Why relationships are important to athletes with challenges (Part 1)

Jun 08, 2011
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The exponential growth of Facebook, and other forms of social media, have powerfully demonstrated the importance we human beings place on feeling connected to others. Successful participation in this interconnected world now requires us to be capable of swift and articulate interactions with others. The rewards for competent practitioners of these social skills are considerable: They can influence social status and elevate the individual’s sense of well-being.

While the Facebook phenomenon is a digital expression of our desire for friendship, it is, of course, not the only way we develop our relationships. Sports have been, and remain, an important means of gaining social recognition and increasing social competence for participants. Research has shown that children are attracted to other kids who are outgoing, have good conversational skills, excel in valued activities such as sports, and are lavish in dispensing praise and approval. Weiss and Duncan (1992) suggested that emotional support for athletes, the affirmation of their athletic ability, and the promotion of self-esteem were important reasons for a child to participate in sports.

Research identifying the consequences of social difficulties in sports reveals a consistent and disturbing pattern. Lonely children are likely to be less active than children who have well-developed friendships (Page, Frey, Talbert, & Falk, 1992). Children with poorly developed athletic skills often experience peer rejection and experience difficulties in their social and emotional development (McKay & Keyes, 2001). Children who are either neglected or rejected by their peers are more likely to engage in solitary play and be at risk for internalizing disorders such as anxiety or depression (Rubin, 1985). Children who are completely rejected in sports (and on an ongoing basis) have been found to be at risk of aggression from other children (Coie & Kuiper-Schmidt, 1983).

Next week I will discuss practical to help special needs athletes – especially those that have social communication challenges (e.g. autism) – to develop friendships and relationships in sports.

Author: Gary Barber