Why Your Child Should Play Team Sports

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Throughout our region, sign-ups for youth sports are in full swing. From soccer and lacrosse to baseball and softball, kids are eagerly awaiting opening day.

And while most of us are familiar with physical benefits of regular exercise for kids, research has revealed another important reason to get kids in the game: improved emotional and mental health.

According to a study published in the journal PLOS One, children who participated in team sports were 10 percent less anxious/depressed and 19 percent less withdrawn/depressed than those who did not participate in any sports. In an interesting comparison, those who participated in individual sports, such as tennis or wrestling, were 16 percent more anxious/depressed and 14 percent more depressed/withdrawn than those who didn't play any sports. 

While any type of regular physical activity is good, there are some definite benefits unique to being part of a team:

Connecting to and building relationships with others

Being part of a team with a shared goal fosters camaraderie and cooperation. Kids learn to take direction from an adult other than their parent—that includes coaches and referees—and how to support their peers and trust them to do the same as needed.

Boosting self-esteem

As your child's skills grow, so does their self-confidence and self-esteem.

Developing critical thinking skills

As kids face new opponents each week, they learn to recognize that each game is unique and may require different tactics. Through sizing up their competition's strengths and weaknesses and how their team is going to respond, kids hone essential critical thinking skills that are valuable on and off the field.

Becoming a gracious winner and loser

Life isn't always fair and losing happens. Team sports is a great way for kids to develop a tolerance for the discomfort that losing presents. You may find it helpful to talk to your child at the start of a season about possibility of losing games and allow them to consider how they might feel about it. If they do suffer a loss, be sure to let them talk it out and acknowledge that it's no fun. While do you don't want to gloss over losing, you do want to note what they and their team members did well, how they worked together, how practice paid off, and the overall fun of the team experience. Helping them appreciate that there's more to playing than just winning or losing can make it easier to move on.

Learning commitment

As a member of a team, your child will be required to attend regular practices and, of course, games. They'll come to appreciate that every member of the team depends on them to show up and do their part and develop an appreciation for what it means to make a commitment to others.

Yes, team sports can require a lot of time, logistics, and car rides. But when you consider the early and natural introduction they provide to so many important life skills, it's hard not to consider them a win no matter what the final outcome of the season is.

Dr. Shellie Burdick is a family medicine physician at SVMC's Pownal Campus.

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