10 Life Lessons Kids Learn in Youth Sports

I was a child with the athletic ability of a sloth-baby, but my parents still enrolled me in sports. I played softball, soccer, field hockey and did dance and gymnastics. I struck out 98.5 percent of the time. I may have scored one goal one time by accident. And I “danced,” but it’s safe to say no competitive dance coach was banging on my door. And now that I have three kids of my own, my husband and I have them enrolled in some sort of athletic activity throughout the year. Are they always the star of the team? No. Do we stick with it? Yes, because of the values they’re learning in youth sports.


So kids, here’s what we hope participating in sports will teach you.

1. How to work as a team.

Teamwork is a crucial life skill for you to learn. You will have to work with others throughout your life—on school projects, in your career and maybe someday as parents. Teamwork means listening to others, even if they have differing opinions. It means respecting them and finding common ground. It means supporting your teammates and building them up, just as you hope they will do for you. And it means succeeding or failing together.


2. How to handle disappointment.

Sometimes you’ll fail. No successful person in life—athletic or otherwise—got there without overcoming obstacles. You may not make varsity the first time around. You may not make it ever and you’ll play JV. You're still on a team where you can learn life lessons, make friends and enjoy a sport. You will lose a game at times, even if you were 100 percent sure it was in the bag (sometimes that’s why). You may get injured and find yourself on the sidelines for the championship game. You’ll hold your head up high, cheer on your team and celebrate or mourn with them just as if you’d been out there on the field.


3. How to set a goal and work hard to achieve it.

Not everyone is Lebron James or Eric Hosmer. Sometimes kids (like your old mom here) are on the team for reasons other than athletic prowess. You might be one of those kids. That doesn’t mean you can’t set a goal. Maybe your goal is to hit the ball by the end of the season. Or run as fast as the rest of the team in warm-ups. Or maybe you will be an athletic superstar (like your dad) and your goal will be to shatter state records. You will figure out what you want to do and learn that success requires hard work. How will you achieve it? Practice. Determination. Perseverance. Accepting advice and criticism. Learning how to get better.


4. How to control emotions.

Losing is hard. Striking out is hard. Missing a goal is hard. Watching your teammates succeed when you do not is hard. Watching your teammate miss a play that costs the game is hard. Even as adults, we can let emotions overwhelm us and cause us to act unkindly or with frustration. Sports will teach you to keep your emotions in check and channel your anger and disappointment into working harder to do better. Remember you could be the guy who strikes out next time, so rather than beating up on your teammate, build him up. Imagine how he feels and help him forgive himself and move forward.


5. How to win and lose graciously.

Your behavior centers on winning, but losing will define what kind of athlete and teammate you are. Of course, celebrate your win. AFTER you shake hands with the opposing team and say “good game.” Compliment your teammates—all of them. Even those who didn’t play. You’re all important members of the group. Learn how to lose like a winner. At some point, you will find yourself on the other side, watching the other team celebrate after shaking your hand and saying “good game.” You’ll have to walk off the court or field and grieve a tough loss. Let yourself be sad. Hold hands with your teammates or hug it out. Know you all did your best, and today just wasn’t your day to shine. There will be others.


6. How to play fair (even when the other team doesn’t).

Cheaters never win and winners never cheat. Unfortunately, some teams play dirty. We hope you will learn that playing fair is the only true way to win in life. If you grow up playing dishonestly, you might carry that mindset into your adulthood. Playing fair will teach you to try your hardest, follow the rules, stay safe and accept the outcome. Being a good, honest athlete means you can live with your conscience. It means you are a leader—and a true winner—even  if the scoreboard says otherwise.


7. How to respect authority.

Your coaches deserve your respect, and we hope you'll earn theirs in return. They have a lifetime of knowledge and experience in dealing with losing, winning, injuries and having to work as a team. Listen to them. Work for them. Prove yourself deserving of a spot on their team. You might look back on your childhood coach as someone who changed your life. As someone who believed in you when you didn’t believe in yourself. Show up early. Don’t quit. And say, “Thanks, Coach,” as you leave.


8. You are a valuable member of the team.

Whether you are the starting pitcher or third-string lineman, you are on that team for a reason. You might be a backup in case someone gets hurt. You might be an important source of moral support from the dugout. Don’t undermine your role, however big or small it may be. Every member of the team has a spot on the roster, including you, even if you don’t make the game-winning shot.


9. It’s okay to make mistakes.

You will mess up. You will drop the ball, miss a play or simply have a bad day. Everyone else on your team also will mess up at times. Including your coaches. Allow yourself some grace. Forgive yourself. Think about what happened, learn from it, get better and move on.


10. The importance of a healthy body.

Your body is a gift from God. Move it. Work it. Strengthen it. Take care of it. Cherish it. Sports will help your muscles get stronger—not just your legs and arms, but your heart too. And your brain. Sports make you think, anticipate the next play and figure out how to get better. Playing sports is good for your mind, body and soul.


Now, let’s get going. You’ve got practice tonight.


Olathe mom Karen Johnson has three children, ages 6, 4 and 2. She writes at The21stCenturySAHM.com.


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