Published 23 April 2008 | Last update 29 April 2009

Children, Childhood and Sports



Children as the future citizens of a society have engaged the attention of ruling bodies of different countries, groups and cultures in all times. Questions of how to teach children Christian values were focal in Western Europe from the 800s and were still important during the first half of the 20th century. At that time other ways of influencing and – as some researchers have pointed out – disciplining children had been developed as well, not least in connection with schooling systems and pedagogic ideas. Not only the minds of children were to be formed before they became adults. Bodies had to be shaped into a correct form; infants were swaddled to make limbs grow straight instead of crooked, small children were to be trained to sit still at a table and teenagers were held back in their search for sexual experiences. Children, young people and adults have been seen as different groups in society – with different responsibilities and capacities. According to laws and regulations children have, at least for as long as we have had written laws, not been expected to understand regulations in the same way as adults and therefore they have not been punished in the same way. If the history of childhood is presented like this, children’s living conditions do not seem to have changed much over time.  However, this is not entirely correct.

Even though children have in some ways been conceptualised as different from grown-ups in a continuous way over time, there have also been changes. In Western Europe young children are no longer supposed to work in artisan shops, factories or in other peoples homes . In the 18th century many children left their parents in order to spend some years and work in other peoples households before setting up their own household when they were in their mid-teens – boys earlier than girls and children from working class families earlier than children from other social classes. Today children stay with their parents until they are about 20 years – boys stay longer than girls (working class children still leave their families earlier than children from other social classes). Since the beginning of the 20th century most children in this part of the world spend a few years in school and over time the numbers of years at school have increased.

In this set of articles, originally presented at the ISHPES/ISSA congress in Copenhagen 31 of July to 3 of August 2007, at a seminar called “Children and childhood in sports”, questions of how childhood has been conceptualised and which conditions children have met in sports are scrutinised. Questions regarding whether children have been expected to work, and, if so, how children’s work was viewed in contemporary times, are analysed in Wray Vamplew’s article, and issues concerning children’s and young people’s rights to shape their environment are discussed by Sophie Laforest and Alex Dumas. In what way children have been participating in sports, as part of the audience or as active participants, are issues discussed by Joyce Kay, Szilvia Perenyi, and Mats Franzén and Tomas Peterson. In many countries today, sport is regarded as playing an important part in the shaping of both the bodies and minds of young people – a theme discussed in Perenyi’s article – whereas in other times and under certain circumstances sport has been considered as spoiling the morals of young people; the latter view is brought up in Vamplews article.

Another important question discussed by the contributors is how mythologies of the impact and importance of sports are built and can be deconstructed, see for instance Joakim Åkesson’s article; whether sports can actually be regarded as positive for children while their human rights are not acknowledged, is discussed by Kristin Fransson; and whether the localization an building of certain sporting areas and arenas can create social categories within the group of children ,and boundaries between children, is an issue brought up by Kalle Jonasson. Sports do not only create social categories, but can also influence how children look upon themselves in relation to sports. How sports and elite training of young people can shape their ways of thinking about a sport is discussed by Franzén and Peterson.

How sport is conceptualised in itself poses an interesting question regarding the activities of young people and children. Not long ago board sports were considered more play than sport – today they are seen as sport but they are not given the same recognition and public space as for example older sports such as football. This is recognised in Laforest’s and Dumas’ article. Jesper Thiborg discusses how other activities, like E-sports, that young people and children consider to be important part of their lives are seen in relation to traditional sports.

The articles are being published during 2008, and will appear in the ToC below as they are uploaded.


Susanna Hedenborg

Table of Contents

Alex Dumas & Sophie Laforest Intergenerational Conflict: What can skateboarding tell us about the struggles for legitimacy in the field of sports? (published 080409)

Kristin Fransson Children’s Sport, a Question of Rights? Children, Childhood and the Swedish Sports Movement (090429)

Joyce Kay A Blinkered Approach? Attitudes Towards Children and Young People in British Horseracing and Equestrian Sport (published 080507)

Szilvia Perenyi Value Preferences of the Physically Active and Non-Active Hungarian Youth Population (published 081029)

Wray Vamplew Child Work or Child Labour? The Caddie Question in Edwardian Golf (published080423)