Sample Reflection Paper on Sociology: Competitive Sports and Children’s Mental Health

Reflection PaperSociology
May 22, 2022

Parents and experts know well that playing sports can be good for a child’s mental health. School curricula include physical education as a subject to promote healthy and active practices. Multiple studies prove the benefits of sports to mental health and recommend motivating children to indulge in the activities. The researches and studies conclude that playing sports can improve social skills and decrease the risks of behavioral problems. However, most of these studies focus on sports as a leisure activity and not a competitive environment. In competitive sports, children can face challenges and stressful situations that may not be good for developing brains. Competitive sports' cutthroat and ruthless environment may lead children to develop poor mental health.

Benefits of Non-competitive and Competitive Sports

Non-competitive and competitive sports may differ in how players and coaches approach the game, however, both provide the same benefits to children, teens, and adults. It does not matter whether the sport is simple, like basketball, or an extreme sport , like skateboarding, the benefits will be the same aside from sport-specific developments. For example, basketball players will develop teamwork and effective communication while skateboarding, an individual sport, will not promote teamwork but can enhance risk management and decision making. Aside from these, children who play any sport can improve their emotional endurance, behavior, attention, and social skills (Griffiths et al., 2010). There is no doubt that sports can help children develop useful life skills. Since their brains are developing, they may be more susceptible to change which can become the foundation for their behaviors. Playing sports can ensure that they learn the right skills, develop great mental health, and have a physically active lifestyle.

The Downsides of Competitive Sports

Since multiple pieces of research and studies have supported the benefits of sports to mental health, it is easy to assume that there are no downsides to playing a particular game. This is true for children who are playing sports for fun; those who play basketball or football with their friends during break time or on the weekends; those who enjoy the game for the company and the activity itself. However, the mental health benefits of playing sports may stop when a child starts to care more about winning than enjoying their time. They may not be able to develop good communication skills if they start to argue continuously with their opponents. They may develop stress and depression when they cannot win or feel too much pressure from peers and their guardians.

When a child becomes competitive or enters a competitive sport, they will set foot in an environment that is neither fun nor child-friendly. They will enter a world that requires them to be tough and to pursue number one spots and gold medals. Unfortunately, these situations are becoming common today since coaches and teams are looking for young talents to hone and parents dreaming of having a superstar child. There are many videos, clips, and posts on social media of children training in gymnastics, football, and other sports; indicating that more and more young individuals are exposing themselves to the intense world of competitive sports.

When this happens, a child often let go of a part of their childhood. Instead of playing, chatting with friends, and enjoying young life, they will be in a gym. Instead of thinking about which cartoon to watch and what snack to eat, they will be focused on perfecting a skill and following a strict diet to remain fit. When they wake up, they do not think about what game to play or which friends’ house to visit. Instead, they have to follow a morning routine and make sure that they take their vitamins. In this type of childhood, an individual can develop poor mental health, especially when all they care about is winning in a game. They may see other children as their opponents and competitors while also looking down on kids who prefer enjoying their childhood than focusing on achieving a goal. 

Keep in mind, however, that these situations are worst-case scenarios. This can only happen when a child is very competitive or their parents are forcing them to enter a sport. However, less intense variations of these situations are not uncommon. When parents and coaches aggressively supervise children in competitive sports or youth programs, it can often lead to the development of negative social behavior (Merkel, 2013). When they teach kids to not trust anyone but themselves during competitions, children learn to be untrusting. This can develop into an unhealthy behavior of disliking team activities. Children may find it difficult to communicate and express their feelings or even see others as a burden. 

In other cases, parents may force children to follow routines and practices to achieve a goal. This can vary from routine morning exercise to a full-on strict schedule that leaves a child with no room for play and relaxation. According to Merkel (2013), parents often have unrealistic expectations of young athletes and force them into activities that they do not like. In this situation, the mental health effects may be more adverse since the child will receive no enjoyment in the activity.  They may not have the drive to win or even train relentlessly, however, the pressure from their parents forces them to perform in the competition. They may feel that each training session is torture and that their life is not theirs. They may develop the feeling that the only way to gain the respect and love of their parents is by winning. This can lead to depressive symptoms and other negative health effects.

Competitive Esports and Mental Health

The social impact of the Internet and technology has led to the development of the field of esports. This field of sport, unlike the traditional ones, is about competitive video games. Similar to traditional sports, players will compete against each other to win a prize. Esports professionals undergo physical and mental training to develop the skills they need to perform well. There are also many benefits to playing competitive esports, such as relieving stress, enhancing memory, improving information processing, improving problem-solving skills, and more (Nelson, 2021). Since technology, such as smartphones and computers, are becoming popular toys for children, introduction to competitive esports at a young age is common. However, this also means that children may expose themselves to a toxic competitive environment, similar to traditional competitive sports.

Since online players possess anonymity that they would not have in a traditional setting, they can be more aggressive and disrespectful to their teammates. According to Ratan (2021), the Anti-Defamation League found out that more than 80% of multiplayer gamers experience a negative environment during their play that often results in suicidal and depressive thoughts. They experience racial, gender, religious, and other biases from other players. While the study referred only to “multiplayer gamers”, it is safe to assume that playing competitive esports will provide the same experience. Most competitive esports, such as Valorant, Counter-Strike, and League of Legends, are multiplayer games and require players to work as a team to win. Since most players will end up playing with random individuals, the chances of experiencing negative behaviors from others are high.

When a child plays a competitive online game, there is no full-proof way to sensor negative languages and behavior. They will experience toxicity in the games that a child should not encounter at a young age. Unfortunately, since the competitive esports scene is slowly becoming popular and prize pools are reaching millions of dollars, some parents are forcing their kids to become professionals. They will force them to play games and become a top-performing player in hopes that an organization will notice their kid’s talent. However, it would be difficult for them to prevent their children from adapting toxic behaviors and avoiding the depressive effects of online games and esports toxicity.

Conclusion

The intense environment in competitive sports is not a suitable platform for children to enter, especially when parents force them into a field. Competitive sports and esports, despite the benefits they can provide, require dedication that not all children can give early in their life. Forceful practices from parents and coaches can lead to poor performance and negative behaviors. Strict schedules and intense training can take away a kid’s childhood and prevent them from enjoying their young life. Toxicity in a competitive environment can cause the manifestation of depressive and suicidal thoughts that children should never experience. Allowing a child to enter a sport is fine; if it is their decision. However, if it is not, then it is a mistake that parents should avoid for their kid’s mental health.

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Reference List

Breistøl, S., Clench-Aas, J., Roy, B., & Raanaas, R. (2017). Association Between Participating in Noncompetitive or Competitive Sports and Mental Health Among Adolescents – a Norwegian Population-Based Cross-Sectional Study. Scandinavian Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology, vol 5(1). Available at https://fhi.brage.unit.no/fhi-xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/2457931/Breistol_2017_Ass.pdf?sequence=2. Accessed May 22, 2022.

Griffiths, L., Dowda, M., Dezateux, C., & Pate, R. (2010). Associations Between Sport and Screen-Entertainment with Mental Health Problems in 5-Year-Old Children. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, vol 7(30). Available at https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1479-5868-7-30. Accessed May 19, 2022.

Merkel, D. (2013). Youth Sport: Positive and Negative Impact on Young Athletes. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3871410/. Accessed May 22, 2022

Nelson, N. (2021). How Esports Benefits Mental Health [Online]. Coastline College. Available at https://blog.coastline.edu/how-esports-benefit-mental-health. Accessed May 22, 2022.

Ratan, R. (2021). Faculty Voice: Gaming and Toxicity [Online]. MSU Today. Available at https://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2021/faculty-voice-gaming-and-toxicity?collection=b5aeb011-2fbb-411f-9179-81bb58d9936e. Accessed May 22, 2022.

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