Why my kids play youth sports

For the last two years my daughter has been playing youth sports. She is six years old and has participated in soccer, basketball, swimming and dance. Some she likes and wants to continue. Others she has lost interest.

As I’ve watched her participate these last two years I’m reminded of when I was a kid. Certainly things are different now. But the value of youth sports has remained an important piece of helping kids build success for their future.

In our adult lives we would probably all agree that we are better off if we are active, know how to effectively exist with others, know how to communicate and understand how to balance our lives.

Youth sports, when done right, can help teach all of these.

Developing a habit of activity

At six, youth sports are not intense or time consuming. They shouldn’t be. But they do provide a regular opportunity each week to attend a practice or lesson where the kids will be running and jumping, pushing and pulling. Their heart rates go up and their coordination continues to improve.

By going to a practice each week (or most weeks), we are helping our kids develop the expectation that they will get to do something fun and active. My belief is that by establishing some good habits early in life, these habits have a better chance to continue when my kids are making their own decisions. As a parent, one of our jobs is to teach our kids how to be successful when they are making choices that only they are accountable.

According to the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, “adolescents who play sports are eight times as likely to be active at age 24 as adolescents who do not play sports”. Mix in stateofobesity.org’s finding that “around 45 percent of adults are not sufficiently active to achieve health benefits” and you can see that building a healthy lifestyle early is a huge benefit.

Developing kid language

Whether a team or individual sport, youth sports are generally done in groups of kids the same age. A lot of the time this group of kids are completely new to each other. Yet sports seem to help even the shyest kids learn to communicate with each other.

Half the time, I have no idea what my daughter is saying to the other players. They kind of have their own language. They speak to each other in terms they understand.  Then magically they shift to how they communicate with adults. That is learned communication at its finest and a valuable skill outside of sports.

Communication is the ability to successfully send and receive messages. It takes practice. The more ways a kid knows how to do this, the better off they will be.

Physical and non-physical skill development

Obviously, sports require physical abilities to do things with our bodies. Youth sports provide an excellent tool to develop any chosen skill from communication to hand-eye coordination. But even better, with the help of a great coach, the player gets instant feedback in a dynamic setting.

Consider this comparison: a coach teaches a basic passing skill for the first time. Two players line up and practice with proper form, learning to deliver and receive the ball. Compare this to learning to play the piano where the teacher teaches the student basic finger position on the keys, proper pressure, etc.

When the players are ready, the coach adds to the lesson, teaching to pass while the players are moving. More difficult but still a basic skill. The piano teacher is showing how to play in proper rhythm, not just hitting the keys.

However, in sports, like life, there are variables. Now the coach introduces some defenders. The offensive players with the ball don’t know what the defense is going to do. Neither does the coach. The offensive players will have to adjust, learn from their mistakes and improve in order to keep the ball. They need to learn to work together and be able to listen to their coach’s advise on how to get better.

Can this be replicated in some way on the piano? Maybe at an advanced level with other jazz musicians. But variability at a young age doesn’t seem to be a part of musical development.

Youth sports introduces the concept of variability from the beginning and reinforces the need to always be developing all skills. The point is not winning and losing. The point is learning to adjust and finding the value in getting better.

The balance of life

To be clear, I’m not advocating against music lessons or any non-sport activities. In fact, I am absolutely for trying everything sports and non-sports related.

Especially when kids are young, they have the opportunity to learn from everything. My wife and I love the idea of variety and balance in our kids’ lives. As my kids get educated at school, get a couple of hours a week of activity through PE and recess, learn to use a computer and work on arts & crafts they are gaining some great skills for both sides of their brain.

Playing youth sports, especially team sports, helps develop their communication skills and ability to work with others in a dynamic situation. It forces critical thinking in a new environment.

I’ve been involved in developing youth athletes for over 15 years and I’ve been observing the world for over 40. To me, youth sports is an awesome way to give kids a fun and rewarding opportunity to build toward future success.