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How Youth Sports Positively Impact the Mental and Physical Health of Children
It's not all about the trophies
I had a conversation with a father about youth sports recently; it went into the area of how sports and competitive environments are excellent avenues to helping children learn about themselves in a way that would not otherwise be possible.
Parents can foster environments of support and “faux-challenge”, but a parent cannot be a kid their child competes against.
Sports have long been recognized as a crucial aspect of childhood development, providing children with numerous physical and mental health benefits. In recent years(this was going on before COVID), however, concerns about rising childhood obesity, depression, and anxiety have highlighted the importance of sports in ensuring a healthy and happy childhood.
I live this;
I can’t bring enough attention to how sports have brought incredible elements to my children’s lives and also that of my wife and I.
Youth Sports and Physical Health
One of the most obvious benefits of youth sports is their positive impact on physical health. Children who participate in sports are more likely to lead a healthy and active lifestyle, which helps combat the growing problem of childhood obesity. Studies have shown that children who engage in sports are less likely to develop chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure and are likelier to maintain a healthy weight throughout their lives.
Kids who play sports have lower body fat, stronger muscles and bones, and increased cardiovascular fitness. They have a much lower risk of becoming overweight or obese. And they can create a foundation for a healthy lifestyle. Positive health outcomes are one of the major benefits of youth sports participation. - Jersey Watch
In addition to preventing chronic disease, sports help develop strong bone density and improve cardiovascular health. Kids who participate in sports are likelier to have better balance, coordination, and flexibility than those who don't.
All of this being added together shows you the importance that sports can play, in addition to your child going out and enjoying unstructured “play”. It’s great to see kids riding bikes and running around the playground; the problem is the lack of frequency in this activity; few families make time each day for physical activity, and where you don’t have to go play at the park, with sports, you do have scheduled practices. That structure, combined with the lack of structure in normal activities, leads to the most optimized development of the child.
Youth Sports and Mental Health
Sports aren't just good for physical health - they also have numerous benefits for mental health.
Regular physical activity can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and may even be as effective as medication in treating these conditions. Most children who are drugged up for being “too active” don’t need pharmaceuticals with negative health symptoms; they need to be released from the confines of their desks.
But that’s a discussion for another article…
Exercise helps release endorphins, which in turn assist with reducing stress and increasing feelings of happiness and well-being. It’s why adults who are feeling down start feeling better when they become more active; they weren’t broken mentally, they were physically stuck, and thus, getting the body moving frees the mind. Working out and moving around is good for the soul; adults who “play” (participating in unstructured activities) are much less stressed than those who do not.
Sports also give children a sense of experiencing loss without lasting consequences; you learn quite a bit about yourself when you give your all and still come up short.
Doing so in little league, town ball, or other youth sports organizations will allow you to go out and redeem yourself. If this skill is never developed in childhood, the result is adults who do not know how to handle failure or setbacks and those who get knocked down without knowing how to get up - stay down.
The skill stack created in sports is aided by including support, community, and belonging, which are vital for mental health.
Kids who participate in sports are more likely to develop strong relationships with their peers and may even make lifelong friends through their teams. This sense of belonging can help reduce loneliness and isolation and support kids who find themselves going through difficult times.
From watching my son in Baseball and daughter in Cheer, I’ve seen firsthand how sports are a great way to build self-confidence and self-esteem. Children who participate in sports learn to set and achieve goals and develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments. This can help build resilience and confidence in their abilities, which can carry over into other areas of their lives.
I started coaching with a man named Dan Voyer, and one of the things he and I focused on was that we taught skills that transcended the diamond. We are there to teach life skills, which are delivered through the medium of baseball. My wife and the other Cheer coaches are doing the same through Cheerleading. For you, find the medium which will help your child learn that the same way they apply their effort towards winning a game can be applied to taking a test, delivering a speech, or chasing another dream.
Hard work is hard work; learn how to do it and watch how far it carries you in every aspect of living.
4 Ways to Get the Most Out of Youth Sports
While the benefits of youth sports are clear, it's important to ensure children get the most out of their sports experience.
Here are some tips for parents to help their kids get the most out of their sports experience:
1. Encourage a variety of sports: While it's great for kids to find a sport they love and stick with it, it's also important to encourage them to try a variety of sports. This can help avoid burnout and injury and expose kids to various skills and experiences.
2. Focus on fun: While winning can be important, it's also important to remember that the primary goal of youth sports is to have fun. Encourage kids to enjoy the experience, regardless of the outcome, and praise them for their effort and hard work.
3. Emphasize good sportsmanship: Winning and losing gracefully is an important lesson for kids. Encourage them to treat their opponents respectfully and kindly, and discourage negative behavior such as excess trash-talking or poor sportsmanship.
4. Prioritize safety: Injuries can be a real risk in sports, but there are steps parents can take to help prevent them. Ensure kids have the proper equipment and protective gear and encourage them to warm up properly before games and practices.
Set Your Children Up for Success
Youth sports are vital to childhood development, providing numerous physical and mental health benefits. While it's important to prioritize safety and emphasize good sportsmanship, it's also important to remember that the primary goal of youth sports is to have fun.
I’m a competitive man, but my love for my children is not contingent upon their success in a sport, and because of this, I am never the dad who is forcing them to be this or that; I let them be themselves and my wife, and I support as best we can along the journey. We buy the equipment, the training gear, the weights, the bands, the beams, and everything needed to get stronger, not because we want to live vicariously through their success, but because we’d rather support their physical activity and growth than support their sedentary and toxic behaviors.
Encouraging children to try a variety of sports, focusing on fun, and prioritizing good sportsmanship can help ensure that kids get the most out of their sports experience. Being a present parent cheering them on, win or lose, is at crucial as the event itself. Kids want to see their parents, not just hear critiques from them, so get involved, and practice their sport with them, buy equipment then use it together, do whatever it takes to set your child up for a successful youth sports experience that will transcend the field and create an athlete who is prepared for the game of life.
With the right support and guidance, youth sports can be a positive and life-changing experience for children of all ages.
- Zachary Small
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