Are we pushing youth in sports too hard, too young?
Being able to qualify for or participate in the Olympics is a dream every athlete aspires to, but when the Youth Olympic Games were inaugurated that goal became obtainable for a whole new generation.
Participating is like a bonus in a dedicated athlete’s life; some may get lucky enough to participate in both Olympics, others may be able to participate in only one.
The impact of being part of such a major event is itself an eye-opener for athletes and their supporters. First, it creates opportunities for athletes to test their skills at a young age and prepare them for the big time when they are old enough to join the Olympics; second because, despite the benefits, it still has side-effects such as putting young teenagers under pressure at a very critical time in their lives.
This may push them forward in a sport or turn them off, depending on their experience. As we know, emotions and decisions at this age are not yet stable, and we need to make sure youth do not drift away from sports, especially if they are talented. Failing in front of one’s classmates may have a negative effect on the child; how about failing in front of the world? Can they go through that with heads held high no matter what they achieve or do not achieve? Can they take the criticism as an Olympic athlete, and should we let them go through this in the first place?
In Saudi Arabia’s case the positive effect seems to be winning out — many women wished they could have been in Dalma Malhas’ place to enjoy her victory at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010.
This year, a lot of preparation have been made, all done with Vision 2030 in mind, to enhance participation in sport in society including among youth and younger generations.
Dr. Razan Baker
Our rider Dalma Malhas had all eyes on her as she delivered a bronze medal at a time when women were not yet allowed to compete and be supported officially in sports. However, she did it at the age of 18 with the support of her family and through her own efforts. Since then, Malhas has become a hero and a role model. Her parents were proud, and we as Saudi women were proud of her — and still are.
Four years later, the second Youth Olympics took place in 2014 in China with the participation of a new young generation, but with no luck. This year, a lot of preparation have been made, all done with Vision 2030 in mind, to enhance participation in sport in society including among youth and younger generations. Due to the increase of awareness, expectations are high for the Saudi delegation, which includes a squad of eight men and one female athlete — who will be competing in athletics, karate, taekwondo, weight-lifting, swimming and fencing.
Sport and awareness are interrelated and this was observed through two studies by the International Council for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Sport and Dance Journal of Research. The first study discussed the Greek perspective in 2011 and found that it is important to send a positive educational message and avoid excessive commercialism to ensure the long-term success of the Youth Olympics. The second study added a twist, focussing on the role of the media from the Korean perspective in 2013, and concluded that without the presence of the media
in sports it would be difficult to spread information about a new sporting event or obtain the required interest from people.
Add this to the fact that the Youth Olympics is advertised through social network services, the awareness and the attendance figures will be increased. This brings us back to the main idea of promoting healthy messages to youth and society to increase awareness.
- Dr. Razan Baker is a member of the board of directors at the Saudi Bowling Federation, a specialist in corporate social responsibility in sports, and a sports columnist/journalist.