Thinking of signing up your boy or girl for sports? Given the tremendous benefits of sports for youth, that’s a smart move. It turns out that children of all ages, whether they’re five years old or teens approaching adulthood, have a lot to gain from playing sports.
Yes, the physical benefits of being active are more obvious. However, the benefits extend much further with countless studies supporting the fact that playing sports contributes positively to the social, emotional and overall mental development of your child. Thinking of encouraging your child to take part in youth athletics? Here’s why you should:
14 amazing benefits of youth sports for your child
Cardiovascular fitness gains
It’s no secret that being enrolled in sports can lead to massive improvements in cardiovascular health. Anything that gets your child’s heart pumping faster will make it stronger and provide them with increased endurance over time, plus, your child will feel like they have more energy overall. Regular cardio activity will also help burn fat and extra calories so they can maintain (or work towards) a healthy weight.
It’s also important to note that any gains in cardiovascular fitness will lead to improved performance in the actual sport they’re playing — this is because tired players with no energy tend to be less accurate (for example, when going for their next bank shot or pass during basketball, or shooting a puck for a goal in hockey). Additionally, their improved energy levels will mean they’re less likely to use sloppy techniques during games that can lead to injuries.
When you play any sport, you’re using your muscles and that will lead to gains in strength. Many people’s initial thought is that one has to lift weights to build muscle. But that isn’t the only way to do it.
Running across the basketball court during a league match engages the legs, and therefore strengthens them. Players improve the strength in their arms by dribbling the ball, throwing it for passes, and trying to score a basket. Depending on the sport, the muscular gains may be subtle, or more obvious — but there’s no question that these improvements are real.
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The best way to improve coordination is to use it, and participating in sports is a fun and effective way of doing so. For example, dribbling the ball while simultaneously moving into position during a basketball match takes a great deal of hand-eye coordination — any gains in coordination will also be of use for everyday tasks such as printing or handwriting during school.
Improved eyesight from outdoor sports
Outdoor sports can be very valuable for helping to protect your child from developing near-sightedness. During the summer months, look for outdoor soccer, baseball, softball, swimming, or track and field teams for your child to participate in.
Set up a basketball net on your driveway so your kids can practice at home in between seasons. Street hockey is another great way to get kids outside more, provided the street is low-traffic and someone is available to supervise.
Finally, don’t overlook solo sporting activities such as rollerblading, skateboarding, and cycling to get your kids outside.
And on mild winter days, don’t forget to head out for ice skating or ice hockey at the local community outdoor rink.
There’s no question that participating in team sports can be the source of many new friendships. Regular meet-ups for practices and games leads to tight bonds between teammates that go well beyond sports and extend into everyday life outside the game.
To be successful in life we need to develop good social skills, and playing team sports is a fun way to work towards this goal. Children and teens who play on a team learn about how to cooperate with others, work together towards a common goal, and be supportive of one another through good and bad.
It’s easy to put our best foot forward socially when things are going well — the real test is in how we handle ourselves when things are going poorly. During the ups and downs of a game (sometimes you’re kicking butt and winning, other times you’re losing badly), kids get the chance to practice being gracious, cooperative, and kind no matter what.
Enjoy camaraderie with teammates
Being part of a team gives kids a beneficial sense of belonging that’s very different from what they can get in other areas of their life. When playing team sports they have to learn how to fit in, and get along with kids of varying backgrounds and interests. There’s a very special kind of bonding that takes place on a team that celebrates big wins together, suffers losses together, and sweats together during the hard work of training/practice sessions. All this builds a strong camaraderie between team members that kids really enjoy.
Learn to get comfortable with risks
In life, we need to learn to get comfortable with taking risks, even though there’s no guarantee every risk we take will pay off. Playing sports helps kids get practice in analyzing the odds of a risk working out in their favour, learning how to make decisions quickly, and owning the result. For example, they may find themselves having to assess the risks/benefits of trying to score that basket themselves right now while they have the opportunity to shoot, compared to passing to another player who’s closer to the net and may be more likely to score points.
Gains in emotional and interpersonal skills
Playing sports teaches kids to control their emotions in all sorts of situations. They learn to show respect for their coaches and teammates not only when it’s easy because things are going well, but also when it’s hard because the game or practice is not going their way.
Increased self-discipline and focus
Playing sports requires your child to set goals, put in the time and focus to reach them, and have the discipline to do this consistently over time. What makes sports particularly special in this regard is that if you choose right, your child will enjoy their practices and games, making the maintenance of discipline and focus feel less like work.
Team sports are great for improving your child’s confidence. Kids can’t help but notice the gains in their skill level year after year, and these increases in ability make them feel good about themselves. Additionally, there are going to be times when they really shine during a game — for example, when they score a basket, or complete an important pass successfully — and those moments will boost their sense of self-worth to new heights.
Learn to be a good competitor, win or lose
While it’s easy to handle winning, it’s not so easy to handle losses. By going through the experience of losing a game (which happens to everyone eventually!), your child will learn how to handle defeat with grace and good sportsmanship. Even winning can be instructive because they can learn how to handle the excitement of wins without “rubbing it in”, and how to be respectful of their opponents.
Sports has its ups and downs. Sometimes you’re kicking butt and winning, other times you’re not successful at all and everything seems to go wrong. It’s during the hard times that kids learn to handle their frustration and disappointment in constructive, healthy ways. Particularly with young kids, there’s the temptation to “win at all costs” or even cheat to win — playing sports helps them learn to follow the rules out of respect for the game, the other team, and themselves, even when the going gets tough. They learn that while they may lose today, they will win on other days — it’s not all or nothing.
Mental health benefits
The exercise one gets from playing sports helps to reduce stress, and even improve sleep (which leads to improvements in mood!). Interestingly, the direct improvements to mood from exercise can last for hours after the activity has ceased.
Participating in sports is important for youth development
There are few things as much fun as sports that provide so many benefits to growing kids and teens, whether they’re on a team that plays mostly for fun, or one that thrives on competition. Getting active on a team provides a lifetime of benefits and achievement opportunities, no matter what stage of development your child is at as an athlete (for example, just starting to be aware of sports, building skills and learning fundamentals, or into hard-core competing). Start thinking about how you can fit more of this into your child’s life — they’ll thank you later!