Participation in team sports is not just about the joys of running around outside, scoring goals, smacking baseballs, and making game-saving tackles – it’s a powerful tool for the development of physical, mental, and social skills in children.
In a time when childhood obesity is a growing concern in the U.S., and the digital world is fast becoming ubiquitous in young lives, encouraging children to engage in sports and teamwork offers numerous benefits.
While the physical benefits of increased exercise alone would warrant participation in sports, the social aspects of team sports can be invaluable for children’s development.
“Team sports are said to bolster the five C’s: competence, confidence, connections, character, and caring. At the heart of this is self-esteem – an increased sense of self as a result of better social interactions, stronger relationships, and higher academic performance,” wrote Paige Maslen in Edutopia. “Team sports provide athletes with a natural community. “
Maslen cites a report from True Sport that says children who play sports have higher levels of social support, and that the sense of community created with teammates, coaches, and family members creates the perfect setting for critical self-esteem development.
“In the end, the opportunity to participate in team sports provides athletes with valuable skills that will take them beyond the field, pitch, and court,” says Maslen.
Participation in Sports Can Combat Childhood Obesity
Regular participation in team sports helps children maintain a healthy weight and reduces the risk of obesity, which is a significant issue in the U.S. today.
“Childhood obesity has been a problem in the United States for decades. The rate of childhood obesity has tripled since the 1970s,” wrote Emma Stohl in BYU’s Ballard Center Brief. “As of 2023, 1 in 5 children in the US are obese, with this number rising yearly.”
Society’s rapid embrace of all things digital accelerated during the pandemic, gets the lion’s share of the blame.
“Childhood obesity is exacerbated by the lifestyle of children, where their attention is consumed by technology use at the expense of consuming nutritious foods and participating in physical activities,” explains Stohl. “Some negative consequences of childhood obesity are poor physical health, mental health, and social isolation. Many children who currently suffer from obesity will continue to suffer with these consequences far into their adult lives.”
Stohl says the key stats for childhood obesity in the U.S. include:
- Over 14.7 million children, or every 1 in 5 children, in the United States are affected by childhood obesity.
- Studies have shown that the rate of obesity is 8.3 times greater for children who watch television (or similar screen device) for 5 hours a day versus children who watch television for 2 hours or less a day.
- Only 22 percent of children in the United States are meeting the basic activity level recommendations, and 25 percent of children in the United States are entirely sedentary.
Playing sports encourages physical activity, builds endurance, and develops strength, leading to improved overall health.
Moreover, it lowers the chances of developing lifestyle-related health problems like diabetes and heart disease in the long run.
Other Benefits of Playing a Team Sport
Physical fitness and health will always be at the top of any list of benefits of playing a team sport, but here are six other compelling reasons to encourage children to join a local sports team today:
- Motor Skill Development: Team sports require coordination, agility, and refined motor skills. Children learn to control their body movements, balance, and spatial awareness through activities like dribbling a soccer ball, catching a baseball, or shooting a basketball. These skills not only benefit their performance in sports but also contribute to their overall physical development.
- Social Skills and Teamwork: Participating in team sports exposes children to a diverse group of peers and teaches them the value of cooperation and teamwork. They learn how to communicate effectively, share responsibilities, and work towards common goals. These social skills are invaluable in all aspects of life, from school to future careers.
- Leadership and Responsibility: Team sports provide opportunities for children to take on leadership roles, such as team captain or coach's assistant. These roles teach them about responsibility, decision-making, and accountability. Learning to lead by example fosters leadership qualities that can be applied in various life situations.
- Discipline and Time Management: Being part of a team requires commitment and discipline. Children learn the importance of attending practices and games regularly, following schedules and managing their time efficiently. These lessons in discipline can positively impact their academic and personal lives as well.
- Resilience and Sportsmanship: In team sports, children experience both wins and losses. These experiences teach them resilience, how to cope with setbacks and the importance of sportsmanship. Learning to lose gracefully, congratulate opponents, and remain humble in victory are essential life skills.
- Self-Esteem and Confidence: Success in sports boosts a child's self-esteem and confidence. Achieving personal and team goals, overcoming challenges, and receiving positive feedback from coaches and peers contribute to a strong sense of self-worth. This newfound confidence can extend to other areas of their lives, including academics and social interactions.
Team Sports: Healthiness and Long-Term Happiness
“Team sports not only help you get in shape and stay that way but also are a great way to connect with people from different backgrounds and become part of a larger community,” says Keck Medicine of USC.
Keck says that team sports increase long-term happiness and can lead to higher GPAs – with one study finding that students who played team sports had a 97 percent high school graduation rate, some 10 percent higher than students who did not participate in team sports.
“Team sports are a fun way to get in your exercise for cardiovascular health because you get to do it in a group as opposed to doing it alone, plus it’s a great stress reliever, which helps lower your risk for heart disease,” says Helga Van Herle, MD, a cardiologist at Keck Medicine of USC and an associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.