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How Organized Sports Can Transform Lives of Troubled Youths - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

All across the country there are hardworking, dedicated, and thoughtful educators and administrators who spend their lives pouring into youth of various ages. Millions of youths' lives are being positively affected in ways that allow them to flourish by being challenged to develop new skills, set goals, and strive towards completion.

While most people are familiar with educational institutions that support after-school curriculum like clubs of various natures and sports, there are other programs that exist that seek to challenge a different set of youth that tend to be overlooked and forgotten: at-risk youth.

Definition of At-Risk Youth

According to Oxford bibliographies at-risk youth can be understood as a generalized term which seeks to summarize childhood and adolescent persons who are at higher risk factors for being subjected to or participating in unhealthy environments or behaviors. These circumstances and behaviors can range between many things, but a few examples of those are things like substance abuse, violence, trouble in school, juvenile detention, and a range of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.

troubled kid

Sadly, racial disparities are consistently evident in these situations. In the last twenty-five years or so there has been a shift in study that sought to bring more attention to adaptive behaviors and eventual outcomes of various persons that participated in what are called resilience studies. The goal of this shift was to better identify those adolescents that have a higher likelihood of developmental problems that would keep them from transitioning into a stable adulthood.

Of those organizations, organized sports initiatives have done much to help transform the lives of troubled youth as an alternative to juvenile justice systems. The following are just a few ways in which organized sports can help.

Benefits of Organized Sports to Transform Lives


Mutual respect is a foundational element of interpersonal relationships. In order to be a sound, functioning member of a family, community, or society, individuals need to be able to recognize the worth inherent in any individual's life. For those youths that have not received the love and respect that every human being is due, it is difficult to expect that they will be in a place of emotional stability to be able to understand that concept, let alone demonstrate it. Organized sports does this at multiple levels and in ways that are fun and interactive.

troubled kid

Personal Pride

Many of the individuals that fall into the at-risk category may struggle with low self-esteem. Regardless of the source or reason for this, low self-esteem is a malicious underlying factor that can lead people to a myriad of unhealthy, compensating behaviors such as substance abuse, violence, depression, and isolation.

By engaging in organized sports, a sense of accomplishment and pride can develop quite quickly to bolster low self-esteem.


Youth who struggle with various destructive or delinquent behaviors often find themselves in such situations because of strife between peer or leadership individuals. In order to be a part of organized sporting events, teamwork is essential. Learning to set aside differences or wounds in striving for a common goal catalyzes teamwork.

Articles by Sarah Daren