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How can we raise well-adjusted athletes?

February 2, 2015

Sport psychologists to discuss emotional needs of young competitorsRay Rice. Adrian Peterson. Lance Armstrong. Tony Stewart. Michael Vick. Tiger Woods.

When athletes earn attention for all the wrong reasons – a problem that seems more and more frequent – their stories of take on lives of their own. Reports of such misconduct reach from the front pages through the sports sections. Apologies and penalties are issued. Leagues are scrutinized. Charges are investigated and sometimes pressed.

Lurking far from the crises, however, are millions of young athletes enrolled in peewee teams of all sorts by parents who believe that sports nurture strong, responsible and productive adults.

So what’s going wrong?

“Every week it seems like there is one or more headlines about athletes doing bad things. We have a steady, unrelenting river of bad examples related to sports and behaviors of athletes,” says Paul Wright, acting chair of the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

“People like to say that sports build character, but that’s not automatic,” Wright adds. “What is the role, or the obligation, of the sports experience to really help people develop socially, emotionally and ethically?”

Answers to that question will come at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 9, during a panel discussion on the development of youth athletes in the Capitol Room of the Holmes Student Center.

Three sports psychologists – Gloria Balague of the University of Illinois-Chicago, Daniel Gould of Michigan State University and Robert Weinberg of Miami (Ohio) University – will explore the psychosocial development of young athletes at the elementary, secondary and collegiate levels.

Paul Wright

Paul Wright

All are welcome; the 90-minute program will conclude with refreshments and time to interact informally with the panelists.

Wright, who teaches life skills via sports to a group of boys at DeKalb’s Clinton-Rosette Middle School, knows one critical element: Coaches must intentionally model “positive values. Self-control. Good behavior. Leadership. Ethics.”

“If we don’t understand those things, and we don’t shape those experiences in a positive way, it really can foster some negative behaviors,” he says. “It hits the news when it happens in the pros, but this stuff is also happening on soccer fields throughout the suburbs of Chicago.”

Beyond the valuable and educational insight of the panel discussion, Wright says the Feb. 9 event will provide opportunities for connections and collaborations between the nationally recognized visitors and NIU’s faculty and students in sports psychology.

Other sponsors are the NIU Graduate Student Colloquium and the Physical Activity and Life Skills Group.

For more information, call (815) 753-1407 or email [email protected].