Debate over the minimum age in top sports: “Hell” for children?

Children and top sports – does it fit? In Tokyo, a 13-year-old skates for gold. In Beijing, a teenager is in focus for a doping scandal. Experts warn of developmental disorders. Something could change in figure skating now.

“I Have No Pressure”: Lilly Stoephasius.
imago bilder / Sven Simon

An individual medal seemed just a formality when the then 15-year-old figure skater Kamila Valiyeva traveled to Beijing for the Winter Olympics. But after days of trouble over his positive doping test, the teenager could not withstand the massive public pressure: Valiyeva fought back tears in his freestyle, made a mistake and missed a medal. The young ice princess’ disturbingly crash gave rise to demands for a minimum age in top-class sports. The International Skating Union (ISU) is planning to vote this week to raise the age limit to 17 years. In other sports, too, children belong to the world elite. experts warn.

No age limit for skateboarders

The organizer of the Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), leaves the decision to introduce a minimum age to the sports federations. Gymnasts must be 16 years of age and there is no lower age limit for skateboarders. However, in response to the Olympic scandal, the IOC had called on the world federations to revise a general minimum age in sports.

In many sports, an increase in age would have devastating consequences. “A lot of young girls would miss out on medals here,” said 15-year-old skateboarder Lilly Stoephasius. Last year, the Berliner was the youngest German to take part in the Tokyo Summer Games. At that time, all the women’s medals were awarded to teenagers – in the street discipline, gold and silver even went to two 13-year-olds.

“I do not think a minimum age is necessary for us,” Stoephasius said. Although she thinks the discussion of an age limit makes sense, a distinction must be made between the different sports. Skateboarding as a sport is relatively less structured and is practiced with less pressure. “There’s no obvious competitive atmosphere. We’re having fun and supporting each other. I was not under pressure,” Stoephasius reported.

The German Roller Sports and Inline Federation (DRIV) provides her with “sports psychology staff” so that she can meet all the requirements. In addition, Stoephasius receives media training. The teenager’s participation in top sports is justified, said the competitive sports consultant for skateboarding in DRIV, Sebastian Barabas.

“The danger of psychosocial overload is simply too great”

Jens Kleinert from the German Sports University in Cologne is in favor of a minimum age in top-class sports and proposes “a first orientation” at an age limit of 16 years. “Below that, the risk of psychosocial overload is simply too great,” said the professor of sports and health psychology. The usually very high amounts of training imply the risk, “that in addition to athletic development, other developmental stages will be delayed. For example, the development of friendships,” Kleinert said.

In addition, high training load in connection with failure and frequent frustration could have a lasting impact on personality development. “Sleep, recovery, eating habits and other important components of life can be disrupted,” the expert explained.

Nevertheless, top sports for children do not necessarily have to be a “mental hell,” as scientist Heinz Reinders believes. The teacher researches the topic of talent promotion and heads the youth development center for young female football players at the University of Würzburg. Top-class sports can certainly have “positive, meaningful” elements for young talents. This applies when the whole young person’s environment conveys: “Competitive sports are a positive recognition”. It will be problematic if, for example, the association’s officials do not focus on the well – being of the young stars, Reinders said.

Signal effect of the ISU decision?

Kamila Valiyeva

Destroyed: Kamila Valiyeva at the Olympics.
imago pictures / ITAR-TASS

The decision by the World Figure Skating Federation, which wants to vote on the gradual increase of the minimum age to 17 at its annual congress this week, could have a signal effect on other federations. As stated in the draft agenda for Congress, the ISU Council’s proposal is “to protect the physical, mental and emotional well-being of runners.”

In addition to the IOC, the German Skating Union (DEU) also supports the initiative. “This would meet our goal of preparing our athletes for the biggest difficulties with more foresight and a long-term perspective,” said DEU Sports Director Claudia Pfeifer.

Education researcher Reinders is primarily aimed at the media, families and associations. “What does a child’s participation bring us? And what does it bring to the child? If we find more honest answers to the first question than to the second question, it is no longer about the athlete and the athlete, but about external interests,” Reinders said. “deep red” signal.

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