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CNN Presents Classroom: Whatever it Takes: In Pursuit of the Perfect 10

(CNN Student News) -- Set your VCR to record CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Whatever it Takes: In Pursuit of the Perfect 10 when it airs commercial-free on Monday, March 27 from approximately 4:10-5:00 a.m. on CNN. (A short feature begins at 4:00 a.m. and precedes the program.)

Program Overview

Today, youth sports is a multimillion dollar industry modeled after professional sports. Like professional athletes, kids are expected to perform under pressure, play with injuries and sacrifice family time for tournaments far from home. Perhaps nowhere is the pressure more intense than in gymnastics, where the sport can become a virtual full-time job by the age of 10. This CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Whatever it Takes: In Pursuit of the Perfect 10 looks at the intense pressure faced by young gymnasts as they pursue their dreams of competing in the Olympics.

Grade Level: 7-12

Subject Areas: Health, Physical Education, Contemporary Issues, Social Studies


This CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Whatever it Takes: In Pursuit of the Perfect 10 and its corresponding lessons challenge students to:

  • Identify the role of an athletic coach and effective coaching styles;
  • Determine how sports can be a metaphor for life's difficult lessons;
  • Identify injuries related to specific youth sports and how athletes can prevent these injuries from occurring;
  • Assess the differences between "adaptive perfectionism" and "maladaptive perfectionism";
  • Examine the field of sport psychology;
  • Ascertain how the techniques used by sport psychologists can be used to improve people's performances in athletic and nonathletic settings.
  • Curriculum Connections

    Health Standards

    Standard 2: Knows environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health

    Level III (Grades: 9-12)

    Benchmark 1. Knows how the health of individuals can be influenced by the community

    Standard 4: Knows how to maintain mental and emotional health

    Level III (Grades: 6-8)

    Benchmark 1. Knows strategies to manage stress and feelings caused by disappointment, separation, or loss (e.g., talking over problems with others, understanding that feelings of isolation and depression will pass, examining the situation leading to the feelings)

    Level IV (Grades: 9-12)

    Benchmark 2. Knows strategies for coping with and overcoming feelings of rejection, social isolation, and other forms of stress

    Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education (3rd ed.) by Kendall, J. S., & Marzano, R. J. (2000) is published online by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) ( link).

    National Physical Education Standards

    Standard 5: Understands the social and personal responsibility associated with participation in physical activity

    Level IV (Grades : 9-12 )

    Benchmark 7: Understands the concept of "sportsmanship" and the importance of responsible behavior while participating in physical activities

    Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education (3rd ed.) by Kendall, J. S., & Marzano, R. J. (2000) is published online by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) ( link).

    National Social Studies Standards

    Standard IV. Individual Development and Identity

    Students will explore the influences on individual development and identity including culture, groups and institutions.

    Standard V. Individuals, Groups and Institutions

    Students will explore how institutions (e.g. schools, churches, families, government agencies) are formed, what controls and influences them, how they control and influence individuals and culture and how institutions can be maintained or changed.

    The Curriculum Standards for Social Studies ( link)are published by the National Council for Social Studies ( link).

    Discussion Questions

    1. How have youth sports in the United States changed in recent years? What factors have contributed to the evolution of the hypercompetitive youth sport culture in the U.S.? What physical and emotional problems are associated with hypercompetitive youth sports? Why do you think 75% of all children drop out of organized sports by age 12?

    2. At what age do girls start training to become Olympic gymnasts? What qualities do champion athletes need to become Olympians? What sacrifices do the young gymnasts make to pursue their Olympic dreams?

    3. What roles do coaches play in the training of the young gymnasts at the Parkettes National Gymnastics Training Center? We learn that some of these coaches teach their students to deal with their pain by "sucking it up." Why do you think some coaches promote this philosophy? What message does this practice send to the young athletes? What are the potential pros and cons of dealing with pain in this way, both physically and psychologically? Do you think this practice is justified? Explain.

    4. What role do the parents play in the training of their young gymnasts? What sacrifices do these families make to help their children become athletic superstars?

    5. Point out to students that, in the program, we learn that Kayla's parents are "haunted" by the question of whether Kayla's goal of becoming an athletic superstar is her dream or theirs. Ask students: Why does this distinction matter? In your opinion, what is the difference between nurturing a champion athlete and doing a child harm?

    6. Who is Bob Bigelow? What message does he have for parents regarding youth sports? In this CNN Presents program, Bigelow states that he's "trying to bring the competitive nature of youth sports back to the children, where it belongs." Ask students: What do you think Bigelow means? Do you agree or disagree with his views on youth sports? State your rationale.

    7. Is pursuing the dream of becoming an athletic superstar worth the sacrifice? How far do you think kids, parents and coaches should go to pursue this dream?

    Suggested Activities

    1. Coaching

    Ask students: What is the role of an athletic coach? How do coaches help athletes mentally prepare for competition? Then, invite a coach from your school to explain the principles and approaches he/she uses to guide athletes. List these principles and approaches on the board. Ask students: In your opinion, which approaches are the most effective to motivate athletes? Why?

    2. Sports: A Metaphor for Life's Lessons

    If any of your students have participated in organized sports, ask them to comment on the pros and cons of their experiences. Then, share the following quote with your class:

    Sports remain a great metaphor for life's most difficult lessons. It was through athletics that many of us came to understand that fear can be tamed; that on a team the whole is more than the sum of its parts; and that the ability to be heroic lies within. --- Susan Casey, former managing editor of Sports Illustrated Women

    Have students discuss the meaning of Susan Casey's statement. Ask students: What are the "difficult (life) lessons" to which Casey refers? Then, have students draw upon their own experiences, or the experiences of others, to write essays that illustrate how sports is a "great metaphor for life's most difficult lessons." After sharing their essays with the class, ask students: What specific skills can people develop by participating in organized sports? How might people use these skills in different areas of their lives?

    3. Sports Injuries

    In this CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Whatever it Takes: In Pursuit of the Perfect 10, we learn that, as youth sports become more competitive, with longer seasons and extra practices, doctors are seeing more overuse injuries -- as many as eight million every year. Have students brainstorm a list of popular youth sports, such as softball, baseball, football, hockey and soccer. Next, group students and assign each group a sport from the list. Instruct each group to conduct research to learn about the specific types of injuries related to the sport, and the potential short-term and long-term effects of these injuries. Also, have each group identify ways that the injuries can be prevented. Have groups make formal presentations of their findings. Help students compile their research findings and create a brochure to educate their peers and parents about these issues. Disseminate copies of the brochure to students, parents and the head of your school's physical education department.

    Extension: Challenge your students to sponsor a Youth Sports Safety Awareness Week in their school or community. Students can access a list of ways to promote youth sports safety at the following National Youth Sports Safety Foundation Web site: link.

    4. Perfectionism

    Ask students: What is "perfectionism"? To what extent is perfectionism associated with achievement and success among the gymnasts profiled in this CNN Presents program? In your opinion, do elements of the gymnasts' training promote perfectionism? Explain with examples.

    After the discussion, inform students that psychologists have identified two types of perfectionism: "adaptive perfectionism" and "maladaptive perfectionism." Adaptive perfectionism, often called positive perfectionism, is associated with achievement and success, while maladaptive perfectionism is negatively associated with mental health problems like depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

    Refer student groups to online resources to learn more about adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. Direct each group to prepare a presentation on the causes, symptoms and treatments for maladaptive perfectionism. Ask students to identify the correlation between this form of perfectionism and depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Also, have students find out how maladaptive perfectionism can affect students' academic performances and their relationships with friends and family.

    Then, invite one of your school's guidance counselors to your class. Have groups present their research and list their key findings on the board. Following the presentations, instruct each group to create and present a vignette that illustrates a young person displaying maladaptive perfectionism. After each vignette, ask students to comment on the scene. Pose the following questions to guide the discussion:

    1. Why is the main character's thought process and behavior maladaptive?
    2. What potential problems does this person face because of the pressure he/she places on himself/herself?
    3. How do you think these problems evolved?
    4. How might this person manage his/her problem?

    Invite the counselor to share his/her perspective on the vignette and the students' comments. Ask the counselor to wrap up the discussion by offering suggestions for how students might cope if they, or someone they know, are displaying maladaptive perfectionism.

    5. Sport Psychology

    Inform students that, during the last 20 years, the field of sport psychology has received significant attention from athletes, coaches, parents, and the media. According to the American Psychological Association, Division 47, Exercise & Sport Psychology:

    Sport and exercise psychology is the scientific study of the psychological factors that are associated with participation and performance in sport, exercise, and other types of physical activity. Sport psychology professionals are interested in two main objectives: (a) helping athletes use psychological principles to improve performance (performance enhancement) and (b) understanding how participation in sport, exercise, and physical activity affects an individual's psychological development, health, and well-being throughout the life span.

    Some of the reasons that people contact sport psychologists are to improve performance, overcome the pressures of competition, enhance the experience of youth sport participants and provide psychological assistance with injury rehabilitation.

    Refer student groups to online resources to learn about the field of sport psychology. Have each group prepare a presentation about a mental conditioning technique such as relaxation training and imaging. Instruct the groups to demonstrate some of the techniques practiced by sport psychologists and how they can be used to improve people's performances in both athletic and nonathletic settings, such as on the job or at school.


    gymnastics, perfectionism, competition, organized youth sports, eating disorder, hypercompetitive attention deficit disorder, depression, Olympian, sacrifice

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