Youth Sports teach children the basic foundations needed to be successful in today’s competitive world. That may seem to be an overstatement, however if you look at any level of youth sports you will find basic principles for success present. Teamwork, Leadership, Commitment, Dedication are all qualities, developed in the sports environment, needed for success.
Today, our children are bombarded with pop culture values that most of us would probably deem negative (popularity, fame, self-centeredness, conceitedness, materialism). Youth sports is among the few places where they can learn positive core values consisting of teamwork, devotion, leadership and competition. And they do so in a healthy safe environment.
Teamwork, learning to understand that the sum of the parts are many times more important than the individual. Though you may feel this is only true of team sports like football or soccer, the reality is teamwork is evident in all sports. Even in sports like running, or wrestling, the purpose of teamwork is evident. It is the teammate that drives us to be better, that challenges and that pushes his teammate to go beyond. As a collegiate wrestler, I was a mediocre athlete (good, not great) with a few highlights and a few low lights that described my college wrestling days. A few years back a teammate of mine was elected into the school’s “Hall of Fame.” In a phone conversation, I congratulated him for the recognition and he thanked me, but in an unexpected way. He reminded me that the season he went to the Division I Wrestling Championship, the first from our college, he remembered often practicing against me. He thanked me that I was there to practice with him, long after my season had ended. We were teammates and his accomplishments were celebrated by the entire team.
Devotion, dedication, and commitment all carry the same underlying meaning. Youth sport seasons can run over a long time. My son’s high school football team is playing in the third round of their state football tournament, a season that began 10 months ago in the weight rooms and went every day since that first day, with only a handful of days off. To be successful in life one must be dedicated to what they want to achieve. It would be very difficult to find a successful person that has not endured struggles to achieve success. Even the overnight success when examined carefully is found to have toiled on their business for years before success hit. Dedication means that you make sacrifices in order to achieve the end goal. The athlete will have to make difficult choices sometimes; choosing to sleep when others stay up, making choices against alcohol and drugs, staying dedicated to nutritional choices. Dedication to achieving a goal provides a guideline, when others are choosing to make poor life decisions, dedication will provide the line to follow.
Leadership, though it is very easy to point to the example of the team captain, leading scorer or state record holder, leadership can also be found in a less recognized areas. The player who stays after practice to run ten extra “gassers”, the player gets up early so he can pick up a teammate before practice, or the player that encourages his team mate to keep pushing harder even when they are not on the field. There are many ways to lead in life and learning these principals and being exposed to leaders can create a path of making good choices.
One of the most important lessons of youth sports is learning to compete. For some the idea of competition is corrosive and places too much emphasis on winning. As adults, many seem to think that our children are immune to this and many youth sports leagues today wish to govern an everybody wins society. However, we are not all created equal and that is not a bad thing. The reality is we all compete, we compete every day. I am not a fan of the “participant trophy”, it is important that children learn to compete. This is not to say, winning is everything, rather winning and losing must be learned. In life we compete; for a job, a raise, a sale, a promotion. We compete, it is a part of life and losing happens far more often than winning so it is just as important to learn how to brush the dirt off, pick yourself up and hold your head high.
Children need to build these basic skills and develop confidence to become good successful citizens. The benefits of life-long activities are numerous, yet 70% of kids are dropping out of organized sports by age 13! We need to do more to reverse these alarming, and dangerous trends. Keep our youth sports programs going, these young athletes are our future.