As adolescents, we learn some of the most important (and difficult) life lessons on the field or the court. How many of us remember the voice of a coach, or a parent, one arm draped over our shoulder, telling us:
It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.
Don’t be a sore loser.
Control the controllables.
Trust your teammates.
Share the ball.
Learn from what happened today and use it to improve next time.
Today we recognize these valuable instructions for what they are, lessons that apply to our career and personal life too. We have long valued the importance of youth participating in sports to benefit from regular physical fitness. Beyond the obvious benefits of youth athletic participation, however, research supports a wide variety of advantages that reinforce the value and importance of local government parks and recreation in offering valuable, accessible, and affordable youth leagues and skill classes as part of healthy adolescent development—physically, mentally, and socially.
Proven Benefits of Youth Athletic Participation
Thanks to the support of local government parks and recreation programming, children and adolescents who participate in athletics are exposed to the following developmental benefits:
- Self-Confidence ― Not every child is a natural phenom, but every child should feel personal affirmation when they see improvement in their performance. The moments when a child scores his first goal or joins the starting lineup, or is part of a team win, even after playing limited minutes all season teaches a child self confidence and the importance of both personal and team goals.
- Physical Well-Being — It should be no surprise that when children and adolescents take part in regular sports teams, athletic classes, and youth leagues, it instills in them the positive habit of regular physical activity. It also allows children to reach the recommended 60-minutes of play per day as outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
- Social Development — Athletic leagues and classes give young people a chance to make new friends, especially in municipal sports leagues that bring together youth from different school systems across a county or city. Studies also show that adolescents who become friends as teammates remain friends off the field as well, making youth sports particularly valuable in cases where families are new to a community.
- Communication Skills ― Improved physical endurance and fitness are not the only critical skills that can evolve while children and adolescents develop their capabilities on the field or on the court. Learning to be a responsible and accountable teammate means learning how to communicate, work together, and resolve conflicts. Athletic participation offers particular communication benefits for autistic youth and children living with a spectrum disorder.
- Responsibility — When a teen decides that he or she is going to skip out on practice or go on spring break with friends instead of to the team’s tournament or breaks a rule that renders him or her ineligible for the playoffs, it’s the whole team that suffers. Being part of a team teaches young people how to prioritize and work hard for something bigger than themselves—a lesson that should apply to any career or personal commitment they make in their future.
If your parks and recreation department does not yet offer comprehensive and robust youth leagues, click here to access our local government youth league management checklist.