Young athletes have the right to play in a safe environment
Young athletes have “rights” to a fun and safe environment when playing sport. (The Gazette)
More than 60 sports and other organizations and more than 250 athletes have endorsed the Bill of Rights of Children in Sport, written by the Sports & Society program of the Aspen Institute.
It was created to share a “cultural understanding of the right of all young people to play and develop through sport” and was released on August 12.
As I cited in previous columns, children in low-income households are half as likely to exercise as their peers in high-income households, according to data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. According to a survey by the Aspen Institute, the average child stops playing sports before the age of 11. In high school, 43% of students no longer played on any school or community team, with just 23% of students reaching activity level, according to the federal government.
COVID-19 has only exacerbated the gap between the haves and have-nots.
The Declaration of the Rights of Children in Sport identifies eight rights:
- To do sports. Organizations should do everything possible to meet the interests of children to participate, and to help them play with peers from diverse backgrounds.
- Towards safe and healthy environments. Children have the right to play in environments free from all forms of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), hazing, violence and neglect.
- To qualified program managers. Children have the right to play in the care of coaches and other adults who pass background checks and are trained in key skills.
- To a game suitable for development. Children have the right to play at a level commensurate with their physical, mental and emotional maturity and their new athletic abilities. They should be treated like young people first, then athletes.
- Participate in the planning and execution of their activities. Children have the right to share their views with coaches and to incorporate their views into activities.
- Equal opportunities for personal growth. Programs should invest equally in all child athletes, without discrimination based on personal or family characteristics.
- To be treated with dignity. Children have the right to participate in environments that promote the values of sportsmanship, respect for opponents, officials and the game.
- To have fun. Children have the right to participate in activities which they consider to be fun and which promote the development of friendships and social bonds.
All these rights should be treated as safeguards in the design of sports activities involving young people.
Anyone who thinks that when sports are delivered properly, participation is one of society’s best tools for tackling larger challenges such as obesity, cancer risk and gender equity, as well as inclusion of people with disabilities, racial prejudice and restoration of civic trust.
The Aspen Institute notes that we can all use the Bill of Rights in the following ways:
- Community and school sports programs should examine policies and practices with children’s rights as a filter. Inform young people of their rights and communicate to them and parents / guardians what your program is doing to align. Realize the potential benefits, from the quality of the program to the reputation of an organization caring for the development of every child.
- National sports organizations should also review their policies. Develop tools and incentives for affiliate programs to embrace rights.
- Funders and sponsors should fund organizations that demonstrate respect for rights.
- Parents / guardians should ask sports providers about their policies and give their children a voice in the design of their activities by asking them what they want.
- Adult athletes should use their platform to advocate for these rights.
- Young people should know their rights. They should share what matters to them with the adults who shape their sports activities.
- Policymakers should develop policies and release funds that can help programs align with rights.
Youth sports have evolved from the days of playing in the park and in the backyard. Adhering to this Bill of Rights will help provide our children with a safe and happy experience in today’s youth sport environment.
Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and director of university sports information. She is a partner of Outlier Creative Communications. Let him know what you think at [email protected]