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The Benefits of Playing Sports for the Kids (And the Parents)

Most of us don’t imagine our kids going on to become professional athletes when we sign them up for Little League baseball or Saturday morning soccer. What we quickly learn is that it sucks time and money. And any chance of sleeping in on weekends. Or having meals at normal times.

But it is fun! Or, for sure, it can be. And, without fully realizing it at the time, the kids were learning lifelong lessons.

Benefits of Kids Playing Sports

When my daughter was little, we signed her up for soccer with a handful of her friends. She spent most of the time sitting in the middle of the field picking daisies with her best friend. When the thrill of daisies passed, they moved onto peeling the skin off the orange wedges left over from halftime. Most of the time these pint-sized players didn’t even know which side their goal post was on.

They were having the time of their lives. Soccer, what soccer? She thought she was a rock star for being on the team. Loved the neon-green uniform that hung from her lithe little body. And proudly showed off her cleats and matching knee socks to her grandparents sitting in the stands. It took a few years for the idea to sink in that this was a competitive sport. Meaning, you wanna win.

My son played soccer, basketball, and flag football. Clearly the highlight of being on a team was being with friends and playing sports. The thrill of running around like little professional athletes fueled their fun. Sometimes the best part of the game was the pizza and ice cream with his buddies that came after.

Even though I was active growing up—running, swimming, biking—I didn’t know one thing about team sports. I didn’t even know it was possible for girls to be on a team until I went to high school. The only sports I competed in were during junior high P.E. and our weekend backyard shenanigans. My sports were handball and kickball. I was strong and had decent hand-eye coordination, though I lacked any real athletic skill.

Stick-to-itiveness wasn’t my forté either. I tried ballet, piano, and a bevy of others pastimes that I can no longer remember because I didn’t stick with any of them long enough to etch itself into my memory. So it became important to me that whatever sport my kids signed up for they had to stick with it through the entire season—with or without tears. (Mine or theirs!)

The Benefits Of Team Sports

My kids didn’t need to love the sport they were playing. They didn’t even have to sign up the following year. But, they did need to finish the season. No matter what. When they reached high school, they were both on several athletic teams: basketball, water polo, and track for him; tennis and fencing for her.

Being part of a team was fun and social. Hey, who am I kidding? It also looked great on their college applications. However, getting into college shouldn’t be the only reason or even the main reason a child plays sports. There are so many lifelong lessons and health benefits.

Playing sports does more than just help kids get and stay in shape. Studies have shown a myriad of health rewards: better sleep, reduced stress, maintaining healthy weight, stronger immune system, and longevity. It teaches you how to work for the greater good of the team, not just yourself. It teaches responsibility, sacrifice, teamwork, commitment and mastery. Because no matter how tired you are or didn’t want to play—and it happens to all of us—you had to show up because the team needed you.

Aside from the fun with old friends and making new friends, team sports teach us many things. Kids get a chance to make friends with kids from different backgrounds and walks of life that might otherwise never happen, especially sitting at home in front of a flashing screen.

One of the best lessons learned in team sports, of course, is that it can’t all be about you. Sometimes you have to give up your own dreams of glory and take one for the team.

And it teaches kids the much-needed lesson of not only how to be gracious winners (we hope), but, as well, generous losers.

Team sports also teach resilience. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you get back in the game and try again. You don’t give up. Regardless of who wins, there’s still fun to be had.

Sports also teach that hard work pays off. The best players weren’t born like that, they worked hard and tirelessly to become that way. Practice makes perfect, or nearly perfect.

Players learn how to listen to others and take directions, from coaches and fellow teammates, which will serve them well in life.

And, best of all, sports keep kids healthy and often out of trouble. By the time my kids got home from school, showered, ate dinner, and finished their homework, there was no time to get into trouble, let alone the energy to even think about it. Our weekends were the same: jam-packed with meets, practices, and managing schoolwork.

What Are The Benefits Of Sports: The Research

There are many benefits of team sports. An ABC News article, reporting on a study published by the American Medical Association, found that a survey of more than 14,000 teenagers who participated in team sports were “less likely to use drugs, smoke, have sex, carry weapons or have unhealthy eating habits.”

Research conducted by Dr. Keith Zullig and Rebecca White at West Virginia University shows that “young teens who play sports feel healthier and happier about life.” It could be all those endorphins surging through their bodies.

Sports teams create a built in community that a child, especially a shy child, might never have. It also teaches you to learn how to trust. Without trust, you can’t have a committed and connected team.

Sports is the great equalizer, because when you’re on the court or on the field, it’s skill and sportsmanship that defines the player, not who you are or where you came from.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the benefit to parents, too. We made great friends while standing on the sidelines: doling out snacks to hungry teammates and commiserating about parenting, and as our kids got older, the challenging college application process.

For all the early weekend mornings and mealtime mayhem sports bestowed upon our family, all I see now are the benefits of playing sports. And I wouldn’t change one minute of it. My kids feel the same way, too.

A win-win all around.

Linda Wolff writes the parenting and lifestyle blog Carpool Goddess, where she blazes the trail from teen years to empty nest proving that midlife and motherhood aren’t so scary. Find her at: FB and Twitter @carpoolgoddess

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