About two months ago, I received a call from one of my former athletes. I was her high school cross country coach. She graduated in 2010, has finished her junior year of college, and is taking the semester off to earn a little money. She asked how cross country practice was going, and if it would be all right if she came out and ran with us.
I remembered this girl well. She came from a large family that was struggling to get by. When she first joined the team as a sophomore in high school, her grades were just barely good enough to get cleared to participate. I worked with her teachers and counselors and her grades started to improve.
By her senior year, she was captain of the girls’ team and a natural leader. She was taking college prep courses and doing well. She also participated in track and field, and her talent as a field athlete helped her to get a partial scholarship to the University of Redlands. She was on her way to success.
This story isn’t unusual. In fact, it is almost the norm. When I have my first parents’ meeting, I tell them, yes, your children will be tired. Between homework, cross country practice, and family responsibilities, they won’t have much time or energy for much else. But, and it’s a huge but, what they get out of it all will more than make up for it. Here is my perspective on the importance of youth sports.
Learning to play with others is something we want for our children from the time they are toddlers. The qualities of being a good team player are something that will help them throughout life. When a child commits to being on a team, they become responsible for the outcome of that team. They must come to practice, play their hardest, and assist their teammates, or the team will not be successful.
Kids have a lot going on in their life. School and homework can take up many hours a day. Family time, chores, church, hobbies, friends all add to their responsibilities. Adding sports into the mix will challenge a child to manage their time appropriately in order to fit it all in successfully. With the help of coaches, teachers and parents, children will learn responsibility and self-discipline, things that will help them succeed throughout their life.
As with teamwork, sports makes children accountable to others and to themselves. Whether it’s missing the final game or not finishing a big project a work, learning accountability is important throughout our lives.
Starting and sticking with a project, whether it is at work or in our personal lives, takes commitment. Young people learn this commitment when they join and stay with a team, attending all practices and games, overcoming fear, illness, fatigue and sometimes pain.
The obesity rate in children is so high that it is frightening. Getting children involved in sports will help lead them to a healthy lifestyle. Sports require attaining a high fitness level, proper nutrition and awareness of what is required to perform in their sport. This also leads to emotional health and improved self esteem.
There is a lot of competition getting into colleges these days. Having excellent grades is no longer enough to get into the better colleges. When a college admissions counselor sees an applicant who has performed well academically and athletically, they see a well rounded student who would be welcome in their program.
Personally I have seen children who seemed destined to drop out of high school, or even end up in jail, based on their personal situations, who were inspired by their participation in sports to not only make it through high school, but to continue through college and become successful adults. I know that the accountability, commitment, and improved self esteem that they acquired from being involved in sports was directly responsible for their success.
As for Adriana, the young woman who wanted to run with the team? She’s now my assistant coach, excited to pass on the lessons that she once learned to a new class of student athletes.