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    Educational Philosophy, Other Thoughts

    The Case for Youth Sports

    March 30, 2016 by Dawn Duran

    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.

    Children can reap huge benefits from participation in youth sports -- here are some aspects to consider. Have you thought about team sports for YOUR child?

    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.

    Children can reap huge benefits from participation in youth sports -- here are some aspects to consider. Have you thought about team sports for YOUR child?

    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.

    Children can reap huge benefits from participation in youth sports -- here are some aspects to consider. Have you thought about team sports for YOUR child?

    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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  • Reply Celeste April 6, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    You make some very compelling arguments here, Dawn! I especially like your point about failure teaching life lessons–I know that has been true for me! 😉 And I also appreciate your suggestion to sit down and consider the “whys” behind whether we choose to participate in organized sports and what are goals are for our kids–and how those two things might work together. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply Dawn April 6, 2016 at 5:50 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, Celeste. Involvement in youth sports is such a balancing act. Just this week made the decision that our boys, whose spring seasons of soccer and track and field have begun, could only attend one practice each this week out of their two scheduled ones so that we could feel less pressure of having too much to do. If we approach their participation as something enriching rather than enslaving it is easy to make these types of decisions for their greater good, really, in preserving sufficient time for true play.

  • Reply Brian April 2, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    Hi Dawn,

    Thanks for writing this! My thoughts can be found here, if you are interested:

    • Reply Dawn April 6, 2016 at 5:47 pm

      Thanks, Brian. I perused the TORL blog after I saw your PINGBACK to this post and enjoyed what I read. I actually left you a comment over there several days ago, too. I look forward to your continued contemplation of the role of physical education in a modern world that can help replicate a piece of what was once had in a more classical time.

      • Reply Brian April 7, 2016 at 2:04 pm

        Thanks Dawn. I really appreciate you posting on all this. FYI: “The Other Journal” has been on a sports/athletics related theme all spring.

        • Reply Dawn April 7, 2016 at 4:00 pm

          Thanks, Brian. I am not familiar with The Other Journal, but I just read two wonderful articles there are your prompt. I’ll be returning to see what else they have to say in future. I appreciate the direction!

  • Reply Beth March 31, 2016 at 10:45 am

    Thank you Dawn. You have made some great points in an area I had mostly dismissed. What ages do you think are good for *most* kids to join team sports?

    • Reply Dawn March 31, 2016 at 10:59 am

      That’s a great question, Beth. I would LIKE to respond by stating that “it depends.” You had to add that *most* bit in there to prevent me from taking the easy road out:).

      Our boys started young – around 3.5 years old – for a variety of reasons that are mostly social in nature. However, I think that the age range of 5-8 make a great entry into playing recreational sports IF the child is expressing interest and IF the team is not an overly competitive one. Of course, it really will depend on the child and only his/her parent can make the best judgment of whether or not sports are appropriate at a particular age for that child.

      • Reply Beth April 1, 2016 at 12:24 pm

        Thank you! I think we tried too young with my daughter and its viewed as “scary” for her now. She is interested in dance classes though.

        • Reply Dawn April 1, 2016 at 3:19 pm

          Dance classes are a wonderful opportunity for physical education, Beth. I always regretted not having time to continue dance classes once I started playing high school sports. There is so much benefit to having athletes take dance class through it’s promotion of body awareness, balance and grace in particular. I hope she has fun!

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