Competitive Teams Boost Adolescent Self-Esteem
Adolescents are in a period of life that is unavoidable and can shape their futures for in ways both positive and negative. While many different experiences occur at this time, one of the common ones is the high school experience. According to the Education Data Organization, as of 2018 there were 15.8 million students enrolled in secondary/high school, with the rate of enrollment trending up. That is a significant number of teenagers in schools. Focusing on this population of adolescents that are enrolled in a school, attention can be brought to mental vulnerability of this age group. Adolescents are a population of people that are very unique. They are have vast differences from both adults and children. Their minds are developing and new life experiences can influence them strongly for both good and bad. They are at high risk of mental issues if not properly guided, which is why they can be considered. A vulnerable population.
It is important to first understand the concept of a vulnerable population. The Indian Journal of Community Medicine states that the literal definition of vulnerability means the state or condition of being weak or poorly defended. Basically, the people that fall into these categories of vulnerable populations are susceptible to adversity. There is a high chance that a problem will arise among these people as opposed to among the people that are not included in a vulnerable population. For a broad example, we can split people into two groups with one being people that fly in airplanes and the second being people that do not fly in airplanes. The population that would be vulnerable to getting in crash is the one that flies in the airplanes. The other population is not in that situation and therefore would not be susceptible to that happening. Now this example should be taking lightly because it can be interpreted to suggest that the population you are grouped with is a choice. Someone could choose not to fly and then they would no longer be susceptible. However with most vulnerable populations this isn’t the case. If someone’s situation is influenced by race, gender, socioeconomic status (SES), or other factors similar to those, those are obviously circumstances out of the control of the individual or the population as a whole. In fact Holly R. Farley even identifies that the most commonly considered vulnerable populations are ethnic minorities, low SES, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities. In this case of adolescents, the population you are grouped with is definitely not a choice because you cannot choose your age. You will be a teenager whether you want to or not.
Teenagers, also commonly referred to as adolescents, are a population that is vulnerable to mental health illnesses. The Review Article alludes specifically to vulnerability of young people as being found among those more exposed to risks than their surrounding peers. According to Farley, a big reason adolescents are vulnerable population is because they are developing. When you are a teenager you feel the same way as everyone else: you are too young to be treated like an adult but too old to be treated like a child. This is a big transition stage in life. Teenagers are not mature, but their maturity is developing. This point in one’s life comes with a lot of pressure. There are more responsibilities than before, school gets a little bit harder, you have to learn how to handle and organize everything, No one is holding your hand and guiding you in quite the same way as you have been used to up until now. Other risk factors to vulnerability is that it is a time where you are trying to fit in and conform with peers, you start to explore your sexual identity, you have increased use of technology, and this is just to name a few that Farley mentions. This further shows the changes and growth that is happening at this stage. There are so many new aspects to life that each teenager is exploring. They are easily shaped by the environment around them. They can be pressured into doing things that they do not actually want to do as an attempt to fit in and have friends. This can include using substances like drugs or alcohol, or something even simpler like cracking jokes in class at the expense of their reputation and success. Teenagers in high school are faced with academic and social stress, which if not provided aid in tackling these obstacles then things can have a turn for the worse.
Adolescents are vulnerable to many kinds of mental illness and/or issues. One of the most prominent mental illnesses is depression. Farley provides statistics that of the 12% of the US population that is made up of adolescents, 30% are reporting symptoms of depression each year. A striking stat is that suicide is the second leading cause of death between ages 10-24, a range that starts just short of adolescence and just a few years past. These high rates of illness can be due to the fact that these teenage years are a time of physiological changes, as previously discussed. Depression, however, is not the only mental illness seen among this vulnerable population. Other mental health issues could be anxiety, which could be generalized or attributed to social interactions. Social anxiety may stem from the environment the adolescent is in and problems that arise, but also could be the very cause for such problems. It may inhibit the ability to make friends or to get involved, which are important factors to the healthy development of adolescents. Other illnesses could be eating disorders that stem from the pressure to fit a certain body image. This is especially common among teenage girls but can be seen in boys as well. They could have generalized emotional disorders which results in a lack of properly processing, dealing with, and channeling emotions. All of these mental health issues can be connected to the vulnerability of the adolescent population. They are a group of people susceptible to struggling if they are not properly guided in the right direction.
Requiring teens to participate in activities where they could potentially come out as losers will help boost their self-esteem. This is because competitive events among all ages, but especially among adolescents, have no real losers. If these adolescents are forced to be on a competitive team, both losing, winning, and just being on a team in general will provide them with social and life experiences that will lead them to thrive. If you have ever participated in a competition and lost there are no doubt negative feelings that arise, but the reaction to those feelings is what becomes important to the mental state of an individual. Adolescents would ultimately benefit both socially and just overall in life skills if they were required to participate in competition with a team of any kind.
In an analysis of adolescent extracurricular activity, Andrew M. Guest and Nick McRee state that around 75% of youths in grades 7 through 12 already participate in at least one extracurricular activity during the school year. This is a large percentage of adolescents that are already on board to be involved, and likely are involved because they enjoy the activities and all that they gain from them. While these activities may not all be of competitive nature these kids are still willing to be involved and will be easier adjusted to competition based extracurriculars. This means only 25% of adolescents in this age range would be joining a competitive team from currently not be involved with school activities at all, which is a pretty low percentage that could possibly oppose.
The most obvious opposition to making adolescents participate in any sort of competition is that the inevitable failures that will ensue will be harmful. However, these failures are the exact reason competition is beneficial to the teenage mind. The Canadian Journal published a Do Youth Learn Life Skills Through Their Involvement In High School Sport? A Case Study. This study followed a boys high school soccer team, players and coaches, through their academics and athletics to see if their sport participation benefited them in their day to day life. The head coach in this study valued the philosophy of developing personal relationships with the players. He found it important to teach them that even when one cannot change a situation, they can change their attitude about the situation. It is this concept that turns failure into success. While the game or match or whatever was taking place may go in the books as a loss, the lessons learned from the failure are positive outcomes in the midst of disappointment. Learning how to find the positives in that situation is a valuable lesson about not dwelling in defeat. Very few people make it through life without experiencing a setback or some type of adversity. When this happens there is always the option to give up and succumb to the failure. If these adolescents are taught through competition how to cope properly and move forward from disappointment then in the future, they will be more likely to keep pushing towards success. Another important lesson from failure is how to improve oneself. If you lose the scholastic competition because you got a few too many questions wrong you will study a little harder before the next one. If you lose the soccer game because you missed a few too many shots then you’ll practice even harder so it doesn’t happen again. Failure drives hard work and effort to improve and avoid failing again.
According to another case study by Pedersen and Seidman, Team Sports Achievement and Self-Esteem Development Among Urban Adolescent Girls, when the teen girls got involved in sports their self-evaluations increased to a more positive nature. The case study focused on adolescent girls involvement with team sports and they had the girls take assessments that measured their personal view of themselves overall. It was hypothesized and proven that the self-perception of success in a team sport can be connected to the global self-esteem of adolescent girls. Their results were a constant finding across various races and ethnicities. It was also evaluated in the context of those with low socioeconomic status. The most important part of their findings is that it’s the self-perceived success that pushes their self-esteem in the right direction. This doesn’t always mean success in the competitive match. There are various ways to find micro successes through team participation and competing. They can set personal goals, such as reaching a certain level of a fitness test, and if this is achieved, they will feel good about themselves. They could answer more questions right during academic club than they did last time, and even if they still get some wrong, they are happy with the success they were able to achieve. Everyone has different measures of success and our goals for ourselves are constantly changing and be met and remolded in a cyclic process. The positive sport self-evaluation led to an increase in general positive self-esteem. There are many other areas to find success that encourage a positive self-image. Positive reinforcement can nurse good feelings about ones participation. Getting into the game and making a play or helping out a team gives a feeling of worth and usefulness. This contribution to the team makes someone feel good about themselves when they know they are helping their team out. Simple pride in ones actions can positively influence the way someone feels about themselves.
In the study A School-Level Analysis of Adolescent Extracurricular Activity, Delinquency, and Depression: The Importance of Situational Context the authors Guest and McRee point out the potential for all the possible benefits of competitive teamwork to disappear if the activities are not properly constructed. While there are benefits in both the good and bad situations, there is still opportunity for negative to take over. This is avoided mainly by the proper guidance of coaches, club leaders and even parents or other family members. They need to be encouraging and willing to teach the life lessons that are available. Constant tearing down of players by the adults around them will harm them mentally instead of help. This can be combatted by aiming focus towards positive youth development. If activities are carefully constructed and supervised, they can maximize the positive outcomes.
Forcing or requiring someone to do something runs the risk of having back lash and being perceived negatively, especially by those being forced. Most people in most situations do not like to be told what to do or feel like they have no control over a situation. However, requiring first year students at a high school to participate in a competitive team activity will ultimately benefit them despite the objections that would likely arise.
One of the biggest oppositions to requiring the adolescents to participate in a team activity is that all not all teenagers do well in social situations. A large reasoning for the lack of functioning well during social interaction is that they are struggling with social anxiety or social phobias. Forcing them into these social situations could have detrimental effects on their mental health and well-being from all of the stress and anxiety caused. According to Kenneth Walters and Debra Hope social phobia embodies an excessive fear of social situations that stems from the anticipation of scrutiny leading to expectations of humiliation and embarrassment. People classified as social anxious are said to have activated defense systems. During social interaction they are submissive. The don’t engage in dominant behavior but instead have the goal of avoiding rejection to remain in the situation, or if needed they focus on escaping or avoiding the situations all together. In the study conducted by Walters and Hope they tested the social interactions of those with social phobia against non-anxious people in the same kind of interaction. The results showed that the aforementioned characteristics of the socially anxious are predominately through verbal interaction. When the adolescents join a team the focus is not solely on speaking to their peers, which minimizes the threat to the teenagers that may be socially anxious. This is definitely true with sports. During practices and games the focus is on the sport activities. While you may be the focus for a few seconds while a play is happening the crowd is overall watching the team as a whole. In practice the coaches are focusing on everyone and teammates are focused on their own success at what they are doing. There is no pressure to carry a conversation during these times. The aspects of playing the sport that are beneficial, such as reaching personal goals and achieving personal satisfaction with ones performance, are in turn not actually causing harm to the social well-being of the individual.
Of course there are times when that social interaction does need to occur, or the competitive team may be more verbally focused, such as a scholastic competition team. In the case of the latter, there may be more social pressures that could cause anxiety. However, as time goes on and the adolescent is more involved in the activity and the benefits of doing so are seen, any negativity that may arise at the beginning would be counteracted. As skill improves and the teenager starts to positively participate the fear of being rejected decreases. As the team bonds and becomes closer, whether on personal levels or just in their team environment, the adolescent no longer has to worry about trying to get out of the situation because it will be a situation that they are comfortable being in. In any of the competitive team sports, in order to succeed as a team that bonding does need to occur. This means that all of the participants will have to eventually verbally interact as they get to know their team. This may seem daunting, but actually is the type of situations that adolescents need to develop positive social behaviors. Annette La Greca and Nadja Lopez did a study to evaluate social anxiety among teens, which differs from the more commonly studied and utilized data from among adults. Their study analyzed adolescents interactions with peers and their general social environment and the linkages to social anxiety. The results showed that a major important factor in development of adolescent social functioning is having close friendships. These relationships result in emotional support, intimacy, and an expression of emotions, which are all beneficial to the emotional development of a teenager. When the adolescents have at least one person that they are close with it makes them feel like they are not an outsider. This will help prevent shying away from further social interactions. Being on a team gives teenagers that are social anxious a chance to form relationships that they may struggle to do on their own. If they fear social interaction then when they are in school, they will likely keep to themselves. By being on the team it puts them with a group that they will inevitably interact with. This could relieve the pressure of seeking out relationships on their own, because they are already in the environment where relationships are likely to result.
A common psychotherapy approach to combating disorders like social anxiety is exposure therapy. If a patient was afraid of snakes the therapist would start by having one in the same room as the patient and then eventually have the patient able to tolerate the snake being on their body. The best way to combat a fear is to face it head on. This therapy exposes someone to the very thing they fear the most which in turn eliminates the fear or at the very least makes it manageable. In an article by Steven Shearer he discusses how these this time of cognitive behavioral therapy is useful. He says that even if its self-conducted any gradual exposure lasting long enough from the anxiety to diminish is effective in combating it. Prolonged exposure, such as an hour-long practice or meeting, provides optimal time for adolescents to face their fear of interacting with their peers at the rates they are ready. The teenagers learn how to deal with the social situations that they are uncomfortable in. As more time is spent with a team the more comfortable an individual gets, which makes it easier to work on these skills.
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