8 Important Life Lessons Kids Learn from Playing Sports

Experts weigh in on how youth sports can contribute to success later in life

Not matter what the activity, when kids are encouraged to participate in sports, they’re given the advantage of learning about the importance of physical activity at a young age.

It may not be quite so apparent at the time, but it could help to set a precedent that they’ll like carry on later in life.

And of course, that’s not the only thing kids learn from playing sports. Below, several experts weigh in on a few of the most important real world lessons kids can learn from their athletic endeavors.

1. Becoming Achievement Oriented
“Kids involved in sports, whether on an individual level or a team level, learn that there is a goal to reach,” says Ronald Achenbach, owner and chief Instructor of Karate America De Pere and a fifth degree black belt with 17 years of teaching experience. “Setting goals and working toward their attainment creates a drive in kids to succeed that can last a lifetime."

2. Accountability
“Accountability on the team level is recognized very quickly by the other team members,” Achenbach explains. “You cannot hide from the team. In individual sports the accountability comes from the outcome. I've seen this numerous times at tournaments where kids who lose will initially be upset, but when their instructor or coach asks them how much they practiced beforehand, they quickly realize it was their effort, or lack thereof, that lead to their result.”

3. Just Because Life Isn’t Fair, Doesn’t Mean You Quit
“It's a human game played by humans that make mistakes,” says Achenbach. “The greatest athletes in any sport know they did their best, whether they won or lost. They learned this from instructors and coaches who trained them all along the way to do their best regardless of the outcome, because there is always another competition.”

4. Being a Player vs Being a Performer
“In team sports, even at a very young age, kids know the difference between players and performers. In individual sports it can be a little more challenging,” says Achenbach. “It goes back to the instructor or coach to help them understand. A simple technique used in martial arts training is to pick one student in class that is ‘performing’ and highlight them. Nothing else has to be said, because kids want to be recognized so they will naturally want to rise up to the level of the performer.”

5. Setting Short- and Long-Term Goals
“My daughter's skating coach is good at helping her students set goals, both long- and short-term," says Catherine Holecko, family fitness expert for About.com and a parent of two kids who play youth sports. “Together they'll look at what competitions she wants to do and tests she wants to take, and how to get there, like how much practice she'll need, what skills to develop and so on." 

"Then, when she's competing or testing, the coach will ask what her goal is for that event—what element or skill does she want to focus on, and execute well? She can't control how the judges rank her performance, but she can control her own performance and whether she lands a particular jump, for example. Learning how to set meaningful, attainable goals is valuable in school, at work and in so much of what we do.”

6. Repetition
“Another lesson I think is really important is repetition,” says Holecko. “This is something we are working on with my son. He gets frustrated when he can't master a skill quickly. It's hard for him to grasp that the best way to improve his skills is to practice them—a lot. One of the other parents from his hockey team found a 10,000 pucks contest and challenged all the kids on the team to shoot 10,000 pucks this summer."

"Knowing that all his friends are doing this has been really motivating for him, and he's determined to shoot 200 pucks a day for 50 days. Once he's completed this challenge, we'll be able to remind him how helpful that practice was, and show him that it can transfer to math facts, playing a musical instrument and so on.”

 7. Character
“The biggest lesson kids learn from sports, and I mean real sports where there is a winner and loser or defined goal—not trophies for tenth place—is character,” says Patrick J. Sweeney II, a former Olympic-level athlete, trainer and adventure TV personality. “Courage, grit, honesty, self-discipline, determination and delayed gratification are the ingredients of a good athlete and that mix is exactly what defines strong character.”

8. Perseverance
“One of the best things that children can learn through sports is perseverance,” explains Julianne Soviero, athletic performance consultant and author of the award-winning book, “Unleash Your True Athletic Potential.”  “Nobody ever got good at sports by quitting. One of my athletes recently competed for the College World Series title. This means she was a part of one of the top two teams in the country. She has played all different team sports for her whole life. A few years ago, she was suffering from extreme back pain. After toughing it out for several months, a very astute physical therapist realized she didn't have any reflexes below her knee. This signals huge trouble. She had to have emergency back surgery and had some complications with her surgery.”

“Despite all of that, and a grueling recovery, she worked incredibly hard, recovered and recently had two RBIs at the highest level her sport allows. None of that would have happened without dedication and perseverance. She has now done what no one in our region has ever done. This level of dedication will lead her to be successful at whatever she chooses to pursue in life.”

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