel like saying no. I’ve just read the results of a study by the International Ski Federation on accidents occurring in alpine skiing at competitive level: every year, 40/50 athletes in every 100 suffer injury. This leads to some rather harsh reflections.

I am so enthusiastic about skiing (and sport in general) that I’m a ski instructor and federal trainer. My family’s enthusiasm is well known (as are the injuries that we all suffered). I think of sport as an instrument of physical, mental, but also social, well-being: a sports enthusiast ought to be a better citizen, used to following rules, fair competition and teamwork (I’ve talked about this here). And that’s why I believe in taking the right approach to sport, without putting physical or mental health at risk.

On one hand, there are the physical injuries that can be caused by accidents, wear and tear, or just by normal daily practice. On the other, there’s the psychological pressure, easily visible in any local sports ground, where you can see even young athletes being treated like miniature professionals. The two things are obviously linked: they’re pushed to their technical and physical limits – until they hurt themselves – by the pressure of their surrounding environment.

A competitive spirit and discipline are obviously essential to achieving rewarding results and even for simple enjoyment: who would ever think of playing basketball without keeping score, without trying to win? However, it seems to me that often – especially at youth level – we go too far and that competition is in danger of eclipsing the enjoyment, spontaneity and pleasure of sport, to the extent that the word “play” seems totally out of place.

In all of this, parents are much to blame. We are the ones who need to put some balance and common sense back into the sporting lives of our children. Yet we’re often guilty of acting like “fanatic supporters” to the detriment of referees, opponents, trainers and the children themselves: the only effect being to load them with excessive responsibility. In order to spread a healthy attitude to sport, it would be good to keep things in perspective, and teach by example.