For many parents, the benefits of children’s sport can get lost in the day to day grind of getting kids to practice, washing those uniforms and racing around on game day.
I’ve been a sports parent for a long time now, but I’m just reaching the point where I can see that the benefits of sport for children and teenagers extend well beyond the physical fitness and social connection that generally attracts us at the beginning. So in this article, I thought I’d map out the 10 benefits I can see in my kids as a result of their involvement in youth sport.
The smorgasbord of sport
Not every child will be a champion or even take their sport very seriously, but all kids can learn so much from being part of a team and learning new skills.
Growing up in a small country town, the opportunity to play sport as a child was really limited for me. But raising our kids in the city, they’ve had a smorgasbord to choose from. Swimming, soccer, rugby league, futsal, field hockey, softball, gymnastics, touch football, Australian rules, basketball, little athletics, cross country, volleyball and even a bit of water polo have all had their turn in our house.
As our kids move through their teenage years, they’ve all settled on their favourites and found a sense of belonging at particular clubs or within their school teams that makes the sport that much more enjoyable.
Looking back, I’m glad our kids have such a great chance to learn about themselves and this world we live in through their involvement in sport. Yes, sport can be expensive, and there have been many Mother’s Day’s I’ve been up at 6am to get ready for a game, not to mentions the hours I’ve stood or sat on the sidelines. But I still think the benefits far outweigh the hassles.
The benefits of sport for kids
All kids have different personalities, so they’re going to approach sport differently and walk away with different things from it as well. Some are highly competitive, whereas others will play a game for the chance to spend some time with friends and have a bit of fun. Some love to win, while other’s couldn’t care less.
No matter what their approach, here are 10 things that every child can walk away with from getting involved in a sport:
- A sense of what it’s like to work with others to achieve something. There are not many sports that are truly individual, but the object of sport for children should never be so focused on individual competitiveness that kids don’t learn to be part of a team and contribute to a shared outcome. This is such a valuable life lesson for kids. Understanding that two or more people can be more productive than one on their own will set your kids up for other relationships in their school and working life, socially and at home.
- An appreciation for the physical limits of their body. Most kids will discover that they can do things they never thought possible with some deliberate practice, and some will become amazing. Even the injuries and accidents are a lesson in how far you can push your body before it will make you stop. Youth sport is also a great place to learn the foundations of maintaining a healthy body for life.
- An awareness that life isn’t always fair. Young children get very caught up with fairness and everything being equal, so sport is a great opportunity for them to learn that we have to live with some level of unfairness and just cope with it. I’ve watched my children learn from their sport over the years that sometimes the game is stacked against you through the actions of the other team, the referees or both, but there’s few gains in complaining about it. This understanding also helps them to have compassion towards people who are disadvantaged or from minorities who spend their whole lives living in a society that’s unfair.
- Being able to bounce back from disappointment. Disappointments come and go in sport, whether it’s tripping in the race, getting an injury that knocks you out for the season, being dropped to a lower team or losing the grand final. Kids can learn an awful lot about life through overcoming these disappointments; I’ve written more about this in a whole article on disappointment and developing a growth mindset.
- Understanding that rules are open to interpretation. Many sports rely on a human to interpret the rules, or at least some of them. These interpretations can be quite subjective, which means our kids won’t always agree with decisions that are made, particularly if they feel disadvantaged by them. But again, sport is a great metaphor for life because the world we live in is full of rules that will be open to interpretation and sometimes we just have to accept the umpire’s call and keep playing the game.
- Learning the value of hard work. While it’s true that kids can work very hard at something and still not be a champion, they will always be better players for the hard work, and they’ll always be better people. Persevering at something, even when it’s hard and hurts, is a quality our kids can take with them throughout their lives.
- An ability to receive and act on feedback from others. It hurts to hear others tell you how you’ve stuffed up and what you could’ve done better. Most adults hate having that sort of feedback given to us. For me hearing those things often confirms what’s rattling around in my own thoughts, which can then amplify them. Playing a sport provides kids with a space to learn to take on feedback regularly, to process it and then act on it. It also gives them an opportunity to learn how to deal with feedback they feel is untrue or biased.
- Realising that our greatest enemy is ourselves. Many times in sport, there are occasions when a game is won or lost not by the opposition’s performance but by their own. Confidence, trust in themselves and one another, focus and belief are all important parts of being able to do your best on the day. As kids develop this mental game, they’re setting themselves up for their adult lives, where self-belief, a positive mindset and hope are important qualities for their overall wellbeing.
- The art of winning and losing. Even in sports that have an “everyone gets a ribbon” approach for children, it will still be competitive for many of them, who set their own goals to come first or score the most points. Competition is a part of life, whether it’s going for a job interview or bidding on a house at auction, so youth sports provides a great training ground for our kids to learn to be humble winners and gracious losers who can focus more on how they conduct themselves that the outcome of the game.
- Some moments of pure joy. Let’s face it, there are moments in sport that are very sweet. I’ve watched my kids play on winning teams where they couldn’t stop grinning. I’ve seen the joy of being part of their last ever high school chant and the sense of belonging that comes from that. The high five for a perfect shot, hearing your name called for a medal, being announced on a team, or improving your time in a race; sport can give kids so much fun!
As parents, it’s our job to help our kids realise that part of playing a sport is to learn these things. If we can take some of the focus off winning and collecting trophies, we’ll be getting far more value for money than just some great sporting skills.
I bet you’ve got your own list of benefits that come from kids playing sport. Feel free to add them below in the comments.