Middle Level Sports–Revisited

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This winter I have enjoyed watching my ten year old grand-daughter play basketball on one of her town rec leagues. We have been faithful fans since she started her athletic career at the tender age of four when she and her teammates would gleefully bounce balls and by chance successfully pass them to each other on occasion.  At her most recent game last week-end, these same girls were gleefully AND gracefully passing, receiving, and dribbling. What a delight to watch! At this same game, I asked a parent of one of the girls how her older daughter, who we have also watched play rec league ball over the years, is fairing as a seventh grader.  The mom shared that while her daughter had made the adjustment to middle school, she was very disappointed that her daughter was not playing basketball.  Assuming that her daughter had been, “cut”, I commented that it was too bad that our school programs did not allow for all students to play.  But the mom shared that her daughter had not been cut… that she had not even tried out for the team because of the possibility of being cut and therefore embarrassed in front of her new friends. Ouch.

I think we can all agree that the US has a real (and growing) problem with obesity. Obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years has almost tripled in the last few years, increasing from  5.0% to 18.1% in 2008. There is strong evidence that when children develop healthy eating and exercise habits early on, they are much more likely to be healthy adults and far less likely to develop chronic diseases such as diabetes.

We also know that there are  long-term psychological effects of cutting young adolescents from teams. Those who are eliminated from participating in organized sports miss out on opportunities to build confidence, learn new skills, and how to work with peers on a team. Cutting students from teams at this developmental stage results in many young adolescents dropping out of physical activities throughout the rest of their adolescence… and lives.

How do we advocate for strong programs for our young adolescents at the same time our schools are faced with steeply declining resources?  NMSA makes 10 recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Develop a clearly stated, developmentally responsive sports philosophy for all middle level sports programs.

Recommendation 2: Offer sports programs that include intramural and interscholastic sports, both with a high priority.

Recommendation 3: Operate sports programs in ways that maximize enjoyment for participants.

Recommendation 4: Establish clearly articulated and equitable eligibility polices that support the school’s commitment to academics.

Recommendation 5: Middle level sports programs should be organized and administered in ways that encourage young adolescents to explore multiple sports rather than specialize in one sport to the exclusion of others.

Recommendation 6: Employ middle level coaches who are knowledgeable about the nature of developmentally responsive middle school sports programs and committed to implementing them.

Recommendation 7: Assign a top priority to making middle school sports programs as safe as possible.

Recommendation 8: Make extensive efforts to help parents understand productive and appropriate ways they can be involved in supporting their children in middle level sports programs.

Recommendation 9: Establish rules governing middle school sports that will ensure the widest possible degree of participation by all team members.

Recommendation 10: Provide adequate and equitably balanced human and financial resources for all phases of middle level sports activities.

This is a critical time for middle level educators and parents to exercise strong leadership in making sure that all of our young adolescents have equal opportunities to develop and maintain healthy habits that will remain with them throughout their lives.  They deserve nothing less!

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