As Olympic fever energizes little athletes and big dreamers across the world, parents everywhere are remembering why they sign up for their "second shift" job of shuttling kids to their various games, practices, matches and events each afternoon (and evening!). Why are so many parents willing to dedicate multiple hours each day to their children's involvement in sports? Olympic aspirations aside, here are ten of the best reasons for being a sports chauffer:
1. Long-Term Health Benefits
It's all over the news and everywhere you look: There is an obesity epidemic among America's children. Rates of overweight children with risk factors for "adult" diseases like Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure are skyrocketing. Regular involvement in sports and physical activity is one of the best ways to fight obesity and protect a generation of young people.
2. Activity for Activity's Sake
What time of day does the majority of youth crime occur? Most people assume it is under the cover of darkness, but in reality, young people find themselves in the most trouble between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m.. Participating in sports and being accountable to a group provides young people with constructive, trouble-busting structure and has been shown to reduce criminal mischief, including drug use, among kids.
3. Social Networking (Minus the YouTube account)
Speaking of being accountable to a group, sports often provide a ready-made social network for kids. For a child who has difficulty finding his niche in school, a team sport may offer the camaraderie and support that he is lacking elsewhere. Even for kids who have no trouble fitting in, involvement in sports offers connections with peers who are focused on constructive goals.
4. Encouraging Sportsmanship
Winning and losing is part of any sport. Kids who take part in sports learn the delicate arts of winning graciously and losing well. Being able to shake hands with the competition, no matter what the outcome of an event, serves children well into their adult lives.
5. Understanding the Nature of Commitment
Whether for an hour a week or three hours a day, most sports require a commitment from kids to attend regular practices, team meetings and games. When kids dedicate their time, energy and finances to a sport that they like, they learn important lessons about commitment.
6. Building Self-Esteem
Children develop positive self-esteem through accomplishments. Sports give kids opportunities to learn, achieve and feel good about themselves through skill development and goal-oriented activities. When parents and coaches emphasize effort and improvement over winning or individual performances, they foster healthy self-image and positive self-esteem.
7. (Academic) Performance Enhancing
According to researchers at Michigan State University's Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, young people who play sports perform better in school than those who don't. Rather than serve as a distraction, participation in sports teaches kids to focus their minds on a task at hand and to manage their time effectively as they juggle school, sports and a social life.
8. There is No "I" in Teamwork
Children learn all sorts of valuable social lessons through sports. For younger players, sharing the ball, listening to teammates and following group rules are fundamentals of good play. Being part of a group and learning to accept coaching (particularly the constructive kind) is one of the most valuable benefits of sports for older kids.
9. Perseverance & Persistence
On my daughter's first day of karate, she learned the term, "non-quitting spirit." Six years later, she still uses this term to talk herself through a challenging homework assignment and to encourage her little sister not to give up on learning to tell time. Children who participate in sports face disappointments, defeats and injuries. Those who learn to take setbacks in stride and dust themselves off for the next round benefit from life lessons in perseverance and persistence.
10. Working Towards a Goal
Winning an Olympic medal, scoring a perfect 10, earning a black belt; sports often feature an "ultimate goal" for kids. Before any milestone can be reached, however, kids have to learn specific skills and master fundamental techniques. Involvement in sports provides children with experience in breaking long-term goals into short-term objectives. Commitment and perseverance are honed as young people cast aside the instant gratification of their earliest years and work toward goals that are only achieved through long hours and hard work.
Signe Whitson, LSW is the mother of two daughters and author of Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Cope with Bullying. For workshop inquiries, please visit www.signewhitson.com, "Like" Signe on Facebook, or Follow her on Twitter @SigneWhitson