The statistics are a bit stark: Fewer children are playing sports. Between 2008 and 2013, the numbers of kids in basketball, football, track, softball, and baseball dropped, by a combined 2.6 million participants. Although sports such as lacrosse and rugby have seen participation increases, and more kids are finding their way to individual sports, for the most part, the numbers aren’t lying—fewer children are on the field, court, or track.
This decline is troubling not only for the thousands of youth sports leagues looking to keep their participation numbers up, but also for the generation of kids on the sidelines. Here are some reasons why youth sports are so critical to child development:
Most kids don’t receive too many opportunities to collectively work with others toward a common goal. Sure, they do need to get along with their siblings, and they may be split into small groups in school, but for the most part, teamwork isn’t something that’s fostered at a young age. But it is a skill they will need in high school, college, and into adulthood. Youth sports provide one of the first great opportunities for children to be part of, and work with, a team. Athletic skills are just part of this equation—encouraging teammates, winning and losing together, and the joy hopefully felt when a friend does well are also important elements of teamwork that will help kids in all aspects of life as they grow older.
The Benefits of Practice and Hard Work
Parents with a child who plays baseball or softball (or played themselves in their own childhoods) might be familiar with this story: A player struggles to hit the ball, and after weeks of guidance from their coaches and batting practice, comes to bat and finally makes contact! Even a foul ball is cause for celebration and an important life lesson that striving toward a goal, not matter how difficult, is worth the effort.
Dealing with Adversity
Another benefit of youth sports is learning how to cope with failure. All that hard work will pay off in the long run even if, sometimes, it doesn’t translate into success in the short term. Teams lose games; players try their best and may still strike out. Again, these are experiences children will encounter their whole lives. Youth sports teach adversity. Whether a team makes it to the championship game and loses or goes winless the entire season, players learn how to handle disappointment, how to see the positive in a loss, how to be gracious in victory and defeat, and how the effort was worthwhile despite the outcome.
The Importance of Being Active
Childhood obesity levels in the United States continue at unacceptable levels, while schools spend less time on physical education. Youth sports get kids active, even for just a couple hours a week. A child who tries basketball at age 7 may continue playing the sport into high school … or might not, but at least, he picked up some basic skills so if the opportunity for a pickup game comes around, he won’t feel intimidated to join in. If for nothing else, a kid who plays a rec sport for three years and never plays again was active for three important years during childhood instead of sedate with a video game controller in her hands.
Fun, Fun, Fun!
Childhood is supposed to be fun, and youth sports provide another avenue for a kid to be happy. The best leagues and the best coaches emphasize this fun at every game and every practice. Youth sports create great memories that kids will cherish and then try to foster with their own children. Friendships are formed, skills are learned, and experiences are gained.
What part of youth sports do you think is most critical to child development?