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Research on The Importance of a High-School Athletics Program for Adolescents

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Jun 17, 2015 | #1

High-School Athletics Program for Adolescents


This essay points to the instability and turmoil that is intrinsic to the adolescent years possibly reducible, according to scientists, to the literal immaturity of the adolescent brain. The benefits of exercise for adolescents are scientifically demonstrated, with the essay then concluding with a report that, analyzing the evidence from over 50 countries, asserts the importance of a program of physical education and sport for the school student.

The Turmoil in the Adolescent Years

High-School Athletics ProgramG. Stanley Hall, one of history's greatest psychologists, had long ago classified the adolescent years as characterized by convulsive instability and stress. Although the overall consensus of experts seems to be that adolescences is not an exceptionally difficult period, recent reanalysis of these post-child-pre-adult years argues somewhat differently: "Although not all adolescents experience storm and stress [nevertheless] storm and stress is more likely during adolescence than at other ages" (Arnett quoted by Weiten).

A cursory glimpse of the evidence reveals a corroborative picture. Adolescent suicide seem to be lower than suicide committed by older age groups, but experts actually estimate that when suicide attempts are taken into the picture, adolescent suicide by far outnumbers suicidal deaths and attempts by other groups. The ratio, in fact, of attempted to complete suicide comparing adolescents to that of older age groups is between 100 to 1 climbing as high as to 200 to 1. In the United States alone, about 2% of adolescent males and about 5% of adolescent females attempt suicide each year.

When adolescents are not occupied with attempting to kill themselves, it seems as though they are obsessed with attempting to harm others. Adolescent violence is notorious for its existence, as wit the recent years of tragic shootings at many national high schools. Arrest rates for assault, rape, robbery, and murder have been statistically shown to climb during the adolescent years until age 18 and have then declined. "There is a distressing association," notes Weiten, "between adolescence and the prevalence of violent crime," and some researchers connect this to the neurology of the adolescent brain.

The adolescent brain is literally immature. Neuroscientists have recently discovered that the neurons are not fully myelinated in the adolescent brain as was formerly thought. On the contrary, increased myelination (neurons forming and connecting one with the other) is continuing all the term in sync with synaptic pruning (the elimination of less-active synaptic neurons), and neuroscientists have discovered that the process is only complete in the post-adolescent years. Most significantly, this process of continuing myelinization and synaptic pruning are most pronounced in the prefrontal cortex, and the prefrontal cortex is the "executive control center" where all rational thought and activity (such as planning, emotional regulation, response inhibition, and organization) is said to occur. What this means, in other words, is that the adolescent can, in a manner of speaking, not be held guilty for reckless or impulsive or otherwise seemingly "irrational" behavior. His brain is literally not fully developed.

That the adolescent's brain is not wholly developed can be evidenced in other behavior. There is her or his risky conduct; fluctuating moods; conflicts with parents and peers and others. Adolescents typically engage - more than any other age groups do - in risky behavior such as reckless driving, experimentation with drugs and other addictive compounds, unprotected sex, dangerous driving, perilous stunts and so forth. This tendency towards risky behavior peaks during adolescence. Furthermore, research indicates that adolescents do display far more violent moods than age groups younger or older than they do, whilst interpersonal conflicts escalate during these years. Although turmoil in adolescence, as Weiten observes, is far from universal, the adolescent years are certainly more stressful than those from any other developmental period.

Importance of Exercise for Adolescents

According to a report issued by WebMD, the foremost and one of the most authoritative web sites on medical concerns, "Regular exercise reduces the amount of stress hormones in the body, resulting in a slower heart rate, relaxed blood vessels, and lower blood pressure."

Multiple studies show that engaging in consistent exercise promotes emotional well-being. Moreover, research has consistently shown that maintained exercise prevents and treats moderate depression, boosting endorphins and other psychological-soothing chemicals in the body that raise the mood and assure emotional health. Other chemicals that are positively affected and aroused by exercise are those called serontonins, i.e. neurotransmitters that transmit messages from one neuron to another in the brain and are thought to impel calmness.

In short, an ongoing regime of physical exercise is important for any individual - adolescent included, and may be argued to be particularly productive for the adolescent in view of alleviating his or her natural tendency towards instability and stress. Bailey observing the quantity of reports that correlates the need for programs of physical education and sport (PES) for teens, quotes a Council of Europe report that summed up that there is:

Strong evidence ... on the positive effects of physical activities on self-concept, self-esteem, anxiety, depression, tension and stress, self-confidence, energy, mood, efficiency and well-being.

Conclusion: the Importance of a High School Athletics Program

According to Bailey's analysis of evidence that was extracted from over 50 countries, a PES can help a participant in five different areas: Physical; Lifestyle; Affective (i.e. emotional); Social; and Cognitive. PES almost certainly seems to have the potential of enhancing interpersonal conduct. Admittedly, research here is equivocal, with some research showing that in some circumstances behavior may actually worsen, but most school-based findings generally show encouraging results. Almost unilaterally, skilled and conscientious coaches and suitably trained teachers can develop social skills through their physical activities. Not only do these physical activities afford an environment for releasing the build up of stress, but they also offer situations where students can learn to interact together and engage in healthily competitive, sometimes healthily risk-taking, pursuits. PES can also reduce school absence, whilst various studies suggest that PES can enhance academic performance by "increasing the flow of blood to the brain, enhancing mood, increasing mental alertness, and improving self-esteem" (Bailey). Although results are mixed, overall research seems to indicate that programs of physical activity in school not only might make for less absenteeism, but also in many instances is associated with improved academic performance.

To sum up: Adolescents face major turmoil and stress during these developmental years. Their brains are literally premature, stimulating them to engage in behavior that is not only potentially dangerous to themselves but also to others. Exercise has been conclusively shown to augment emotional well-being. There is clear evidence that a school's athletic program can have a potent and overwhelming affect on all aspects of an adolescent's emotional and physical health. As Weiten points out:

"Programs that strive to reduce student alienation and foster healthy, supportive school environments appear to have some value in reducing school violence." If that doesn't call for high schools to implement athletics as part of their curriculum -what does?


Bailey, R. Physical education and sport in schools, Journal of School Health.

WebMD: Health and Fitness: how regular exercise benefits teens.

Weiten, W. Psychology: Themes and variations. USA: Thomson/ Wadsworth.

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