It is easy to make a list of benefits youngsters derive from playing sports. Or is it? You might be surprised to find that the list is quite a bit longer than you imagined. The topic has been studied over and over again, so there is plenty of evidence to back up our belief that playing sports is a good thing for kids. And, as it turns out, playing sports as a child does great things for your future as an adult, too.
Most obviously, young people learn physical skills, which boost muscle development and motor coordination. But they also learn other things, from their coaches and even to some extent from one another. Let’s take a closer look at what research says about the benefits of youth sports, in the near and long term, with special thanks to Aspen Institute’s Project Play for many of these statistics and insights.
Organized sports have been shown to:
· Foster teamwork, of course. Learning how to function as part of a team, whatever your role, translates to effective collaboration in work environments. It also teaches us how to build teams and why diversity is so important. If everyone on your sports team had the same skills, the team would be a non-starter instead of a championship contender.
· Teach accountability. You learn to roll with it when you lose, looking for positive lessons rather than finger-pointing to assess blame. We all make mistakes and do things wrong in life and at work. It’s how we respond that affects what happens next. Accountability also teaches youngsters why it is important to support and encourage others as well as to receive encouragement and praise yourself.
· Help develop thinking skills and improve concentration, which boost academic achievement (higher test scores in younger students, higher college attendance and graduation rates among older students).
· Promote inclusion. Sense of belonging is a key psychological and emotional benefit of team membership. Developing a “social circle” creates a peer support system that helps reduce risk of depression and suicidal thoughts in children as well as adults.
· Teach the importance of goal-setting as well as leadership skills that can help us make better management decisions as adults to reach personal and workplace goals.
· Instill confidence in facing varied situations.
· Instill good work habits – if you don’t practice, practice, practice, you won’t play your best and your team cannot win.
· Help reduce childhood obesity. Healthy adults tend to be happier in life and more productive at work.
Not enough youth are playing sports
Because sports participation builds stronger futures in so many ways, experts say we need to do a better job of getting more kids involved in sports as we’re emerging from COVID-19 quarantine, not just helping current players return to their fields and courts with proper safety measures in place. Overall child participation in team sports has actually declined in the last decade, noticeably among minorities and those from lower-income families.
The CDC recommends youth get at least 60 minutes of exercise daily. Shockingly, one recent study suggested only 5% of kids between 5 and 18 are doing that. But while parents appreciate all the future advantages that can accrue to their children via playing team sports, kids themselves aren’t going to be lured onto a team with the promise of “stronger life skills.” Nor will most players ever be good enough to score a scholarship.
To attract more youth into team sports, we may have to offer opportunities that go beyond hoping to land a sports scholarship to college or improve admission chances by adding sports to their high school resume. We must idealize team sports for the fact that they provide a broad range of benefits -- not the least of which are just plain fun and camaraderie among peers. And we need to find ways to make team sports more broadly accessible to all youth.
You don’t have to go pro to make more money
Dreamy as it sounds to kids, hardly anyone becomes a professional athlete. But, great news! NPR reports that adults who played sports as a kid earn more and enjoy faster career acceleration than those not involved in youth sports. Not only do student athletes tend to earn more as adults, by remaining physically active and healthy they can expect to save significantly on medical costs throughout their lives.
Interestingly, different sports provide different types of benefits beyond the strictly physical. However, the Aspen Institute says traditional team sports seem to produce “more concrete experiences associated with well-being.” So, what sports should youth play? That depends on the child. This Healthy Sport Index can help you and your kids find the best fit.
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