The premise of this series of posts has been that education of the whole person is not complete without addressing physical education because education is not merely about developing the mind. In my first post I wrote that physical education is not limited to participation in sports. However, sports can be one aspect of a child’s physical education — and I believe that they should be.
I know. Youth sports are not without their drawbacks. However, there are many life lessons to be gained in the realm of sports and in this post I want to flesh them out a bit. Don’t worry — we will look at the cons of youth sports in a future post so that both sides are adequately represented.
Although I’m focusing on team sports I feel like it’s important to point out that there are also lessons to be learnt in one on one competitive sports.
Our sons participate in team sports. My husband and I were collegiate athletes, but our sons don’t participate in team sports in an effort to turn them into mini-versions of ourselves, or in the hope that they will earn a scholarship to play at a university. We enroll our sons in team sports because we are convinced that the life lessons learned in such a setting are valuable and that our sons will find joy in participation.
Thus far this has proven to be true. My oldest son in particular demonstrates pure bliss when he is on the field — a palpable joy for the opportunity to be in motion surrounded by other kids enjoying the same experience. Both of our boys love the camaraderie involved in being a member of a team as well as the joy of mastering a motor skill. They experience fellowship with other players with a shared goal. They exhibit pride and a sense of accomplishment as their skills develop and they are exhilarated when this leads to a measurable outcome (i.e., they score a goal or catch a touchdown pass). They learn the value of teamwork in supporting the other players from the sidelines as well as on the field.
It has been said before but bears repeating: participation in sports builds character, and, in building character, athletics promotes strong citizens. Sports provide children with opportunities to develop communication skills and leadership qualities. In being part of a team, children learn lessons in empathy and the ability to cope with disappointment. Developing a sense of good sportsmanship is another important lesson learned through playing sports while children also learn the importance of cooperation and teamwork in accomplishing a common goal.
Sport also teaches our children that rules must be followed because without rules there is no meaning to the game. Sports provide opportunities for a child to develop fortitude and display grit — important characteristics in a modern world. Lessons are also to be had in fair play and being a reliable teammate. It is through playing sports that children can learn that their actions have consequences beyond themselves because their behavior impacts the entire team. Perhaps most importantly — playing sports teaches children to take ownership of their mistakes and to stop making excuses.
Cindy Rollins has often spoken of the importance of countering hubris in our boys. You know — that pride that makes boys believe that they are the best at everything. Participating in athletics emphasizes the importance of remaining teachable and provides an opportunity to encounter failure — and failure can be an antidote to hubris. Failure is an excellent instructor. Valuable lessons are to be had in losing, because in a loss we have the opportunity to learn and grow. Developing skills to cope with loss and failure are important life skills as well.
Our children — in particular, our boys — need to experience authority figures outside of the family. Good coaches can fulfill this need: coaches who affirm our children as well as discipline them. Coaches who model healthy behaviors and earn the respect and admiration of our children. Coaches can also provide our children with the opportunity to develop appreciation for someone outside of their immediate family who has made an investment in their lives.
In making the decision whether or not to pursue sports in your home you must reflect upon your own philosophy. Why do (or don’t) I want my child to participate in sports? What do I hope it will bring to the life of my child? Are the coaches in the league positive role models? Are the other parents good role models? Is it fun? Will my child still have lots of unstructured free time outside of school and sports?
Organizations that offer these positive sports experiences are increasingly hard to find, with the push for stiffer competition at younger ages. Travel teams and the time investment they require are becoming more and more the norm, while recreational leagues in which “everyone is a winner” have their own drawbacks. I encourage you to find a league that supports your goals. If you can’t find one then get involved and form one!
I know of a homeschooling family that desired to participate in team sports without the desire to sacrifice family time to the demands of practices and games. They took matters into their own hands and organized a group of families to meet once a week at a park and together the parents act as coaches instructing the children in basic skills for one particular sport each season. In this way your children can be exposed to a wide variety of sports and experience many of the benefits that a formal league has to offer.
The Duke of Wellington is attributed as saying “Waterloo was born on the playing fields of Eton.” Participating in sports just may prepare your child for whatever Waterloo lies ahead of them.
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