We want our kids to have a childhood full of happiness and playtime. Sports are a natural outlet for that - children get exercise, time with their peers and an opportunity to learn from the whole experience (even if they don’t realize it’s educational). But sometimes our thirst for competition as parents, coaches and educators can make us lose sight of why youth sports are important in the first place.
So in order to implement successful sports programs the question becomes: What do we teach our kids? How can we ensure they get the valuable sports lessons that athletic competition can provide without falling prey to some of the negative aspects of sports in American culture?
A comprehensive physical education curriculum, in a team setting, will not just focus on fitness and winning/losing, but instead will place more emphasis on the solidifying the traits that ultimately enhance a child’s social and interpersonal skills. So what do sports teach kids?
Building confidence in children is a priority. After all, confidence will get them far as adults. It helps kids push themselves to greater heights and provides a security that is immeasurably valuable. Confidence is key in many aspects of sports, from competing in front of an audience to going to bat at a clutch moment.
Teamwork teaches children their responsibility to others and hones their ability to look for places where the team needs help. They learn that the most valuable player is not the one who can score the most goals but the one who can best support the team. They also learn to put the needs of the group above their own. A well-oiled team will work together and look out for each other (and in certain sports can actually keep your child safer). It is both a communication skill and an empathy skill.
We’ve all heard the phrase “Practice makes perfect” and its more sensible cousin, “Practice makes permanent.” While the truth is somewhere in the middle, practice helps your child learn how to hone a skill. It teaches them the link between the hard work and the resulting payoff. It also teaches kids the value in having a mentor and how to learn from a mentor. Learning to persevere gives kids the grit they need to succeed.
This is a big one. Learning how to accept constructive criticism is something everyone needs, and it’s a tough nut to crack. No one likes to hear that they’re doing something wrong, and no one likes to fail. Teaching kids to set aside their ego and take feedback - and failure - as a lesson will help them out immeasurably in their life ahead. It also helps kids maintain their confidence in the face of failure.
Kids often have a difficult time seeing consequences past themselves. When they neglect a certain task or fail to make sure they have all their equipment on hand, the team suffers. Accountability teaches them that their actions have consequences for the team and the unpleasantness that comes with being the one to let the team down.
Team sports inherently have a bonding element. When you work hard and struggle to achieve a goal with a team, connection and friendship is a natural side effect. That said, in sports, people will make mistakes and fail. Teaching kids to stand by their friends through difficulty - or when auditioning for the same position - will help them learn about the kind of relationship building that helps them hold onto their friends for a lifetime.
Every team wants to be champions, but it’s not always possible. A brand new team in a brand new league won’t go from zero wins to the best around overnight. There are a lot of steps along that path. Learning how to set reasonable goals - both challenging and achievable - will help your child learn how to identify that sweet spot between pushing and pacing. Setting goals too high is a recipe for causing kids to get frustrated and quit. Setting good goals helps teams break down larger goals - becoming a champion in their league, for example - into more attainable, important landmarks. Hitting those smaller goals on the way to being a champion creates an atmosphere of positivity and encourages kids to work harder.