By Nora Heston Tarte
No child is created equal. Some may thrive in athletics, while others may struggle to keep up. Some may need to learn how to cooperate with others and embrace a team mentality, while others may need help coming out of their shells. “I believe all kids can benefit from team sports. I also believe it takes patience to find each child’s learning styles,” says Trinity Brown, an umpire-in- chief and board member of the Lincoln Girls Softball Association, with more than six years of experience coaching boys and girls teams in the Greater Sacramento area.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a minimum of 60 minutes of exercise per day for children and adolescents. A great way to carve this time out in busy schedules is to sign your child up for a team sport. Making exercise part of a routine can help. Also, many kids who frown at going for a jog or participating in individual pursuits, will be more inclined to exercise if they find the process fun.
According to a 2011 study conducted by Y-USA, 74 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 10 do not get 60 minutes of exercise daily. Not getting enough exercise leads to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other serious and sometimes life threatening illnesses. Getting your child active now will set them up to be healthier later in life.
Studies support that kids who participate in team sports perform better in school. The CDC even noted a correlation between kids who participate in team sports in high school and dropout rates, finding high school athletes were more likely to graduate. How one relates to the other is up for debate, but many theories support that the skills learned in team sports—such as discipline, time management, memorization, goal setting, determination and more—translate to the classroom.
Participating in team sports can bolster mental health, as well. The chemical reactions exercise create in the body reduce the likelihood of depression, while girls who participate in sports as they age are less likely to develop eating disorders or use illicit drugs. The self-esteem and confidence children get through exercise and skill building, as well as through being part of a team, plays a part. As kids reach their goals and increase their stamina and grow other talents, they begin to see themselves in a more positive light.
During middle childhood (described as 6 to 8 years of age), children are becoming more independent, placing more emphasis on friendships and looking to find their place in the world. While team sports can garner positive outcomes for children of all ages, there is reason the CDC recommends parents get their children involved in group activities during this formative time.
Whether a child is shy or outgoing, athletically inclined or a bit clumsy, team sports can have a positive impact. A child who struggles to make friends may bond with teammates over their shared passion, while a rambunctious child will enjoy an outlet for excess energy, (which may in turn, keep them out of trouble). “Children that are more reserved benefit from the friendships that develop during a season. They also learn they have a voice in a crowd,” Trinity says. Children who are part of a team learn how to work together, build leadership skills and depend on each other.
Team sports teach them how to manage expectations—winning and losing is not solely dependent on their individual performance—and to be reliable and less selfish. For example, a child might prioritize a team because they understand their efforts affect their teammates. “I think being accountable as part of a team, can encourage children to be more motivated than an individual sport might,” Trinity says.
This team mindset commonly stretches beyond the field, court or pool and transfers into the workplace where people who have participated in team sports are more likely to be a team player and display positive leadership. “I believe that team sports are practice for life, and the skills learned carry nicely into everyday life,” Trinity says. At the same time, children are learning how to foster friendships and create new social circles. “I'll see young teens that came onto a team not knowing each other, all with their own personalities, and a few games in they all have special handshakes, cheers and nicknames for each other,” Trinity says. “I don't believe that there is anything that provides this kind of kinship that quickly, other than team sports.”
“I remember so fondly all of my teams, that I have coached or played on over the years. Some of my best memories have come from my time as a part of a team.”–Trinity Brown
The Benefits of Starting Young Enrolling young children in team sports has additional perks. Not only are those who exercise regularly as kids more likely to become active adults, they’re also more inclined to profit from the social benefits of team sports. “In the younger age groups [becoming a team] often happens faster,” Trinity says. “I believe that this is because they are grouped for more activities at school. The older age groups tend to take longer, especially the pre-teen girls.”
Nora Heston Tarte is a freelance writer and Sacramento State alum. When she isn’t chasing her 2 year-old son around, she’s musing about motherhood on her blog, www.slightlykrunchymama.blogspot.com.