This year my oldest son entered middle school and he has had many life lessons already in the first couple of months (yes months we go back to school in July!). A lot of his life lessons have come from playing middle school soccer. I thought it would be a good topic to share with everyone because over the years of leading people and coaching their behaviors, playing sports myself, and being a mom of boys in sports, I have realized just how much you can learn from playing sports, that stay with you for a lifetime. I feel like youth sports has transformed to “get a scholarship,” “become a pro”, play one sport all year round, make it your life. When we really need to focus on the life lessons they provide.
What I believe are the benefits of playing youth sports:
- Teamwork- When you play sports you learn that you must work with other people, depend on other people, and put your “self” aside and do what is best for the team. This is a very hard concept for younger children (and some parents), they want to be the “star” of the team, as they get older, they start to realize you win and lose as a team and individual success does not win games.
- You learn how to win. This may seem like an obvious but when I say “learn to win” I mean all the emotions and actions that come with winner. They learn the excitement of winning but also how to act, bond with teammates over the win, and how show good sportsmanship.
- You learn to lose. This is a hard lesson to be able to lose with good sportsmanship, with your head high, and learn from it. In life you will lose a lot, usually more than you win, this is when you learn how to control your emotions and attitude.
- Work Ethic. Playing sports competitively forces you to show up and put in the work every practice and every game. One rule we have in our house is if you start a sport you must finish the season. You can’t have to play another season, but you don’t quit on your team or on yourself.
- How to be uncomfortable. Playing sports forces, you to get uncomfortable. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. When you play sports, you push yourself past comfort, something a lot of people don’t want or like to do, but it is a very important life lesson. Remember “the comfort zone is beautiful, but nothing ever grows there.”
- Life is not fair. Sports like life is not fair all the time, there are times you are not going to play as much as you think you should, the ref is going to make a bad call, you may not make the team you want to make or think you should make; the coach is going to overlook you. Though these are all hard situations (and heartbreaking for parents) but it is a great example for kids that things are not always going their way, in school, at work, with friendships, etc.
- Effort matters. I always tell my kids, they need to give 100% effort, when they practice and when they play. They may not be the best player on the field and that is okay but they should always be the one giving 100% effort. Life is about giving effort in everything you do, we don’t have to be the smartest, toughest, or best at everything we do but when you give it your all you will succeed.
- How to take criticism. It is never easy to receive negative feedback or criticism and I find this to be true with most adults as well, but as a young athlete you learn that coaches are expected to give you feedback to help you learn and develop, not to make you feel bad (at least good coaches). You learn to not take feedback personally but take it as an area to improve on. This is a great outlook for life, especially in relationships and at work. Everyone has areas to improve on and being able to take that feedback and not get defensive but take it has opportunities to grow as a person gives you a huge advantage in life.
I am sure there are even more advantages to youth sports, but these are the ones I think about all the time. As I mentioned above, I wrote this from two viewpoints, one as a mother of youth athletes and a former athlete but also as a leader in my organization. My department is very large, hundreds of people, and a lot of the life lessons mentioned above adults lack these days. At least once a day I ask myself “Am I raising kids to act this way?" because I truly hope I am not. We need to be able to get out of our comfort zone, take criticism, work as a team, understand and accept life isn’t fair, that we are going to lose, and know how to win graciously and that you must put in the work… as adults too. So even if you don’t have children, or they don’t play sports, these are all areas we need to work on within ourselves and teach our children.