Adolescents

Opportunities for Risk

A few days ago, whilst driving to the airport to collect my stepson and his crew mate from training camp, I was involved in a strange incident on the M4.

I noticed a car driving erratically and very fast, weaving in and out of all the lanes trying to get ahead of the steadily building congestion. I didn’t think too much of it, there’s always one after all. However, suddenly I was aware of another car where the driver was behaving in the same way and it quickly became apparent that they were racing each other. They were weaving around other cars at breakneck speed and then both moved into the middle lane together and collided. Bouncing out of the collision they sped on and promptly collided again, one car ending up in a full spin in front of me. The car then smashed into the central reservation, damaging the bonnet. There was a moment of stillness, where everyone took in what had happened. Then the driver put the car into gear, and sped off, leaking pink fluid out of the smashed up bonnet.

It was a slightly surreal experience, not your everyday motorway drive. The cars were both new and pristine, so I am guessing that what I witnessed was a joy ride with a couple of stolen cars. It got me wondering about the drivers and what they were thinking, what had got them into that situation and were they having fun or was it some sort of compulsion or need that drove them to such risky behaviour.

Risk, is an interesting concept. We all take risks everyday and sometimes we take risks which are hard to explain, even to ourselves. Adolescents and young adults, for various reasons to do with their brain development, are by far the biggest risk takers in society. As parents, especially in this day and age, we have a tendency to protect our children from experiencing risk as far as we possibly can. But this can lead to undesirable outcomes. Evidence suggests that children who are protected from risk

  • Develop into more fearful adults.

  • Have poor understanding of life’s inevitable dangers.

  • May seek out risk in undesirable ways – like those drivers on the M4, risky drinking or drug taking, risky sexual behaviour or maybe less innocuous risk, like violent gaming – none of them particularly healthy.

So how can we as parents give them risky opportunities without sending them off to play on a level crossing?

Sport is a great opportunity for allowing children and adolescents to take risks. We see so much sport in the media that we are almost de-sensitised to it. But have you actually tried diving for the try line whilst sprinting as fast as you can, whilst being chased down by a hoard of large teenagers in front of a cheering crowd?  The adrenaline rush is LARGE. How about launching yourself at full pelt into a sandpit? Or being alone in front of a crowd when it’s match point against you?

Sport offers risk taking opportunities to children and adolescents in so many ways

  • Learning a difficult skill where you may hurt yourself.

  • Being chased.

  • Pushing yourself to physical limits where you feel pain and discomfort.

  • Putting yourself in a situation where you may fail, or lose in public.

  • Having to produce a performance, at a key time, in front of an audience, including your peers.

  • And many more…

In my coaching days I worked with many young crews. At one international event, my girls crew decided that in their final they were ‘going for the blackout’. Slightly alarming, but they were going to throw so much at it that they left it all our there and knew they had done all they could.

They didn’t black out, but they did win a world silver medal. But in going for the blackout, they fulfilled almost all those risk opportunities listed above. They have all now matured into confident and accomplished women and I’m sure their sporting experiences are a huge factor in that. And at the time, far better for them to be ‘going for the blackout’ in a thrilling, crowd-pleasing chase to the line, than joy-riding a stolen car on the M4.

Sport, has the power to do good in so many ways.

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