Friday, July 17, 2015

10 Reasons Why I Want My Kids to Do Competitive Sports

Growing up, I played soccer competitively.  I loved it, and at times hated it.  I did ballet, tap, and jazz as a young child, and did gymnastics until I was about 10-12 years old.  I never got to a level of competitive gymnastics, but I loved it while I did it.

I believe that competitive sports have a number of things to teach our children.  While I want my still young children (7, 5, 4, 1) to try a variety of sports before settling on one (or two) to focus their attention on, I would really like each of them to have the experience of a competitive sport-whether that be a team one such as soccer or basketball, or a more individual one such as gymnastics or tennis.  There's simply so much to learn from it.  Here are a few of the skills and life lessons I hope my children will take from competing in sports someday:

1.  Mastery takes hard work.  You're not going to be "amazing" right away, but you can be if you keep at it.  Kids need to learn that it takes lots of hours of hard work to get better and more proficient at something.  You can't be excellent at your sport if you only practice once a week.  This is a valuable life skill.  Apply yourself to the task at hand, and work hard to get better.  While some things will come more naturally to them, others may require a bit more "umph" to get through.

2.  It's not all about you.  Competitive sports are never done alone.  You have a team.  Even in solo-type sports like swimming or gymnastics, you have a team of people that you work and learn with (and from).  Guess what, kids?  Everything does not revolve around you.  Helping others out, encouraging them, and rooting for them to be their very best is an important part of being a functioning member of society.  When our minds and hearts are not focussed solely on ourselves, we are better people all around.  I need my children to understand that life is not all about them, but it's about others, too.

3.  Sometimes people don't like you, respect them still.  Sometimes coaches or teammates won't like you.  That's life.  Not everyone will like you, and sometimes they won't even have a good reason as to why.  I remember at 10 years old having my very fist coach who didn't like me and didn't play me.  Even when I'd jump through his hoops (i.e. score two goals and I'll let you play the whole game), he would still refuse to let me play.  Unfortunately, I had this coach on and off through high school.  Only once did I ever say something disrespectful, and I immediately regretted it.  I quickly learned that even if he didn't like me, I needed to be kind and respect him.

4.  Don't give up.  Being a part of a competitive team means you're needed.  Each person is key to the success of the team, and you can't just quit.  You finish what you start.  You don't just give up mid season.  You push through the hard stuff, and keep going.  You find ways to motivate yourself, and you finish out the season.  I don't want my children to quit at the first sight of boredom or frustration or loss of interest.  They don't have to do it forever, but they need to learn to finish what they start.

5.  Things have a cost.  In everything that we do, there is a cost.  Saying "yes" to one thing means we're saying "no" to another.  Saying "yes" to soccer in high school meant saying "no" to other after school activities.  Saying "yes" to gymnastics means my girls are saying "no" to playing with other friends or neighbors on gymnastics days.  It also means saying "no" financially to other sports at the same time.  There is a cost.  Choose what you want to do in life wisely, and fill your time with things you enjoy.

6.  Physical exercise is important.  I want my children to be healthy.  This means they need to eat healthy foods, and establish healthy routines for exercise.  I credit competitive soccer for my love of exercise as an adult.  While I'm not always in the best shape, I do regularly work out.  I'm thankful that I learned at a young age that working out is important.  I want my children to learn the same thing, and to value their health.

7.  Their bodies are capable of far more than they ever imagined.  I remember the first time I ever puked after a run in high school soccer.  I was SO proud.  I didn't know I could run that fast or that long or that hard.  I never knew what my body was capable of until competitive teams.  Although Ellie is still in recreational gymnastics (and will be for a long time, I'm assuming), when she moved up levels and had her first longer practice, she came home and puked.  She worked harder than she had before.  She did more sit ups than she knew she could.  And she was proud because she had worked hard to move up to that next level.  I want them to understand what their bodies are capable of doing.  That instead of saying "I can't," they can say, "I will."  They are strong.

8.  They are stronger than their fears.  Everyone has fears.  Competing in front of people can be scary for many people.  Being chosen to take that penalty kick is scary...what if you miss?  Doing that new flip is scary...what if you fall?  Being the next batter is scary...what if you strike out?  What if you fail?  What if's are all around us.  Try it anyway.  If you miss, fall, strike out, etc., that's okay.  Try again.  And again.  And again.  Overcome your fears of failure and keep going.  My children will be stronger than their fears. They will keep going.

9.  Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.  Both are okay, and life goes on.  It's fun to be on a winning team or to place well in your individual categories.  Celebrate the wins, and be a kind winner.  But sometimes you lose or place poorly.  Even worse, sometimes your team loses every game for an entire l-o-n-g season.  Of course it sucks, but don't give up.  Don't be a poor loser, and don't be a jerk to the winner.  In fact, get over yourself and go congratulate the winner.  And for parents, as hard as it is to watch your child lose, I promise, it's a great learning experience.  Don't "rescue" them by pulling them off the team and placing them on another team mid-season.  Teach them to finish what they started, even when it's frustrating and hard.  My children will learn to be gracious winners and losers.

10.  Sports are fun.  Perhaps the best thing about sports (competitive or recreational) is that sports are FUN!  Sports are enjoyable, a great way to get exercise, a great way to grow as a person, and so much fun.  My girls tried soccer for a few seasons and had a fun time.  They weren't fabulous at the sport (but they're still so young), but they had fun, so it was worth it.  My girls have currently settled on gymnastics.  They have a blast every week.  They work hard and come home sweaty, but their teachers are so incredibly sweet and patient and fun, and their class mates are all becoming their friends, too.  They look forward to gymnastics each week, and like to have "fun" while learning the sport.

I want my children to pursue a sport at a competitive level.  I want my children to gain a love for exercise and sore muscles, see how much they're capable of doing, learn to respect others, value other people and cheer them on, become persistent people who don't give up easily, and reach and strive to meet their personal goals, even when it's hard.  The lessons from these activities will make them better and more well rounded people.  This is why I will encourage my children to compete in a sport.

What other life lessons would you add to the list?  What were the most valuable lessons you learned from the competitive sports you played as a child, or that you've seen your children learn from sports?

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