Why Youth Sports?
As someone who studied sport psychology before moving on to clinical, I learned the many benefits of youth sport participation. When children participate in sports, they mature physically, socially, and emotionally.
What I find disturbing is a recent spate of advertising for youth sport touting weight loss as a motivation or primary benefit. While I support families trying to nourish their kids and keep them active, it’s equally important to help our children develop healthy relationships with food and their bodies – and as such, to keep weight out of the equation. Moreover, a focus on weight in youth sports obscures the many other benefits children can realize through their participation.
Benefits of Youth Sports
Here are 10 benefits of participating in youth sports that having nothing to do with weight:
1) Learning new skills: Whether it’s cartwheels or dribbling, fielding or serving, participating in sports teaches children new skills. Progress demands practice and a solid work ethic. Kids get to experience firsthand the process of acquiring and then rehearsing new behavior, learning that can translate to other arenas.
2) Developing a sense of teamwork: Children who participate in sports find a ready-made community. They support and challenge one another and come to understand how a collective purpose might at times trump an individual one. Even when participating in individual sports, kids are still part of a group.
3) Making new friends: Sports provide a new arena for friendship, bringing kids together to meet and interact in a natural setting. Friendships may come fast or bud gradually over the course of an athletic season. Frequent exposure helps solidify these ties.
4) Increasing self-esteem: We know that working toward goals and acquiring skills helps kids (and adults) experience mastery. This is an important part of feeling good about themselves and their lives. We can never underestimate the significance of a self-esteem boost for our little ones.
5) Getting out of their element: Sports can challenge kids to push beyond their comfort zones. They’ll likely participate in a different place with different people (and a new leader: coach) than they’re accustomed to. In doing so, they might realize over time that what was once foreign to them becomes more comfortable with repeated exposure.
6) Fleshing out interests: Through sports, children have the opportunity to do what they know and like, as well as to try out new activities and behaviors. Their repertoire is enhanced. Kids often realize that they enjoy something they had never tried before.
7) Promoting health and fitness: Physical activity promotes health and fitness. Bodies get stronger and develop coordination, flexibility, and endurance through sport. As such, fitness is improved. Kids who participate in sports also experience the health benefits associated with physical activity – stronger bones and muscles (including the heart), increased lung capacity, lower blood sugars, decreased stress, increased energy, and reduced risk of certain types of cancers. They’ll also benefit from the mood-enhancing properties of exercise, including decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression, and an increased sense of well-being.
8) Creating routine: Kids do well with structure and routine. The built-in routine in playing a sport (practices, games/competitions, and then an end to the season) creates a reliable, predictable structure for kids.
9) Practicing winning and losing: Winning and losing is a sport in and of itself, and both take practice to master. By participating in sports, kids learn through experience how to win and lose gracefully, important tasks transferrable to other aspects of life.
10) Having fun: Whether it’s winning a game, goofing around with pals, feeling good about their accomplishments, moving their bodies, or connecting with friends, sports can be fun! In fact, this is one of the main reasons to participate. When something is fun, it will be naturally reinforcing, allowing kids to continue to participate and reap the other benefits.
*A while back, I posted on benefits of exercise that having nothing to do with weight. This serves as a follow-up to this post.