Sport Participation and Troubled Youths

Sport can be traced back to the period of ancient Greeks (Andrews et al, 1990).  It has always been an integral and central part of most communities. During ancient times, societies believed that participation in competitive sports acted as an alternative to violence and war. It was a place where youth’s aggressiveness was directed or transferred to. Around mid 19th century in Britain, sport became a method of student social control in all public schools (Donnelly, 1981). England considered sport as a considerable alternative to boys bullying, poaching, drunkenness and vandalism which previously had been the main activities boys engaged in at their leisure time. Recently with increasing youth violence, drug abuse and increasing crime, sport has been considered as a suitable panacea for troubled youths.

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Recent academic studies and researches have indicated many benefits of youth’s engagement in sporting activities (Jamieson and Ross, 2007). Widely, it’s believed that children who participate in sport are less likely to abuse drugs, smoke or girls pregnancy among other social delinquency behaviors.  At the time when youths are in their sport lessons or practices, their peers who do not participate in sports may be tempted to engage in troubling activities in the streets among other delinquency. Further explanation indicate that youths involved in sports get particular behavioral and emotional qualities that reduce the chances of the them engaging in delinquent behavior. When youths are involved in sports they tend to become more aware of themselves, self confident and self respecting, and these attributes in return makes the youths morally upright reducing their chances to be involved in troubling activities.

The effect of sport participation on troubled youths is the crux of this paper

Does participation in sport among troubled youths stop deviate them from delinquent behaviors, or does it increase their likely hood to become more troublesome?

One can highly count the number of successful former American sports person to identify the value of sport among troubled youths. However, one can still count the number of former American athletes with criminal records to illustrate moral deviance that has erupted as a result of the sporting culture. Researchers have been researching over the years on the how youths respond to sport culture and the outcome of their participation.

Those who believe that troubled youth’s participation in sports will moderate their delinquent behaviors do so with the notion that sport build and promote their character (Heimer, 1996). When troubled youths are engaged in sports, they tend to conform more to positive behavior than deviant influences, thus they are able to acquire values and norms that make them more conventional and good citizens. Main supporters of positive influence of sports among troubled youths argue that sports enhance good behaviors due to positive socialization with sport couches, physical education and team membership requirements (Gerlach, 1996). Team leaders promote healthy lifestyle among the sports members; against drug abuse and other substances abuse.  As a result of youths commitment to their sport team, pressure to be physically fit, and the fear of jeopardizing the ranking of the team, troubled youths tend to conform to positive behaviors.  Sport also provide a channel to outlet aggression and divert from negative peer influence. Ensuring troubled youths are placed in environment that foster positive behavior reduces their chances of engaging in delinquent behaviors. Secondly, involvement in sporting activity promotes individual esteem and resilience, creating the room to learn healthy behaviors. Taking the case of girls for example, their participation in sports may enhance their self esteem and confidence, giving them a sense of social recognition, physical empowerment within their schools and community. With improved social status and self reliance gained through sport participation, troubled girls are highly likely to resist peer pressure to trade sex for popularity or approval. Pate (2000) found that youths involved in sports are less likely to be engaged in risky behaviors such as drug use compared to youths that do not participate in sports. Study conducted in the US by Gerlach (1996) found that high school student’s athletes smoke slightly less compared to their inactive fellow students, but tend to chew tobacco or use snuff more often.

There is another bunch of scholars who believe that troubled youths engagement in deviancy is the result of involvement or membership with certain organizational system among them sports organization. A good example is a sport team which exposes a youth to influence of older teammates delinquents. Secondly, they argue that due to instances of cheating and indiscipline in athletic competitions, troubled youths tend to learn delinquent behaviors.

Most result from the empirical studies indicates negative relation between sports and delinquency among troubled youths, though they have recommended caution when interpreting their findings because some could be entirely based on selection bias of the sample study.  Schafer (1969) suggests that maybe sports program attract conformers only and troubled youths thus do not involve themselves in such programs.  Similar results were reported by Landers and Landers (1978), indicating that there is a negative relation between high school extra curricula activities such as sports and official delinquency records by the court. The most consistent study for positive impact of sports on youths with delinquent behavior has been provided by Segrave (2005), they conducted numerous studies under different circumstances and all instances indicated more support for the negative relationship between sports and delinquent behaviors; one study highlighted the same among young kids between 11 to 13 years.  According to a study conducted by Segrave and Hastad (1984) among college students indicate a negative relation between sporting activities and delinquency. The negative relation became even more strengthened when serious offences such as physical assault and vandalism were examined among the college students. Though study overall results indicate negative relations between delinquency and participation in sporting activities, the researchers suggested that the type of sports youths and children engaged in had a higher relevance to the relationship that the individual degree of participation. Youths involved in highly physical and aggressive sports had a higher likelihood to be engaged in antisocial behaviors than those who participate in minor sports. A more recent study by Segrave (1985) examining the relationship between ice hockey sport and delinquency did not indicate substantial difference between players of ice hockey and other athletes, however, when the study is subjected to serious deliquescent acts such as vandalism and physical harm, youths participating in ice hockey reported more serious delinquency behaviors that those engaged in other sports. Findings above empirical studies indicate that sports, particularly most aggressive, have a high likelihood to increase their level of participation in antisocial aggressive acts rather that foster an alternative to channel their aggressive impulse.  The subject on the effect of sports on troubled youths continues to raise eyebrows, owing the escalating number of youth’s involvement in crime violence and drug abuse everywhere around the globe. The numbers of energetic youths in prisons and jails continue to rise especially in the United States.

Recently with increasing cases of juvenile crime, violence, drug abuse and trafficking, concerns have rose worldwide on the causes of delinquency among youths and how to counteract the behaviors. The situation has prompted scholars, human rights watch among other government institutions to suggest that sport might provide the best answer on the issue of troubled youths.

Delinquency has been found to be rampant in every major city around the world accompanied by juvenile gangs that loom up with increasing number of unemployed, idle youths. Concerns on how to handle troubled youths aggressive and delinquency behaviors, has become a controversial issue with considerable implications on a country’s policy, and delinquency control among troubled youths.

A troubled youth cannot be explained or defined in one statement

However, quite a number of groups and individual scholars have produced a definition of the term. The phrase “troubled youth” refers to a young person who displays characters of is disrespect, lacks motivation in most activities, criticizes and complains about everything, shows characters of irresponsibility in physical and mental actions and normally associates with other young people with similar characteristics (Abdal-Haqq, 2004). These youths are characteristically from good backgrounds and may not necessarily have abusive parents. More often than not, a young person who does not fit the above category may turn out to be a delinquent involved in property or violent crimes therefore writing an accurate definition can be quite tricky and inaccurate. These troubled youths may be categorized into: those introverted and those extroverted. The difference is that the former shows signs of withdrawal and shyness while the latter is vibrant and speaks candidly about any given ideas especially those of violence and fighting back. More often than not, these young individuals suffer psychological illnesses especially depression. This makes them appear sullen, violent and angry all the time and this trend may lead to serious stress levels and eventually the troubled youth may commit suicide. It is believed that physical activities and particularly sports may help to reduce cases of delinquency and violent crimes.

Earlier researches conducted on effect of sports on troubled youth’s and delinquent behaviors have largely been criticized owing to the fact that they neglected certain factors which are substantial to confound the relationship between sports and troubled youths. Some of the factors omitted by those studies include race, age, gender, social economic and family background and more importantly the seriousness of delinquency act.

This study attempts to fill research gaps lefts by previous study on the impact of sports on troubled youths. The study goes ahead to establish new insights in the field of sports and deliquescent acts among the youths.


The research has been conducted through reliable and extensive searches on numerous peer reviewed journals and published studies on youths and sports.

The key words used for search include “Sports and youth’s behavior”, “delinquency and sports among youths” , “violent behaviors among troubled youths”, and relationship between sports and antisocial behaviors"


Apparently, several limitations face the study.  Firstly, subjects used for the study have different family backgrounds and thus the effect of sports on them varies. In addition, cultural background of the youths under study is likely to affect generalization of the findings. Likewise, youths attending mainstreamed collegiate or high schools may not give a real representation of typical collegiate or high school in the entire state; the selected sample may not represent the entire population efficiently.

Subjects of the study will be males, thus limiting the study ability give a generalized results for troubled female youths. Determining a troubled youths and seriousness of delinquency act will also limit study’s ability to generalize results of the subjects.

The research attempts to answer the following question:

What is the effect of sports in troubled youths?

In order to acquire more precise and detailed results of the problem, the following sub-questions will assist in the evaluation:

  • What is the role of sports in youths?
  • Do sports assist in reducing delinquency?
  • Do sports reduce or increase violent behavior among troubled youths?

Definition of Terms


Refers to people who are below 18 years of age and who are mainly prone to violent and antisocial behavior and has significantly what comprise such behavior.


An action that involves skill and physical effort in which a person or team vies against another/ others (Abdal-Haqq, 2004).

Troubled youth

Refer to young people who are emotionally disturbed in a way that cause a substantial disruption of their daily life both at home and school. They are characterized with crude behaviors such as acting violently towards others, disrupting of classrooms, jeopardizing themselves through alcohol use and chronic drugs, or getting involved in behaviors that endanger them or others (Farrington, 2004).

Delinquency or delinquent behavior

Refer to a conduct that differs with accepted norms or the law or trivial crime that is particularly committed by young people. Delinquency is a legal term used to define criminal character executed by a juvenile which always leads to escalating awkward behavior (Wolford, Rutherford, &Nelson, 1996)

Antisocial behaviors

Refer to a sharp deviation of one’s behavior from the social norm in a manner that perpetrates harmful or hostile activities against an organized group or entire society (Merriam-Webster, 2001). It can also refer to consistent infringements of communally normative behavior which usually involves rule infraction, aggression, insolence to adult authority, vandalism, and violation of social mores and norms of society (Mayer, 1995). It also refers to behavioral deficits; includes depression, withdrawal and isolation and which are gets exposed outwardly through behavioral 3excesses such as physical and verbal aggression, disturbing others, and violent acts Youth crime and violence- refers to people who are mainly between ages 12 and 17, and who are lawbreakers with mild subjection to severe punishment than adults. They have crude behaviors that are characterized by harmful physical attacks and use of drugs in a life-threatening manner, suicide, murder, and intent to cause intimidation, physical injury, or damage (Hoffman, Osher, & Dwyer, 2000)

The relationship between sports activities and delinquent behaviors has raised considerable debate over the last several decades. So far much of the debate has been based on theoretical view, but owing to the controversial nature of this debate, empirical evaluations have been conducted recently owing to the nature of the argument.

Most researchers carry out study on the troubled youth in relation to academic performance or public relation. A lot of literature is available worldwide on the relationship between troubled youth, drugs, violent behavior, crime and academic performance. All this topics are adequately discussed and have brought about the necessary conclusions and recommendations. However, a gap exists in the study relating troubled youth and sports. These two issues are interrelated and their relationship has not been well established so far. This call for a thorough study on the issue in order to come up with the correct relationship between the two so as to know whether sports assists troubled youths or it adds to their delinquent behaviors. 

The research will aid most sporting programs and institution to realize the impact of sports on the participant and how to improve the sporting requirements to ensure the minimize delinquency among troubled youths.

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