I grew up in a sports family. My family was so dedicated to sports that brother became a minor league pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds and I went on to study Sport Management at Texas A&M. I later went on to become a Youth Sports Specialist for the Army in one of my first positions post-college. In this position after leading hundreds of coaches through “youth coaching clinics” I developed a philosophical and practical understanding of the impact youth sports play in our society. I learned that they can impact many of the traits that we hope to develop in our younger generation. These kids are going to need to understand leadership, dedication and sacrifice if they are to be successfully independent adults. I hope that my two sons grow up to be hard working, productive citizens. It’s not about college scholarships or pro deals in our house.
Team sports are one of the last remnants of the tribal society that we were bred to thrive in. Our ancestors existed in small tribes that required that members depend on each other. It required hard work, coordination, sacrifice, loss and hardship.
To be clear, we do not value sport over academics. We understand that art, music, service, and academics are all a part of creating a well-rounded individual. However, the lessons we learned through sports are the ones that sustain us to this day and have allowed us to thrive in the academic and first responder cultures. Here are five reasons why:
1) Sports teach us to be uncomfortable. In order to thrive in any sport, it is important to stress the human body’s physical limitations. Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans. This is a no brainer. Through sport kids are training their heart muscle without thinking about it, they are having fun doing it, or at least they are training their heart for a purpose greater than themselves. Growth comes from discomfort and the physical discomfort that is experienced through training can be applied to all areas of resilience to include: spiritual, mental, tactical, social.
2) Emotional resilience. Learning to accept loss and defeat is one of the great challenges of life. When my basketball team won 33 games in a row only to lose in the regional semi-finals I was heartbroken. I thought we couldn’t lose. I learned that anyone can lose if they don’t show up mentally prepared. This type of loss is invaluable. It changes you to your core. It makes you more human and more humble.
3) Strength and flexibility. Physical, mental, and emotional flexibility is one of the greatest aspects of training and participating in sport. Strength and flexibility complement each other. We need both strength to withstand the blows that life will throw our way and the flexibility to maneuver around them.
4) Leadership and teamwork. Leaders can arise in any situation. The cycle of youth sports allows young people to develop into leaders. As they progress through their age brackets and become one of the “older” players, their increased maturity and skill development helps them turn into the natural leaders on teams. On any team, leaders emerge and teammates learn to work together. We learn to share the glory and that we are more powerful when we work together as one. There is a magical thing that happens when everyone is moving toward a shared goal. That thing cannot easily be learned in the classroom, but is ever present in sports.
5) Learning to follow. Sports teach kids that they do not get to be the hero all the time and that they will not always like their coaches or some of the other players, but they do need to show up, be respectful, and work hard.
Today, children have iPhones, tablets, and gaming consoles. Thanks to Amazon, we don’t have to wait weeks for packages to arrive at our door. On demand viewing through Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon means we don’t even have to wait for next week to watch our favorite show. We can binge watch 12 episodes at once! These activities are convenient but drastically reduce the time we spend interacting with other people! Spending time with your children teaching them to play, catch, hit, dribble, shoot, pass, run, etc. doesn’t just get them outside to develop skills, it allows them to interact with you. It is directly connecting them to something they are hard wired to do, be a part of a team.
We sometimes have to forego family dinner for practice or a weekend camping trip for a tournament. These are sacrifices we think are worthwhile and hope these investments pay dividends for our children and grandchildren.