This week, Pope Francis will release his long-awaited, hard-hitting encyclical letter on the environment that calls for urgent action to prevent further damage to the planet and fight off global climate change. The already-controversial letter is expected to contain a number of key viewpoints on topics ranging from human rights to biodiversity.
One of the most overlooked parts of his letter? The Pope’s advocacy for youth sports and the wide-reaching benefits they can have, from respecting children’s dignity to helping them rise up out of poverty.
According to a June 16 Huffington Post article, Pope Francis recently challenged global sports leaders to rethink the role of youth sports in enhancing and enriching children’s lives. In his May address at an international seminar, the Pope stressed the indubitable influence a coach can have on young athletes and the need to expand youth sports opportunities for underprivileged children.
The Pope’s comments aren’t at all misguided. While the American Heart Association states that children should be getting 60 minutes or more of physical exercise every day, only one out of every three children get the daily exercise they need. As a result, childhood obesity remains a pressing health concern throughout developed nations, but especially in the U.S.
The statistics are equally dire among children who do participate in youth sports. More than 70% of children who do have the opportunity and financial resources to play youth sports will stop playing sports by the time they enter high school. An untold number of children never even get the chance to play youth sports, with poverty and disability acting as the top barriers.
In his statement, the Pope warned sports leaders against the so-called “perversion” of sports that emphasizes financial gain, nationalism and personal ambitions over a genuine love for the game, putting winning above all other priorities. This passion to win often makes youth sports more work than play for the children who play them. Unsurprisingly, the majority of children who drop out of youth sports teams do so because they aren’t having any fun.
Coaches and sports leaders alike have plenty to learn from the Pope’s stance on youth sports. By expanding opportunities to play and fostering a deep love for the game, coaches can help instill a lifelong love of playing sports among younger players.