Why Parents Should Push Their Kids to Play Team Sports

Lisa writes: One of the great parenting quandaries is when to push our kids and when to back off. This issue surfaces in every aspect of their lives from academics to music lessons to team sports. For each child there is a different answer and for each family a different story, but on the issue of sports, there seem to be a few universal truths.

team sports, varsity sports, soccer team

Sports loom large in our world and while there are many insidious aspects to this, the value of sports, particularly team sports, in a child’s life cannot be overstated.

One of the good thing about sports is that many bad things will happen. Games will be lost. Injuries incurred. Your child might be benched, demoted, or not perform up to his/her abilities. Your child might hate his coach and feel that he is incapable or unfair. And all of this will be good. All of this will be the solid foundation that his later life will rest upon.

But kids sometimes want to quit. The practices can get tedious and time-consuming and the work involved can feel like all too much. We have been there. As moms raising four boys and one girl between our families we have been through this many times. All five kids have participated in team sports in middle school and high school, and three of them in college.

All five kids have had rough days or weeks or months.  When they were younger we pushed them to stay with their sports over their protestations, knowing what was to come.  The sport our children selected did not matter, neither did the level of play.  The benefits accrued from just being on a team. We come down hard on the side of team sports and of making our kids stick it out, and here is why:

1. Teenagers and Trouble

Teenagers get into trouble and extra time on their hands doesn’t help. Teens who have practices, games, team dinners and fitness sessions have less time for mischief. A study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine showed, “A survey of more than 14,000 teenagers found that those who participated in team sports were less likely to use drugs, smoke, have sex, carry weapons or have unhealthy eating habits.”

2. Happier Kids

Teams broaden a kid’s social world and research shows team athletes are happier than kids who do not participate. This study showed that among middle school teens who participated in team sports, “boys were five times more likely, and girls 30 times more likely, to describe their health as fair/poor when they were not playing on a sports team.”

3. Common Goal

Being part of something larger than yourself and working toward a common goal is always good, always.

4. Sense of Belonging

Beginning in middle school, cliques and mean girls can be social minefields. Boys can splinter apart into groups with well-defined lines. Sports teams cut across social divides pulling together kid’s from disparate groups on campus and increasing the number of kids your child comes to know. Being part of a team gives kids a sense of belonging.

5. Parents on the Sidelines

As kids gets older, they naturally develop their own lives and there will be fewer ways for parents to be involved; the sidelines are not a bad spot. Even teens who seemed determined to shut their parents out, tolerate mom and dad attending their games.

6. Practice and Determination

Teams set goals and thrive through cooperation, discipline and commitment. Parents can lecture all they want, but words only do so much. Sports is one of the best places for kids to learn the importance of practice and determination. In team sports there is the added element of teammates depending on you for participation and performance.

7. Expertise

Getting good at something, as good as your kid can be, through perseverance and repetitive hard work is one of life’s lessons. It is hard to teach in the abstract.

8. Good Health

Athletics encourages strong healthy bodies. Kids who compete know that they are only at their best of they are well fed and well rested. Alcohol and drugs impede performance and every kids knows that. In sports, strength and speed, rather than skinniness or other distorted body images are desirable. Team sports help kids better avoid obesity problems even better than activities like running or biking does, according to research.

9. Future Employment

A new study, conducted by Kevin Kniffin, a behavioral science professor at Cornell University, shows that kids who played team sports in high school make better employees.

10. Memories of Home

Sports teams are the stuff of lifetime memories. The triumphs and defeats of a sporting season stay with us long after the season is over. And then one day our children are 18 and getting ready to go off the college. They will miss their family, dog, friends and their team. And that is a good thing.



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Comments

  1. says

    From a mother who had two sons that played football and basketball from about 6 years old up to varsity teams through high school, and two daughters who ran cross country and were on tennis team – I give a big “Amen” to all these reasons. They learned to finish what they started, they kept busy and (for the most part) out of trouble, exercise? Yes – which not only helps for the physical fitness aspect but helps tame all those raging hormones and long lasting friends and memories? I can attest to them still being strong with sports memories, skills, and friends, triumphs and defeats. Great post, Lisa.

    • says

      Team sports have been such a big part of our kids’ lives, and ours, too. Feel grateful to have had the window into their lives this way.

  2. says

    My own personal experience with team sports in school was pretty awful. I try not to let those feelings influence what is available to my kids, but I will admit to feeling relieved that sports don’t seem to interest them. They do music activities in groups instead, which seems to work for us, and I would argue have a lot of similar benefits.

  3. says

    7th grade was the first time my oldest son (now 15) had a coach who was not a parent and it was so good for him. This coach had high expectations and basically told my son if he wasn’t out there scoring and being a leader he was going to be playing. That seems harsh, but it’s what my son needed. AND I had an epiphany, if he learns to handle the pressure a coach puts on him he will be better equipped to handle peer pressure when the time comes. There are so many skills that sports teach kids!

    • says

      I meant “he wasn’t going to be playing,” not “he was going to be playing,” the pressure was perform or be benched. And my son responded very well to the pressure!

    • says

      So many life lessons come from sports and how fortunate that you saw this opportunity for your son. Wonderful story.

  4. says

    I have to disagree. I was not going to subject my son to coaches who yell, being forced to attend practices when we/he might have wanted to do something else, being in a win/lose situation and any impact it might have on his self esteem, or any injuries. My son didn’t get in trouble because I was there every day after school. He’s healthy because he surfed, skateboarded, we walked/hiked/biked all over. Since college, he’s ridden his bicycle across the country, hiked Mt. Olympus in Greece, biked across Europe, and regularly hikes 20+ miles a day backpacking. He never missed team sports cos we’ve talked about it. He’s a super social guy, got his phd from Yale and is a professor there. I think there is too much emphasis on team sports and not enough emphasis on academics and using the brain.

    • says

      Your son clearly found lots of athletic outlets with biking and hiking that he can continue pursuing throughout his adulthood. We won’t agree on the subject but it is always interesting getting your perspective.

  5. says

    As a coach’s wife of 28 years and a sports mom for 21, I am all for encouraging kids to stick it out through tough times. We had a rule that there was no quitting during the season. However, if after a season ended, our kids wanted to stop a certain sport or take up a different interest, we would talk about it–pros and cons–and ultimately leave the decision up to them, making sure they understood fully what and why they were doing it. The result of that strategy? All three of our kids played several sports in middle school, it whittled down to 1-3 sports each in high school and they all went off to play a chosen sport in college. But if a child does not enjoy the sport, is not passionate enough about it, he will not have the motivation to stick it out during the hard times. He has got to enjoy the game, even while not enjoying the hard work!

    • says

      Completely agree with your points and we, too, started our kids out in multiple sports. After all, who knows which one they might gravitate toward and have an interest in playing up to and including college! Thanks for adding to our discussion.

  6. says

    I eant to say “he wasn’t going to be playing,” not “he was going to be playing.”

  7. berick says

    Wrong. And a bad idea to prescribe this for every child no matter their personalities. Not all coaches are character-building. Not all teams are full of camaraderie. I was forced into team sports and do have memories for a lifetime, of every game spent on a bench, of being ranked last or next to last in every circumstance, of some teammates making fun of me, of a coach not believing that “asthma” was anything more than a psychological excuse. My daughter enjoyed softball for two years, then felt it offered nothing more for her, and I let her choose. She’s much happier. Sports weren’t her thing (not teams – she loves to swim, snorkel, bicycle) and they weren’t mine (I love trail running, hiking, swimming, shooting baskets on my own). For some people team sports can be a painful and even shattering experience. Some people prefer – and can learn persistence, achievement, discipline – in arts, crafts, reading, and other facets of life.

    • says

      So sorry that you have such terrible memories about team sports and coaches who didn’t understand how serious asthma is. that is awful. Good to know that you and your daughter both have lots of athletic pursuits that you love. Movement is key, right?

  8. says

    As the parent of two non-jocks, I must assert that virtually all of the benefits of team sports can be achieved via other extra curricular activities. While my children participated in AYSO soccer and park district teams as they were growing up, when they got to high school they both joined the debate team. They were kept very busy preparing for tournaments, attending tournaments, working with their partner and teammates for the good of the entire team and for the reputation of their school. This would also be true for the Math Team or service clubs who might work as a team to collect food or clothes for the needy. Of course, sports provide the health benefits of exercise and that’s important. Kids need to be healthy but they can do that in other ways. I think it does a real disservice to our children to suggest that one path – team sports – is the only, or best way, to be engaged and stay out of trouble. Isn’t the most important thing that kids find something that gets them excited? A group with like-minded people who will become their friends and support group?

    • says

      Group activities that engage kids, like the debate team your kids joined, are wonderful and very important in exactly the way you say – “gets them excited. A group with like-minded people who will become their friends and support group.” Glad they discovered a group activity and found other ways to be healthy and active. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  9. Jennifer Wagner says

    While I do agree that there are many benefits to being on team sports, and I just wrote a post on parents encouraging their daughters in addition to their sons to do so, team sports are not for everyone and while encouraging our kids to play, I don’t agree with pushing them. Just as some people have no musical or artistic talent, not everyone is athletic, no matter how much they try. To push a clumsy kid to play on a team is subjecting them to ridicule. There are many other activities that they can be part of that can exercise their creativity and mind. Pushing them to participate in sport might turn them off to even watching sports for the rest or their lives.

    • says

      One thing that worked well for our family is that our kids tried lots of different sports before picking the one or two that they loved. So good to expose them to lots of different activities, including music and art. And, def yes, this applies to boys and girls!

  10. says

    You mention there are universal truths to consider with each child, and you are absolutely right. Yet my universal truths differ from the ones outlined in this post.

    Every child is different, and whether they play sports, a musical instrument, write for the school paper or play competitively for the chess club, the important thing to teach them is they must follow their unique passions with conviction, commitment and a sense of determination. That is what will keep them out of trouble, give them a sense of belonging and happiness, and give them expertise and a lifetime filled with memories of a job well done.

    Our society places far too much value on sports as it is. I spent too many nights at school board meetings, wondering why parents never attended meetings when curriculum or the arts were being discussed. It was standing room only if the sports program was on the agenda.

    We, as parents, have an important job to do. And that job is teaching our children to choose something they enjoy doing, and telling them they must go after it wholeheartedly, doing the very best they can. Anything short of that falls short of teaching our children that sports is not the only avenue toward becoming good citizens and happy adults.

    • says

      We agree with you that, as parents, we need to encourage our kids to work as hard as they can at the activities they love. Sports is not the only “avenue…toward happy adulthood” but it is high on our list as a great way for kids to engage with others. Thanks for your comments, Cathy.

  11. Carpool Goddess says

    Both my children played sports in high school. I completely agree, a busy schedule leaves little time to get into trouble and I think it teaches them time management skills.

  12. Emily says

    One of my big regrets in life was not trying out for the school tennis team…I didn’t think I was good enough to make it and was too afraid to try. I agree with all the points you made and see my sons thriving when they are part of team sports. My only worry is injuries, but I keep telling myself life is full of risks and it’s better to take those risks than not, as I learned back in my high school days.

  13. Helene Cohen Bludman says

    My kids were all in sports and their experiences were positive. But I agree with the comments above. It’s important for kids to find a passion and then commit to it, whether it’s athletics, music or anything else.

  14. Risa says

    We are not a team sports family. My kids were involved in theater, music, tap dancing and fencing. I think all the things you mention above were a large part of my kids’ experience in theater. My older son was once in three productions at the same time. If you don’t learn time management doing something like that, you may never learn! I’ve never been one to insist on things like this–my parents insisted I learn the piano (they both played) and what I remember is crying in the bathroom a lot after my lesson. I had no talent for it, and we all knew it. My dad always encouraged me to write–and that’s something I never quit doing. We have to do what we think is best, of course. Will our kids second guess us? Maybe. They can do things differently with their own kids, and they learned something no matter what. No regrets here, and lots of happy memories of performances.

    • says

      Doing three plays at once would certainly be an aerobic activity! And, yes to the opportunity to gain time management skills, along with many others, through theater and music.

  15. says

    All three of our kids have been involved in sports their entire lives. For me it is the only time I love being a spectator. The incredible community that is shared standing or sitting shoulder to shoulder for years cheering on children, watching them grow, is beautiful.

  16. says

    So true for all reasons you give. Reason #10 – for girls, especially —
    Sports require girls to focus on how their bodies function, rather than on how they look. So sports help minimize eating and body image disorders in girls. Reason #11 — exercise, movement, activity stimulate the brain. Athletes overall make for better students/ learners/ academics.

  17. says

    These are all great reasons. However, I think a kid just needs something. It doesn’t have to be a team sport. Every child should have somewhere they feel like they can excel, and sports aren’t always it. That said, all of my kids do participate in team sports, but my youngest had a couple years of not so great experiences with his sport (soccer) and wanted to quit. And that might have been just fine, as long as he had an activity to replace it. But my husband and I decided to push him to continue. We had a feeling that the team and coaching changes that were coming about would change his experience and we were right. He’s much happier now.

  18. lexi says

    you should not push your kids to play sports

  19. Anonymous says

    Music teaches the same thing verbatim, yet parents pick sports. Its important if parents decide that its important.

  20. Anonymous says

    i think sports is a good think cause i like to play sports with my friends at the play ground besides you get to meet other kids

  21. says

    I could not agree with you more Lisa! Team sports were so important to me in so many ways growing up – and my competitive soccer days helped me become the adult I am today. Now, I am on the other side trying to figure out how hard to “push” my own kids. I don’t want them to resent me or the sport, but I know as parents we often have more perspective and can encourage them to keep going when things get tough. I love all of the points you share – spot on.

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