Good sportsmanship is important in youth development – Part 1

There are benefits beyond winning in youth sports programs.

Participating in sports allows youth to develop many life skills.
Participating in sports allows youth to develop many life skills.

Youth are starting sports at a much earlier age these days. Some parents feel the pressure of getting their kids in a community sports program as young as 3 years old. While physical activity is important at all ages, developmentally this is much too early for young kids to play organized sports.

As youth get older, the pressure continues and strengthens in intensity. This pressure typically originates from coaches, peers or parents. The Michigan State University Institute for the Study of Youth Sports cites a child’s number one reason for playing sports is to “have fun.” Yet by the time they are 13 years old, 70 percent have dropped out of team sports. According to Women’s Sport Foundation, the number one reason for the drop out is “because I was not having fun.”

When a child makes the difficult decision to drop out of any organized extracurricular event, the real loss is not only in health benefits and social opportunities. It is also missing out on the opportunity to develop important life skills. This is an issue for our youth because by participating in sports programs, they learn more than throwing a football, skiing down a ski hill or keeping their balance on a balance beam. According to MSU Extension in cooperation with Iowa State University, participating in sports allows youth to develop leadership, fairness, teamwork, self-esteem, problem-solving, goal-setting, communication, cooperation and many more life skills.

It has been determined these life skills are a basic foundation that prepares youth for success in life. Add to that developing, healthy physical habits at an early age and sports become more then a competition.

Better Health Channel lists the following as benefits of physical activity for children:

  • Improved cardiovascular fitness (heart and lungs).
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Improved posture.
  • Better sleep patterns.
  • Increased self-esteem and confidence.
  • Improved concentration.
  • Help with relaxation.
  • Building stronger bones and muscles.
  • Improved balance.
  • Skills development.
  • Increased flexibility.
  • Opportunities to make friends and enhance social skills.

When kids are leaving sports at the age of 13 because of pressure from parents or peers, they are losing out on skills that can last a life time. In addition, this is a time when a new teenager needs the direction and commitment that a sports program can provide as well as the extra support of a coach and the stress release of exercise. It’s important to remember other extracurricular activities can provide life skill development and a safe place for youth to belong. A 4-H program or a being a member of the band can also be equally beneficial and provide many of the same benefits as a sports program.

Finally, is it possible your child will know how to play the game differently or perform better at a musical performance because of our great advice? Probably not. We, as parents, are quick to mention how we would do things differently, provide compliments or justify a loss. Would it be possible for us to leave that to the child’s inner self and hopefully their coaches?

For over three decades, Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC have asked college athletes what their parents said that made them feel great and amplified their joy during and after a ball game. The overwhelming response was, “I love to watch you play!” When we sit on the sidelines and feel those proud moments, regardless of their age or how they are playing, isn’t that the thought running through our mind? When we are driving to the 25th overnight hockey tournament in a three-month season, isn’t it because we love to watch them play?

Very few athletes will make it to college or professional level of sports. Giving children the ability to evaluate their performance and make changes based on the values and beliefs that a family has instilled from a young age is one of the most important life skills we can teach for future success. Add the simple phrase of “I love to watch you play,” and witness for yourself how transforming it can be.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the MSU Extension website.

Other articles in this series:

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