“Sports do not build character. They reveal it,” said John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach. Playing sports not only provides physical activity, but also other positive benefits. This is especially true for children. A well-structured and organized youth program will provide benefits and positive experiences for young athletes. While children are having fun participating in sports they are also building character, learning to work as a team, and playing fairly. Most people think the only benefits of sports are physical. Sports are more than just developing hand-eye coordination and burning calories, youth sports provide many developmental benefits, physical benefits, and psychological benefits. In addition to improved physical health, sports play a positive role in the development of youth. Studies show that the five “Cs”—competence, confidence, connections, character, and caring—develop positively through the participation in sports at a young age (Luxbacher 2).
Each one of the five “Cs” are important components of youth development. The skills that are learned through playing sports, such as the discipline of training, learning teamwork and following the leadership of coaches provide athletes with lifelong skills. Important lifelong skills also include goal setting, time management, the value of planning ahead, honesty, respect, and an appreciation for diversity (Wood 3). At a young age, sports help teach youth how to handle adversity by showing them it is acceptable to make a mistake. Similarly, skills for handling both success and failure cannot be taught they must be experienced. Children experience these by both winning and losing. Studies show that children participating in a sport, when compared to children who do not participate in a sport, display higher grades, greater confidence and self esteem, greater connections with school, stronger peer relationships, and more restraint in avoiding risky behavior (Wood 1).
Data also shows that high school students who play a sport are less likely to drop out and they are more likely to complete more years of education. Although sports are helpful inside the classroom they are also helpful outside the classroom and at home. Sports allow children to engage in positive relationships with adults, which is especially important when such benefits are not available at home. Children learn to respect and obey authority, as well as how to deal with criticism. Children who play sports participate in basic physical fitness in a way that is fun and they establish lifelong habits for good health. Promoting good health is important at a time where obesity is continually growing at a staggering rate. Obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years (Jones 5). More children should get involved in sports because not only will it help them at a young age it will also carry on with them later in life. Children will already be exposed to physical activity and will most likely want to continue on with it.
According to the 2009 National Survey of Children’s Health, non-athletes are 60% more likely to become overweight than athletes (Jones 5). Youth sports can help prevent a variety of diseases and conditions and help children onto a path to a more healthy adulthood. Weight-bearing activities, such as running, help improve bone density, which is an important factor especially in young females. The Women’s Sports Foundation recommends that teen girls participate in sports to help prevent osteoporosis later in life (Ashe-Edmunds 2). Poor diet and lack of exercise are the two main reasons for obesity in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, one in every three children is overweight. Children who are overweight are more likely to be obese as adults, increasing their risk for diseases and conditions such as diabetes, heart attack, and high blood pressure (Ashe-Edmunds 3). High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.
But weight loss can help reduce high blood pressure, so sports that burn calories address this problem. Depending on the sport that a child participates in, most sports require physical activity. Research has shown that “physical movement can affect the brain’s physiology by increasing cerebral capillary growth, blood flow, oxygenation, growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus, neurotransmitter levels, development of nerve connections, density of neural network, and brain tissue volume” (Donaldson 4). In other words, physical exercise causes short-term relaxation, improved concentration, enhanced creativity and memory, improved mood, and enhanced problem-solving abilities. Sport can help prevent drug and alcohol abuse by teaching young athletes to be aware of their body and how it responds to different stimuli and circumstances. Athletes learn to value what their bodies can do and to maintain those abilities (Jones 2).
Being an athlete gives kids an acceptable reason to say no to drugs, alcohol, and other unhealthy behaviors when offered by their peers. The more children participate in sports, the more they improve their cardiovascular stamina and muscular endurance. The more endurance and stamina children have, the less likely they will get tired during other activities. In turn this causes them to have more energy, which makes the child more alert (Wood). Most children are naturally flexible, but those who play sports stretch their muscles on a regular basis. Being flexible means the child will be more graceful and they are less likely to get injured. Youth sports also improve psychological growth in children including self-esteem, social skills, and respect for others (Renfrow 1).Sports give children the ability to decipher between right and wrong through interacting with their peers. Both males and females engaged in sports are less likely to be overweight, depressed, smoke, use illicit drugs, or have unwanted teen pregnancies (Renfrow 2).
This is most likely related to the goal of maximizing athletic performance or the goal of protecting eligibility. Suicide and sexual victimization are also lower in girls who participate in a sport (Renfrow). Sports psychology has shown that girls gain confidence and self-esteem through participating in a sport. A positive involvement in a team sport can facilitate the risks of being dissatisfied with one’s body and not being socially accepted by peers. It is hard to determine the relationship between self-concept and sport participation, but greater sport participation has been immensely related to better emotional and behavior wellbeing (Luxbacher 6). Findings suggest that the psychological benefits are not related to ability, but rather participation. However, there is a possibility of negative psychological consequences if the coaches do not consider the developmental needs for feedback and encouragement.
But according to a study done by Bartko, it was found that youth who are highly involved in sports are more “psychologically resilient”, which means they are more capable of recovering from problems (Wood 2). Youth participation has been shown to be greatly beneficial. Sports are more than just developing hand-eye coordination and burning calories, youth sports provide many developmental benefits, physical benefits, and psychological benefits. Positive experiences for young athletes reveal their character and play an important role in a young person’s life. “Believe me, the reward is not so great without the struggle,” commented Track and Field Gold Medalist Wilma Rudolph. Despite all of the hard work that goes along with participating in sports, the benefits outweigh the negatives.
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