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Cowabunga, Baby: Sports Are Getting Extreme.


Extreme sports are certainly the rage; kids across the country have dreams of going pro. Parents have questions. When they push kids into sports, into competition, are they possibly pushing them toward extreme sports?

"Not necessarily," Robert Schleser, PhD, professor of psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, tells WebMD. "Kids themselves seem to be the ones choosing extreme sports. You don't see the traditional soccer mom or football dad in these sports. It's a generational thing ... like 20 years ago, when martial arts were the rage. On every street corner, you'd see young kung-fuers."

In fact, it seems extreme sports are nearly mainstream, nearly where soccer was a decade ago. "It's reaching the saturation point," says Schleser. "Everybody has become aware of it. Kids are exposed to it on a regular basis. When that happens, the trend toward younger kids getting involved kicks in. We see kids as young as eight, nine, or 10 involved in skateboarding, bikes, doing bike tricks, advanced skateboarding-type things. They're the first generation to fall into this tradition."

Whereas traditional sports are said to build character and team spirit, many parents wonder if extreme sports promote antisocial behaviors. "Antisocial -- I don't think that particular term is appropriate," William F. Gayton, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Southern Maine, tells WebMD. "Even in gymnastics, girls are competing individually. A swimmer is going to swim as fast as they can to beat a team member. Sure, there's team competition, when you talk about your team beating another team. But those members are definitely competing against each other. You see the same thing in extreme sports."

He sees lots of positives in extreme sports. "Clearly these people are getting pleasure out of what they're doing. Last time I checked, that was a legitimate value in our society. Participating in any sport is about maintaining and raising self-esteem. The interesting thing about extreme sports is their uniqueness. In our society, we have ignored that quality, the need to be unique, to be different."

Extreme sports could indeed have a positive impact on kids, says Schleser, "I don't see adults, parents, coaches screaming at young kids because they're not performing as well as they should. From a psychological point of view, that's devastating for a kid. So you've got these kids out there, they're skilled athletes, they appear to be having fun, and they're purely self-paced on this. Kids are working their problems out by themselves. I'm thinking they have a greater degree of commitment to it. In some respects, it could turn out to be healthier than traditional team sports."

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