If you happened to have read my first post about whether youth sports are worth the sacrifice, then you already know my position on this subject. If you haven’t and you’ve run up on this post, I encourage you to check out my previous post, which provides a little background on why I feel the way I do about youth sports. But, without rehashing everything I’ve already written, to sum it up for you new readers, I wholeheartedly support children participating in youth sports at all levels. There you have it! Now, read on to figure out what I believe this type of participation teaches our young ones.
I will admit that before going to my keyboard to write this post, I felt like I knew quite a bit about what playing sports at a young age could teach a child – not just because I participated in them myself, but also from watching my own child and her teammates/friends as they did the same. But, in order to confirm my thoughts, I sat down and “interviewed” my daughter to get her take on the subject. I’ll give you all the full Q & A on that at a later date. But for now, just know that I did go straight to the real source for feedback. And, taking her responses into consideration, I came up with what I refer to as:
The Three Cs of Youth Sports
Before I jump right in, let me just say that this is obviously not an exhaustive list of what children can learn from participating in sports. Heck, I could talk (or type) on this subject for days! Rather, this is a short list (my short list) of the big things I believe children learn from playing sports, listed in order of importance – at least in my opinion.
Participating in youth sports teaches kids confidence. And I’m not just talking about the confidence they develop pertaining specifically to their chosen sport. While that is clearly an important component of continuing to play, it’s the confidence that these children develop as a result of playing their sport, which carries over into all other aspects of their lives, that is the real asset.
I have witnessed my otherwise shy child develop a more outgoing personality due in large part to the confidence she developed by playing soccer. She also acknowledges that soccer has provided her with a platform to develop confidence that she would not have had otherwise. Because of this she is more comfortable being in large groups, participating in and initiating conversations with people she wouldn’t otherwise speak to and, most importantly, speaking/standing up for herself when presented with situations requiring same. Whereas before, she would have been too uncomfortable to do so. And, I realize that there are plenty of children out there that do not suffer from shyness and have no problem letting anyone – be it peers or adults – know how they feel, but my child was not one of them. (Soccer can also teach those kids with too many opinions, to keep a few to themselves. This is also a huge life lesson that needs to be learned at a young age, as far too many adults still haven’t developed this characteristic. And, I’ll be the first to admit, that I am guilty of being both too bold and not bold enough. There are plenty of times that I don’t speak my mind when I probably should, and others where I let my gums flap when they probably shouldn’t. I’m perfectly imperfect and working on it daily!)
Back to the point, sports allows our children to develop confidence in themselves. I would be willing to bet that most of our children have lots of confidence in us. Meaning that if we say we are going to do something, they know we will do it. We feed them when they’re hungry, make sure they get to and from school, give them a home where they feel safe, and make sure they have their jerseys and cleats when it’s game time. They trust us. But how many times do they, especially during those awkward preteen/adolescent years, second guess themselves? They don’t think they are good enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough. We can preach to them daily about how they are all of these things and should never listen to anyone telling them any different. We can tell our shy kids that they need to come out of their shells or stand up for themselves. But, what our talking to them cannot do, is provide them with the situations where they have to actually act on that advice. Sports can.
Sports provides those situations in the healthiest of ways. Team sports, in particular, places shy children in big groups where they have to learn to talk to one another and work together to get the job done. Without communication, they cannot be effective as a team. They MUST talk to their teammates in order to accomplish their goal. Otherwise, they’re just a group of kids on a field with 11 (soccer number 😉 ) different opinions on how to succeed. Now how effective is that? Not very! I’ve watched even the shyest of kids learn to communicate with their teammates on the field. And while it may not immediately resonate off the field for that particular child, it will eventually. Because each time they call for the ball, or learn a new skill, or make the right play, they have made a deposit into their confidence bank, and that, my friend, is priceless. Those deposits will most definitely help them develop the confidence they need to speak up or take a chance or accept a challenge later in life (not the shotgun a beer kind of challenge, the put themselves in the running for a school office or demanding career kind of challenge).
You may be wondering why I think a sport, rather than parents, provides this type of confidence for children. It’s simple really. We can tell our kids what to do all day long, but until they do it for themselves, they will not learn. Even if your kid is a “learn from hearing, not by doing” kind of kid, they can’t advance in a sport without the “doing” part. That’s why all sports require practice.
Even the most talented kids have to practice to become better. With each practice and each game, kids are placed in situations where they, AND ONLY THEY, have to make decisions based on what they’ve been taught. And when they make the decision to try a new skill, or be more aggressive on the field, or take a shot on goal and it works in their favor, they have developed a confidence in themselves that no one else can give to them. Yes, the may have tried numerous times before only to fail, but the confidence that they receive from continuing to try and ultimately succeeding will be what they remember most. They won’t hang on to the failed attempts, they will celebrate the victory, which is what will motivate them to try again and again and again. That type of action and confidence is self-taught, not parent preached.
So while we all want to believe that we, as parents, deserve the glory when our kids succeed, in this respect we don’t! This one goes to our children. Let them have it. THEY put in the hard work and THEY deserve it! There are plenty of successes that we can take credit for – like teaching them manners – but this one we have to give to our kids. We just get to be proud of them.
Participating in youth sports helps children develop character.
Winning is easy.
Losing is hard.
Both build character.
Now, this is one where parents can actually take some credit. Whether your child is a sore loser or a humble winner, you get credit. But it’s up to you to decide which credit you’re willing to receive (and not in a if it’s a good outcome it’s to my credit, but if it’s bad, I don’t want it kind of way). So, I give this one as much to the parents and I do the kids and here’s why….
Parents are the ones that teach (or don’t) their children to win humbly and lose gracefully. There is nothing I dislike more than a sore loser or an in-your-face winner. This is where the post-game conversations really come in to play. My family has been beyond blessed when it comes to winning. (Well, except where the Ole Miss Rebels are concerned. I mean, can we just erase the past couple of years already???) Winning is almost expected when Avery’s team takes the field. But none of us are stupid – we realize that losing is always an possibility. What I’m saying is that we’ve all gotten pretty good at the whole winning thing, which makes losing hurt all the more. (Hello, State Cup – HUGE EYE ROLL)
Celebrating a win is perfectly acceptable. Heck, I’d be upset if a celebration didn’t happen. These kids work hard and play hard and they should celebrate their victories! What they should never do is rub it in the face of their opponents. I will not tolerate heckling of the losing team. At the level Avery currently plays, it’s safe to say that both teams on the field have put in lots of sweat equity. They have both worked hard and cannot be slighted for this simply because they may have landed on the receiving end of a loss. They deserve respect and a little acknowledgement for all they have done – not just for the past hour on the field, but the entire season leading up to that game.
I know this is sometimes hard to do, particularly when your win was over an extremely nasty, overly aggressive but under talented team that fouled enough to make this mama bear want to claw someone’s eyes out. However, nasty comments and back and forth with the other team is never acceptable! Granted there are going to be conversations had about both teams and how they conducted themselves on the field, but those are conversations for the car. They are not for public consumption and definitely not to be had after the game between, or in the presence of, opposing players.
Likewise, being a sore loser is totally unacceptable. No heckling, no smack talking. Only shaking hands and smiling – even if the other team is being rude. Be the bigger person. Congratulate that team (terrible or not) on their win – even when it makes your gut turn to do so. Why? Because that’s what we all have to do in the real world – children and adults alike.
We all run into what I like to call “Sandpaper People.” You know, those people who just rub you the wrong way. You may have to work with them (I do not! – just an example); they may be your kid’s teammates or classmates; they may even be family members. I don’t know who they are for you but, what I do know is, they are everywhere! So, we have to teach our kids the right way to deal with these people and not become one of them. In life, you will face wins and losses – it’s inevitable. The sooner we can teach our children the right way to deal with both, the better off they will be.
Participating in youth sports teaches children the right way to compete. Confused? Don’t be. A little healthy competition is a good thing. I’m not talking about giving our kids ammunition to think they are better than others. This isn’t a “Mean Girls” situation (and I would punish my child immediately if I ever learned of such). What I’m referring to is the push to become better at something. This is not only derived from competing with one’s self but competing with others. “Competition” is not a four letter word and shouldn’t be treated as such. It doesn’t have to be nasty. It doesn’t have to end in bitterness. Competition can be extremely productive if done in a healthy way. Again, this is where parents have to step in and teach their children the right and wrong way to compete. Coaches are a great asset in this respect as well!
In sports and in life, motivation is key. If you aren’t motivated, you aren’t moving forward. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t seasons of life that require a break from the motivation, or that you shouldn’t stop to enjoy the fruits of your labor. What I’m saying is that if we don’t find something to keep us motivated, we wither on the vine.
What involvement in youth sports provides for children is a way to find that motivation through competition – whether it’s with themselves, with their teammates or against other teams. *Before you lose your snot, let me say that I realize each of these can take on a life of its own and it’s up to us, as parents, to reign things in and keep them in perspective. We can’t let things spin out of control and allow our kids to turn into demon spawns or little assholes.*
Here’s what I’m getting at – In the real world, nothing comes easy. And, if it does, it probably isn’t worth having. (Except for maybe winning the lottery – that would be easy and definitely worth having. But it’s ridiculously unlikely you’ll win and you certainly wouldn’t give up your day job on some crazy notion that you’re going to be the next big winner…. At least I hope you wouldn’t.) In other words, you have to put in the work to see the results. You know – hard work pays off. And, it’s very difficult to find motivation to continue to work hard if you haven’t set goals. Setting goals is a form of competition ~ whether the goal is to beat your personal best or to strive to beat someone else’s. It’s what you do when you reach that goal that makes you a healthy or harmful competitor. This is applicable to life on and off the field.
It is perfectly acceptable (in my opinion) to want to be as good as someone else at something you love – whether it be at your job, at singing, running, cooking, putting together an outfit, decorating your house or sneezing the quietest- AS LONG AS, you don’t let that goal/competition allow you to believe that, once reached, you are actually a better person than they are. *News flash – You aren’t!* So whatever your “thing” is, find someone that you look up to and figure out a way to learn from them. With that desire comes the motivation to put in the work to become better. And, while you may never be as good at that one particular thing as “your person” is, that’s okay. In striving to be as good as them, you will certainly become better. Chances are, you possess a quality that “your person” wishes they had, at which you may always be better. In other words, there will always be someone that is prettier, smarter, funnier, faster, stronger, taller, thinner, richer, more creative, etc., and there is no need to get jealous or irritated or angry about it. Use it as motivation to become a better YOU. Celebrate their accomplishments – even if you wish they were your’s. Be better, not bitter! That’s what healthy competition is all about.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. Our strengths do not make us a better human than the person standing next to us, nor do our weaknesses make us worse. They simply makes us different. With that we can use our strengths to motivate others and their strengths to motivate ourselves. If that has to come in the form of a little friendly competition, then so be it. Sports gives us (our kids) this opportunity, while teaching them the right way to go about it.
Has your kid ever had to go up against their closest friends to earn a spot on a team or a starting position on the field? When the chips fell, were they still friends? I sure hope so. We have had the opportunity to be on the receiving end of both outcomes. We’ve been the one offered a place on the team when others haven’t and we’ve been the one to be placed on the “B” team without our friends. We’ve earned starting positions on the field and been placed on the bench.
Having been dealt both hands, Avery and I have had some very important conversations as a result. Thus far, she remains friends with those she’s had to (and will continue to) compete with. She realizes that she may not be as aggressive on the field as her friends and her friends may not have the left foot that she does. They may start over her in one game and she may take the field first in the next. Do they compete with one another for positions on the field? YES. Do they let this interfere with their friendship? NO! Does it sting a little when either gets something the other wanted at their expense? ABSOLUTELY. But does that mean that they begrudge one another for it? ABSOLUTELY NOT. They are still the first to celebrate each other when they achieve their goals. Sports teaches kids how to compete with each others, while also teaching them how to work well together toward a common goal. Sound a little like life to you? Sure does to me.
Be better, not bitter! ~ Me 🙂
Youth sports provide the perfect platform to teach kids grace, humility and perseverance. It can teach them that suffering a loss is not a reason to give up completely. It can teach them that winning isn’t everything – being a kind human is. It can teach them to respect others and their feelings, even when they may not share any in common. And, I’ll let you in on a little secret . . . it can teach parents the same thing – if they’re willing to learn!!! (Knowledge Bomb Dropped ~ You’re welcome!)
So, in sum, here’s what I’ve come up with ~ participating in a sport breeds healthy competition, builds confidence, and develops character. With the guidance of good parents, these are all attributes that kids will carry into their adult life allowing them to handle life’s victories and set-backs with dignity and class. In other words, the lessons learned through participating in youth sports are, in my opinion, invaluable.
XOXO – Bridget