To Play Or Not To Play Youth Sports: That Is The Question
For parents like me trying to make sense of today’s youth sports landscape, there is a steady stream of new influences and impacts to consider when signing your child up for the next season. We are inundated with information about the risks of contact and non-contact sports such as football, lacrosse, baseball or soccer; young athletes are under more pressure than ever before to specialize early, supposedly to maximize their chances of earning a college athletic scholarship or of making the AAU team; and sports compete with an endless other extra-curricular activates in filling up a child’s already jam-packed schedule. Whether it be long-term injury concerns, over-specialization, or just an unfortunate sign of our digital times, we’re seeing declining levels of youth sport participation. This decline is particularly alarming for many of us who were ourselves brought up playing sports, but now are responsible for the decision about whether to allow our own children to play sports, and, if so, what sport.
While every family’s situation is unique, as a parent of two young girls, and an Atavus Football coach, I believe wholeheartedly in the Power of Sport to have long lasting, physical and mental positive benefits for girls and boys who participate. Are there physical – and mental – risks associated with having your child play? Naturally, just as there are risks all throughout their childhoods. But the Power of Sport far outweighs these risks, especially when sports are taught and practiced in a responsible manner.
So as parents, coaches and young people, how do we understand all this new information, make sense of it all and decide what – if any – sports to play, how much to play and who to play for?
The Power of Sport can help children to:
- Build a strong physical foundation. To take on the daily rigors of life, a balanced approach of movement and exercise helps prepares a young person’s body to grow, begin a lifelong routine of healthy activity supporting whole body wellness, develop healthy eating habits and combat a sedentary lifestyle that is on the rise in our society.
- Unplug. In an ever-increasing digital age, where children are linked to their devices in so many aspects of life, sports provide an untethered outlet to free the mind and balance a life of screen time with field time.
- Be a lifelong teammate. Team sports naturally build cooperation, reliance on and support for others, key skills and attributes that help children form healthy relationships with their peers and adults. Building a core set of these skills at an early age through sports provides huge benefits throughout school years, but also into adulthood in any professional work environment.
- Deal with adversity. As we all recognize, in sports of any level, come the ups and downs of winning, losing, and individual and team success and failures. Just as we all face in life, young athletes learn how to recognize, deal effectively with and learn from adversity, setting a strong foundation for meeting and overcoming future obstacles in life.
As noted above, there are, of course, inherent risks with nearly every youth activity (whether it’s a physical sport, playing video games, or riding a bike), and as parents and coaches we need to be keenly aware of and educated about those risks. It is our responsibility to find coaches who have the necessary training and adhere to high safety standards, discuss risks and proper approaches to sports with our children, and support all those who play the sports we love.
Regardless of whether a child is athletically gifted, playing in the hope of earning a college scholarship, or dreaming of turning sports into a job someday, the Power of Sport can and should be an integral piece of every child’s life. Sports enable the learning of critical physical and mental skills needed to set a strong foundation on which to build their life.