May 31, 2024

Growing Up Happy and Healthy: The Magic of Youth Sports

Growing Up Happy and Healthy: The Magic of Youth Sports

By: Courtney Kemna

What's your favorite memory from playing sports as a kid? Saturday night dinner after a tournament was always my favorite. We would have contests to see who could eat the most dinner rolls. I think it was always surprising to the servers when a bunch of tiny young girls came in and ate 15 rolls each. Even today it makes me laugh thinking about how our parents and coaches would sit as far away from us as possible. We were loud and annoying, but it was fun!

From 2019-2022, participation in youth sports has dropped 6 percent– a very compelling statistic. At Sports Thread, our goal is to raise awareness about the benefits of youth sports; both tangible and intangible. Playing sports can optimize academic performance, teach time management, improve all aspects of health, and foster positive relationships with peers and adults. There are many skills and benefits of youth sports that are difficult to gain anywhere else.

General Health Benefits

Youth Sports provide many general health benefits. One of the most important is sleep quality. The CDC recommends that 6-12-year-olds get 9-12 hours of quality sleep. Participation in sports and activities is proven to help kids hit this goal of  sleep time and quality. Sleep is clearly important for a child’s well-being and health, just as it is for adults. My coworkers certainly can tell when I don't get my 8 hours of sleep. 

Playing sports and regular exercise also strengthens bones and muscles to prevent things like heart disease and osteoporosis. It lowers the risk of many illnesses including type 2 diabetes– which is a growing problem in children. In addition to preventing long-term illnesses, children playing youth sports experience fewer short-term illnesses. Regular exercise and quality sleep are great for the immune system. A strong immune system can ward off viral illnesses, like the common cold or flu. The general health benefits alone are a reason to spread awareness surrounding the 6 percent drop in youth sports participation.

Academic Performance

General and mental health benefits gained from sports become key indicators in improving academic performance. One of my high school coaches loved to talk about how much sports helped us in school. I always agreed and found that I had a bit more focus and drive in the classroom when I was also competing in after school sports.

According to Project Play, physically active children have 40% higher test scores, are 15% more likely to attend college, and have higher GPAs than their peers while in school. These skills translate outside of school as well. Former youth athletes have 7-8% higher earnings and are more productive at work. Learning discipline and time management from sports at a young age is extremely important. The cause and effect here is very clear, youth sports drive optimal academic performance.

Mental Health Benefits

3,2,1, GO TEAM!! Even something as simple as counting down in the team huddle affects how kids feel about themselves and can give them a sense of belonging. I have asked parents, siblings, friends, and coworkers about their youth sports experiences and every single person agreed that their mental health as a child and now would be in worse shape without sports. 

According to On Our Sleeves – The Movement for Children’s Mental Health – a strong sense of belonging is crucial for a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive health. These benefits allow for children to learn how to relate to others, how to compete, and allow for higher self-esteem and confidence both on and off the field.

A study at Scripps Coastal Medical Center concluded, “Participation in youth team sports has been linked with lower rates of depression and anxiety, along with a reduced risk of suicide and substance abuse. Participation in youth sports is a very effective way to make sure children are nurtured mentally, socially and emotionally.

Positive Relationships  

Youth sports allow for more role models and positive relationships that often cannot be found elsewhere. Remember your favorite coach. I often think about  Coach Dave playing Nicki Minaj out of his car speaker while we warmed up before a game. Safe to say it amped us up and we won that game. Looking up to a coach can truly change a kid's life.

Nothing compares to the friends you make while playing sports. My best friend lives in a different state and we still talk on the phone at least once a week. I remember meeting her over ten years ago. I knew she had good style because we both rolled up to the first soccer practice of the season with Pink Nike Mercurial Cleats. 

I didn’t have a lot in common with my Dad as a 13-year-old girl, but I do remember driving home from a game and talking about how I played. Not only was the post-game chat good for me as a player, but it was healthy for our relationship. Even with the hour-away games, we could converse the entire way home. These chats also made it clear that he was proud of me, which inherently made our relationship stronger. 

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There are many angles and ways you can look at it, but one thing is clear, youth sports are an important part of children's lives. The decline in participation rates is cause for concern. We need to recognize and promote the many benefits of youth sports that can contribute to the physical and mental well-being of generations to come. Whether they find a role model, a best friend, improved focus in class, better time management, or all of the above, youth sports can play a huge role in helping kids grow up happy and healthy.

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