What Sports Can Teach Our Children for Life on Their Own

3 kids playing hockey outdoor on an ice field

I watched my son on the ice, struggling to keep his balance. After the inevitable fall, he grinned and clamored with his equipment to get back on his feet again. With a lot of practice and determination, at the age of 6, he is now a proficient skater and hockey player. This lesson in perseverance is an important component of education for life.

Organized team sports like hockey offer a wealth of these lessons that prepare our children for the future. I am a big believer in team sports, and I’m not the only one. There is plenty of research that outlines the benefits of participation in organized sports, and the advantages go far beyond getting exercise. While this is a valuable aspect of playing sports, I’m most impressed with how well sports prepare children for their adult lives.

What other lessons do sports offer children? Here are five essential life lessons to be learned from sports:

1. Resilience

Just like my son slowly learned to skate through trial and failure, all young athletes struggle to develop the skills necessary for playing sports. It simply comes with the territory. When kids participate in sports, even if they’re a “natural” they’ll have to struggle to gain skills or at least to deal with losing. Even the star player on a team can have a bad play or a rough game. But as long as the proper supportive environment is there, they push through and come back and try again. Resilience means not giving up. Similar to the lesson in persistence my son learned early on, resilience is learned by experiencing failure and not letting that failure stop you from participating.

A study completed by Andy Driska, a Michigan State University researcher, and his colleagues showed that after participating in a two-week wrestling camp, teens felt much more hopeful. The amazing thing is that their feelings of hopefulness persisted even 9 months after the camp had ended. Hopefulness is an important component of resilience. It’s what allows us to bounce back, even after facing adversity. Sports teach kids to stand up, brush yourself off and get back out there over and over again.

In life, there are many rejections to be faced, whether personal or professional. Having the ability to accept them and put yourself back out there again and again is key for making our own dreams come true. Those who allow one rejection to defeat them engage in negative self-talk, limiting how quickly they can get up and try again. However, a resilient person takes a rejection in stride and continues to put themselves out there and look for new opportunities.

2. Communication

Experiences in organized sports can help kids improve their communication skills and even become more proactive in their lives. On my son’s hockey team, one of my goals as the coach is to get the kids to talk to each other. This is something most teams work on. Kids have to talk on the ice, decide what plays to use, call out to let each other know they’re open and create strategies together.

The effects of these efforts and lessons can be noticed outside of sports as well. The study done by Driska also highlights how one student who often argued with his mother took a different approach after camp. He proactively sought solutions with his mother rather than just complaining, something he wouldn’t have done before the camp, the teen said.

3. Leadership

Kids who participate in sports, no matter whether they’re the team captain or not, learn to lead. In sports, there’s often a give and take that allows space for all team members to lead. Teams are constantly evolving. Perhaps a new child joins the team, and one of the kids takes on the role of welcoming the new child. This is a form of leadership. Being team captain or one of the senior members of a team also leads for the opportunity to encourage and lead the team as a whole.

An interesting anecdote regarding leadership is a study that looked at corporate leaders from across the country. While only 20% had made honor roll in high school, 70-80% had played sports. The skills learned in team sports are applicable in professional situations as well!

4. Self-Evaluation

On my son’s hockey team, some kids excel at defense while others have that special something that allows them to drive the puck and score. Both of these skills are valuable on a team. The key is for players to know their strengths and capitalize on them so that everyone benefits. In this way, kids learn the skill of self-evaluation.

In entrepreneurship and life, it’s essential to know what your skills are. This way, when you need to develop a skill or the perspective of an expert, you’ll know and seek help.

5. Self-Esteem

One of the greatest benefits of playing team sports as a child is increased self-esteem. Many studies have shown this to be true, citing that children are less anxious and generally happier when participating in sports. Improved self-esteem through participation in sports can have many positive effects.

A healthy (not excessive) self-esteem can prevent depression, help you reach your potential and know your limits. Later in life, this can help your child avoid abusive relationships, take calculated risks and generally lead a happy life.

Making sports a habit in your child’s life can help set them up to continue to engage in physical activity, which can help maintain a healthy self-esteem. As you can see, a healthy self-esteem is important for leading a happy, successful life.

How can you make sure your kids benefit from these lessons in sports? Of course, the most obvious answer is to get out there and sign up for a sports camp or intramural team. These are great options, but make sure you also vet these teams and activities ahead of time. Sports for young children should be focused on developing skills and having fun. Competition is great, but in moderation. Too much of a focus on winning can discourage your child and lead them to drop out.

In general, most sports teams are a great opportunity for your child to learn valuable life lessons, preparing them for a bright future. So, whether you start playing sports as a family, start an informal pick-up soccer club on Saturday afternoons or sign your child up for a team, get out there and be active! There are too many benefits to be gained to leave this important component out of your family life.