5 Reasons Kids Should Play Sports
By V. Trifiro | July 26, 2016 | 0 reviews
Let’s face it. Kids are having a hard time these days. There are many news stories and articles about the epidemic of obese kids in America (1). What’s worse is that obese children are not only more likely to suffer from illness; their obesity seems to follow them into adulthood. When you consider the fact that being overweight contributes to problems like heart disease and diabetes, it’s really something to worry about.
One of the best and proven ways to change this trend is for children to play sports. It is a fact that children who engage in sports year round are 40% less likely to be obese. That’s because it’s the easiest way for kids to get consistent vigorous exercise that’s fun. No one likes to work out but when you’re competing and having fun, it doesn’t feel like a chore. Kids who play sports are also more likely to keep good fitness habits into their adulthood.
- The Obvious Benefit of Sports – Physical Activity
First, there is the obvious benefit of playing sports which is to give kids a way to be physically active. There are many debates over whether diet or exercise is most important to keeping our kids in good shape. Either way, you can’t escape the fact that exercise is good for their health. Kids who are active tend to sleep better and are better able to deal with daily physical challenges like climbing stairs. They have stronger muscles and bones, leaner bodies, decreased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol levels (2).
It also gets kids off the couch and away from the video games for a while. Technology gives kids the ability to play games mentally but takes away the physical part of the game playing. When you add a bad diet or snacking in front of the video game or TV, the problem is worse. There are a number of different reports that say that kids get anywhere between 5 and 7 hours of screen time per day (3). There is more screen time today because there are more options than just TV. Too much screen time can lead to problems with obesity but also physical issues. According to Pediatrics International, playing excessive amounts of video games can lead to poor posture and muscle stiffness (4).
In response, the gaming industry has come up with “Exergaming”. This is where the video game combines body movement with gaming skills. If you can’t bring the kid to exercise, bring the exercise to the game. Virtual sports can be played alone or with others. With the proper intensity they can burn as many calories as sport activity.
The latest craze in video game movement is Pokemon Go. While this game gets kids up and moving they are still staring at a screen. I suppose if this is the only way to get kids out of their chairs then it’s a good thing but it’s really not a sport. In a USA Today article titled 5 Tips for Parents of Pokemon Go Kids they suggest that it be played with others since they can be so distracted that they get hurt.
- Builds Lifelong Healthier Living Habits
Aside from the obvious benefits of physical activity, playing sports can play an important role in helping kids build good healthy living habits as adults. When kids are playing sports it releases endorphins which make them feel good. They associate playing sports with feeling good and it helps them keep activity in their lives as they grow older (6). Some other added benefits of playing sports while you’re young is that it helps with developing good eating habits, to learn how to deal with losing and adversity, and being a team player to name a few.
Kids who regularly play sports tend to learn better eating habits. The orange slices and healthy snacks they get before and after the sports teach kids that food and performance are related. You know kids have bad eating habits when first lady, Michelle Obama, tries to convince everyone that eating Kale chips are a good alternative to potato chips. If you haven’t tried them yet, don’t. Really, they’re not good.
Another benefit is that sports can help improve a kid’s communication skills. Good communication is important to playing a sport and also involves adults like coaches, referees and other parents. Communicating with the team and coaches to plan and play are good learning opportunities. For kids who are involved in individual sports, there are benefits related to focusing on their personal performance. “Participation [in sports] also can teach children the benefits of goal-setting and practice” (7).
One last benefit is that it helps kids with their education and improves their critical thinking skills. Problems come up during a game and you have to try to solve it quickly using the resources available at that moment. “While the physical benefits of participation in sport are well known and supported by large volumes of empirical evidence, sport and physical activity can also have positive benefits on education. For example, a study on sports involvement among children and young people in Namibia has shown that those who participated in sport and physical activity were more likely to pass the Grade 10 examinations. There is further research that suggests this relationship continues in tertiary education” (8).
- Develops Social Skills
Sports are a perfect opportunity to help build social skills. Being around other kids that have a common interest provides a natural way to make friends. It’s a great way to meet other people and to have fun.
While Exergaming has its advantages, screens can make you feel sad. “You might worry about a show you watched on TV — or feel bad when you think your friends are having more fun than you are on social media. Time on those screens also takes away from time you can spend being active with your friends and family. It can make you feel lonely” (3). Sports teach kids to work in groups and to be supportive, generous and empathetic. These skills are beneficial in a number of careers and to be a better friend (6).
Sports can also influence the development of leadership and empathy. They seem to also make them more likely to care about their own health developing lifelong healthier habits.
“Researchers at the University of Michigan gathered physiological data (height, weight, blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol) and responses to questionnaires on diet, exercise, leadership and empathy from 709 public school children in sixth grade. Children were then divided into tertiles by leadership and the three groups were compared with each other.
Middle school children who scored highest in leadership skills were more physically active (≥ 20 min/day) on a weekly basis (4.71 days ± 2.11 days). These children were also apt to show high scores in empathy. Moderate exercise (≥ 30 min/day) and participation in team sports also correlated to higher leadership and empathy scores” (9).
Participating in sports has many long lasting benefits for kids including self-esteem.
- Builds Self Esteem
Getting involved in the right sport can help a kid’s self-esteem. Nothing feels better than scoring that first goal or getting on first base for the first time. Having people cheer you on and congratulate you for a job well done can really boost someone’s spirit. Kids will never know what they can accomplish if they don’t try.
When a kid plays sports they are given opportunities to grow physically and emotionally. “Sports allow your children to slowly gain some independence, and learn how to behave when you’re not constantly at their side. They’re able to grow, feel accomplishment, and take pride in their achievements” (6).
There are plenty of studies that talk about the positive effect of sports on a kid’s self-esteem. Self-esteem is all about how a person feels about themselves and sports can help on two fronts. The first is feeling good about how they physically look and feel. Physical activity contributes to a healthier, leaner and stronger body. The second is feeling good emotionally. The success of a sport accomplishment no matter how large or small can add to a child’s self confidence and feeling positively about themselves.
According to Psychology Today, “there is a widely held belief that the development of competence or expertise in sporting skills can lead to a sense of personal effectiveness and feelings of autonomy, and these are associated with the promotion of self-esteem” (10).
The most important thing is that each child’s activity is one where they feel good about participating and one that motivates them to bigger and better accomplishments. If mismatched the sports activity could have the opposite effect on a child’s self-esteem. A balance of challenges and accomplishments, successes and failures is the most important factor. If out of balance a kid could easily push away from physical activity and think of it in a negative way. Also, if it’s too easy and provides no challenges, an overly unrealistic self confidence can be the result. “The Sport in America research showed that adults believe that children start playing sport mostly because they are having fun, but as children age (most cite high school as a turning point), winning begins to overshadow participation, and children do not want to play a sport in which they are unlikely to succeed. Early research by Orlick86 found that athletes were discouraged by the overemphasis on winning, which led to lack of playing time and lost opportunities to gain experience (11).
- It’s Fun!
Last but not least, participating in sports can be fun. There are many options so kids should be able to find something they enjoy. As long as it’s not treated as some type of mandatory pressure and anxiety producing activity, kids should be able to get involved and enjoy it. Fresh air and sunshine also have “feel good” benefits.
Most kids will continue playing sports as long as they feel that it is fun. There are many influences in sports these days and not all of them are good. When it becomes counter-productive for a kid to play sports they will stop. Kids are not adults and adults forget that. In a recent article by Kelly Wallace of CNN, she states that “Seventy percent of children leave organized sports by the age 13, according to research by the National Alliance for Sports. Let’s put it this way: If your daughter or son plays on a soccer team, seven out of 10 of the members of that team won’t be playing soccer or any organized sport whatsoever by the time they enter their teenage years” (12). These kids are not getting what they need out of sports and that’s a shame. Sports are great but when everyone gets uptight about it, it’s not fun anymore. The business of sports is entering kid’s worlds too soon and taking the fun out of it and that’s a shame.
“Competition can be bad when it’s win-at-all-costs (WAAC), profit-at-all-costs (PAAC), cutthroat, and treat-your-competition-with-disrespect. In short, when it’s driven by ego and greed.
However, competition can actually be a spiritual experience if it is engaged in with sportsmanship and respect, and with the view that competition makes us all better if done with integrity, with caring for both teammates and opponents, and when we push each other to strive to be the best we each can be. In short, when it’s driven by the soul” (13).
The best part about sports is the camaraderie. Making friends and sharing the experience of wins, losses and ties (13). “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. Kids enjoy being with other kids. Given the opportunity to run around, joke, laugh and be silly is exactly what sports should offer them. There are all kinds of ways to measure success in sports and there are all types of sports. Kids should try as many as it takes to find the ones that they love. A truly fun and enjoyable sport can mean a lifetime of fun and good health.
Of course, soccer is the most fun of all!
- Team sports seen as a key factor in preventing childhood obesity.
- Kids Health, The Many Benefits of Exercise http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/exercise.html
- Kid Recharge Webmd: http://fit.webmd.com/kids/recharge/article/screen-time
- 8 Ways Video Games are Bad For You http://www.healthcentral.com/adhd/cf/slideshows/8-ways-video-games-are-bad-for-your-health#slide=1
- Why Sports are the Best Way to Teach Lifelong Healthy Habits: http://duluth.macaronikid.com/article/1057450/why-sports-are-the-best-way-to-teach-lifelong-healthy-habits
- Why Should Children Play Sport: http://www.livestrong.com/article/160825-why-should-children-play-sports/
- Healthy Development of Children and Young People Through Sport http://www.sportanddev.org/en/learnmore/sport_education_and_child_youth_development2/healthy_development_of_children_and_young_people_through_sport/
- Physical Activity Helps Improve Social Skills: http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/03/15/physical-activity-helps-improve-social-skills/12120.html
- Do Sports and Other Physical Activities Build Self-Esteem: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/smart-moves/201408/do-sports-and-other-physical-activities-build-self-esteem
- Why We Play Sports and Why We Stop: http://truesport.org/resources/publications/reports/why-we-play-sport-and-why-we-stop
- How to Make Your Kid Hate Sports Without Really Trying, Kelly Wallace, 1-21-2016; http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/21/health/kids-youth-sports-parents/
- Are Sports Really Fun, Huffington Post, Ken Reed, 11-6-2013; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ken-reed/are-sports-really-fun_b_3882505.html