Revolutionary Document Empowers Youth Athletes Abroad
America has produced some of the greatest athletes to ever live, yet, as a nation, the US falls short when it comes to producing a healthy population. Nearly 160 million Americans are either obese or overweight, and only 22.9% of our population meet the CDC’s guidelines for exercising. Culturally, Americans need to make a change to ensure the health and well-being of its citizens, and luckily there is a way to spur that change without compromising the production of great athletes and dominant sports teams.
Norway has created a youth sports ecosystem that surpasses all other countries. In the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, Norwegians left South Korea with 39 medals in tow. They had won more medals than any other country in the history of the Winter Games. They credit their success to following a sports model that deliberately aligns itself with the priorities and needs of their youth athletes.
— CNN (@CNN) February 24, 2018
In 1987, Norway created its first Children’s Rights in Sports Document. Since then there have been revisions but the premise remains the same; all sporting activities should be available to any child wishing to participate and they should be done in a fun and safe environment, that puts the needs of the child in focus. The document goes on to concisely elaborate on the rights of Children in Sport through eight pages of descriptions.
Imagine a place where kids play organized sports but prize participation above competition, where scholarships are not paramount yet some of the most competitive athletes are forged. Imagine … Norway https://t.co/0BdMdwV0s3
— NYT Sports (@NYTSports) April 30, 2019
The United States does not have a document that is similar in any capacity. Unicef advocates for the protection of children’s rights, and in 1989, they adopted the ruling that every child has the “right to play.” Unicef has a similar document, but it does not carry the level of authority or enforcement necessary to create change within the culture of sports within the United States.
That being said, here are the most important items from Norway’s Children’s Rights In Sport Document and why they would benefit the United States if such a standard was adopted into our youth sports culture.
We share a belief with the Norwegians, that “participation in sporting activities creates intrinsic values within people,” however, in Norway they took this belief and created the standard that all sporting activities should be available to any child wishing to participate. Because of the low costs and lack of economic barriers to entry, 93 percent of children in Norway grow up playing organized sport.
Influence and Freedom to Choose
Among the rights outlined in the Norwegian document, this might be the most ‘controversial’. It is standard for children to have the decision making power in their athletic involvement. It is something that usually is an unwritten rule in the United States, but if a child is ever unhappy with the sport or the circumstances, but the money has already been spent, they are stuck. Children participating in sport should have the right to dictate what sport or sports they want to play and how often they play. Valuing the voice and desire of youth athletes could reverse the burnout phenomenon.
— Families in Sport (@FamiliesInSport) April 27, 2019
Friendship and Enjoyment
The real reason why children play sports is that they enjoy it, sports are fun. Norway emphasizes enjoyment and friendship as pillars of sports communities. By focusing on the development of friendships and overall happy memories, Norway has simplified sports culture and in turn, produced athletes who are far less likely to burnout.
Adopting a development plan such as Norway’s would have a tremendous impact on youth sports culture in the United States. Their plan follows as such, children that are six years old should play varied activities to stimulate the child’s development and strengthen their basic movement skills. Between ages seven and nine, youth athletes should have opportunities to explore and practice various physical activities or sporting exercises with different movement patterns so that they get a broad experience of motion. At this age, it is okay to have one or more sporting disciplines. Between ages 10 and 12, there is still an emphasis on a variety of activities with a high intensity to ensure good basic skills, but specialization in one or more sports is considered acceptable for the first time. Additionally, Norway does not allow regional sporting competitions until age nine, championships such as Norwegian Championships, European Championships, World Championships, and equivalent competitions until they are 12. Building off the focus of enjoyment, all children shall receive prizes in sporting competitions if prizes are given and tables and rankings are not used for children until age 11.
Accountability on Adults and Coaches
Children play a part in creating the positive sports culture that exists in Norway, but adults, parents, and coaches are mainly responsible for protecting the rights of children in sport. The last section of the revolutionary Norwegian document addresses the responsibilities of the adults. Through seven points, it highlights their role and the criteria that are necessary to best facilitate sport in Norway. Adults are the ones who have the obligation to ensure that children get the most out of sporting activities, and no one else.
Adopting a Children’s Rights in Sports document in the United States has the potential to change the youth sports landscape. Since Title IX was put into place, there has been a 990% increase in the percentage of women playing High School sports. It makes us wonder, by changing our youth sports culture and adopting rights that will increase accessibility and promote sport for all, what results are in store for the United States? Our system works, but it can be better. By changing the current sports culture and prioritizing the health and well-being of our youth, starting with a Children’s Rights document, there is an opportunity to start a domino effect that will surpass sport and improve the United States as a whole.