I love sports. I have enjoyed playing and watching sports for as long as I can remember. And as someone who participated in a sport year-round in high school and continued in athletics (golf) in college, I am constantly grateful for the large impact being able to play competitive sports has had in my life.
Now I am a parent, a proud coach of a young girls soccer team, and a more casual observer of youth athletics. I see youth sports through the lens of how they can impact our kids. Statistically, most children who try a sport or activity while young will not compete in that activity in high school; still fewer will go on to college athletics, and of course hardly any will play a sport professionally. But I still think, if done with the right goals in mind, prioritizing fun and learning, sports can do amazing things for children as they develop.
All sports can teach resilience and humility. Learning a new skill – walking on a balance beam or hitting a fast ball – is difficult but can be done with effort and persistence. Children can learn to manage their emotions and actions when things are not easy, because running a mile or making a putt takes persistence. They can learn to accept coaching and constructive criticism, skills we can all use as adults. They can quite literally fall down on the field or the court and learn to get back up and try again.
Another influential facet of sports is social. Being on a team teaches kids valuable social skills. Each child in a team sport will take a turn on the bench or sideline and learn to cheer on their teammates. They can encourage their teammate having a difficult time at practice. They can learn to offer a hand to an opponent who has fallen down. And they can learn how to respectfully shake their rival’s hand after losing, winning, or playing for fun.
Finally, sports can help shape our children’s views of themselves and their bodies. Youth sports make exercise and activity fun, potentially affecting their view of exercise as an adult. Playing a sport helps young people focus on what their body can do and how it can feel, rather than how it looks or how someone judges it. Numerous studies have associated participation in sports with self-confidence. I think about that a lot with my own daughters.
I did not become a Sue Bird or a Serena Williams, and my kids probably won’t either. But I hope all the kids in my life can experience fun and learn some lessons by being included in sports. It sure made a difference for me.
Kelly Evans-Hullinger, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices internal medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show providing health information based on science, built on trust, streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.