By Alex Perdikis
Many athletes (and athletic parents) wrongly assume that the case for youth sports is self-evident. Everyone understands the importance of exposing kids to robust physical activity and the soft skills inherent in team-based activities, right?
Nope. Acceptance of youth sports is far from universal. Many parents have legitimate reasons to be leery, whether it’s the physical risks of contact sports like football or the potential body-image issues bound up in pursuits such as gymnastics.
Others simply don’t give much thought to the benefits of youth sports, focusing instead on academics and non-athletic extracurricular pursuits that tangibly prepare kids for the real world and enhance their appeal to selective colleges and universities.
Let’s face it: not every kid is going to be the next LeBron James. That doesn’t mean kids without generational athletic talent shouldn’t try their luck at youth soccer, basketball, softball, and the like. Let’s take a look at some incontrovertible facts about youth sports and explore the most potent arguments for why every kid deserves a chance to play.
Kids Actually Like Playing Sports
Shocker, right? Even the most bookish kids like to stretch their legs and quicken their hearts from time to time. Youth sports provide productive outlets for excess energy — better than traipsing unsupervised around the neighborhood or disrupting other kids’ learning in class.
The health benefits of youth sports have been well documented: lower obesity rates, lower insulin resistance, better cardiovascular health, better musculoskeletal health. These benefits can persist long after kids stop playing, even as their lifestyles become more sedentary — though studies show that people who played sports as children are more likely to be active adults. Parents looking to get their kids off the couch and out into the sunshine need look no further than their local youth soccer or Little League organization.
It Encourages Teamwork and Cooperation
No matter how self-centered kids are (and they’re very often self-centered), team sports have a way of putting them in their place. Not in a punitive or abusive sense, of course — rather, by imparting the value of cooperation and teamwork. Kids who play team sports are far more likely to work effectively in ever more collaborative higher education and work environments, producing results of which “armies of one” can scarcely dream.
It Teaches Crucial Life Lessons
Kids are optimistic by nature. Many children, especially those from privileged backgrounds, imagine that things will always go their way, that parents and others will always have their backs, that they can have or experience anything they want.
Well, that’s of course not how things go in the real world. Even though the stakes are (thankfully) not that high, every kid who plays youth sports experiences some measure of adversity: losing games, getting benched during crucial plays, facing down dirty play or insults from opponents. While painful, such experiences turn kids into well-adjusted adults ready to face the world with realistic expectations.
Scholarships Do Happen
It’s counterproductive for parents to assume that sporty children will qualify for athletic scholarships to their dream high schools and colleges. Only a tiny fraction of youth sports players make the scholarship cut, and an even smaller percentage go on to play professionally.
Then again, it’s realistic for talented young athletes to at least aspire to partial or full scholarships to the schools of their choice. For families on the lower end of the income scale, athletic scholarships create opportunities that simply wouldn’t be available otherwise — namely, the quantifiable and not-so-quantifiable benefits of four-year degrees from accredited colleges and universities.