9 Big Benefits of Sports for Kids

Way Beyond Fitness

Boys standing in soccer goal
JW LTD/Getty Images

When you're facing one of sports' drawbacks—like an injured kid, or just a bummed-out one—it helps to remind yourself of all the benefits of sports. There has to be a reason that we devote so much time, money, and effort to this, right?

There is. In fact, there are many. Despite the turns that youth sports has taken, especially in the U.S., kids still learn a lot from playing. 

Forget fame and fortune, scholarships and signing bonuses, and even medals and trophies.

Most of the time, the medals are plastic and the scholarships are small (and the fortune? Ha!). But here's what kids do gain when they play sports.

Benefits of Sports: Good Values

Sports teaches life lessons like nothing else—if parents and coaches facilitate them. Grab those teachable moments when you can!

  • Sportsmanship: It's one of the most important lessons we parents hope our kids will learn from sports. What does it mean to be a good sport? A courteous winner? A gracious loser? A supportive teammate? An attentive student? A team player?
  • Leadership: To succeed, teams need leaders. So as an athlete, your child has a special opportunity to assume that role. He can be the one that helps motivate and guide his teammates. Even if he doesn't compete in a team sport, he can display leadership to younger players just starting out in the sport.
  • Respect: Competitors with class show respect for everyone involved: themselves, their coaches, their teammates, other players and coaches, parents, officials, and the game itself. They do their best, play fair, and show grace and gratitude to everyone involved. And they receive criticism and feedback with grace. 

    Benefits of Sports: Personal Strengths

    Training for and competing in sports builds muscle strength and physical skills, of course. But it also builds character.

    • Persistence: Even an athlete blessed with natural talent has to put in lots of practice time. For him, and especially for the rest of us, sports provide a natural lesson in the value of sticking with something. The more you practice, the more improvement you'll see. 
    • Confidence: As kids gain skills and experience through all that persistence and practice, they'll see how much they can actually do. There's nothing better for instilling a sense of pride and self-worth.
    • Goal-setting: My daughter is a figure skater, and people ask her all the time if she's going to the Olympics (which is frustrating; we don't ask every kid who plays Pop Warner if he'll be at the next Super Bowl!). The truth is, she's not Olympic material—and she knows it. So when she competes, her coach asks her what her goals are for each specific event—not how she wants to place, but what skills she wants to focus on and execute well. Those are goals she has control over, and they're attainable. Setting meaningful goals is a skill she can use in so many other places.

    Benefits of Sports: Practical Skills

    Your child probably won't need to land a double jump on ice skates or deftly catch a lacrosse ball as part of her future career or life as an adult. But I'll bet she can use these skills she'll learn from sports:

    • Fitness: Kids may not continue playing the sports they choose now forever. But participating in youth sports helps whet their appetite for physical activity. It helps them learn the importance of exercise by experiencing it (not just hearing about it!), so they can develop a long-term, healthy habit.
    • Time management: For younger kids, it's really Mom and Dad who have to make busy sports schedules work! But tweens and teens who play sports will need to make tough choices about priorities. They'll need to figure out how to use their time wisely, so they can balance all their responsibilities: schoolwork, sports, other extracurricular activities, maybe even a job.
    • Repetition: Kids aren't born knowing what "practice" means or how to do it. Usually, what it means is doing something over and over and over again, even if you think you've mastered it. World-class musicians still play scales. And successful athletes got where they are through endless drills. When kids are little, practice can and should be fun. But as they grow, they'll learn the value of simply putting in the time, even when it isn't as much fun.

    Continue Reading