During a recent soccer season, my daughter's team went to the regional finals. The final game of this big event went into overtime, and still tied in overtime, it then went to penalty kicks. The drama of the game had attracted many more spectators than most youth soccer games would have, and this only added to the intensity of such a close finals game. My 10-year-old daughter had the opportunity to take the final penalty kick of the game. During this pressure-filled moment, as a parent, I didn't envy her. My own experiences with team sports as a child, as well as with performing in front of a crowd, were limited. I never really experienced so much pressure to perform well on my shoulders, and it crossed my mind that this was too much pressure for my little girl to experience herself.
Yet she rose to the occasion. I saw her take a deep breath, focus on the goal and shoot. The ball went high and to the left while the goalie dove to the right. While she won the game for her team, she more importantly experienced a character-building moment that she will be able to draw on for the rest of her life.
Both individual and team sports can teach children valuable life lessons. These are lessons that can help a child in both the personal and professional arena as an adult. As a parent, you no doubt want your child to be active in a sport for the health benefits as well as the social aspects. However, in order to fully take advantage of all that youth sports can provide, you should understand what the most teachable moments in sports are and fully take advantage of those opportunities when they are presented to you.
1. Losing a Game.
Perhaps the most obvious teachable moment in youth sports occurs after a loss. There are multiple lessons that the loss of a game can teach, but perhaps the most important one is perseverance. Throughout life, an individual will face challenge and struggle. If your child plays youth sports, he or she will have plenty of opportunities to face defeat in his or her childhood. This presents you with the opportunity to show your child how to persevere and persist when faced with loss. While your child will no doubt feel as though he or she has been sucker-punched after a loss, getting back up on your feet after that loss is important.
2. Handling Any Outcome With Dignity and Respect.
No child will win every single match or game he or she is in, and no child will lose every single match either. The old adage that says, "You win some, you lose some," holds true in sports as well as in various other areas of life. Both of these outcomes are inevitable throughout life. How your child learns to handle both wins and losses is critical. You can teach your child to handle both outcomes with good sportsmanship, and ultimately, this equates to learning how to handle all situations with humility as well as dignity and respect.
3. When You're The Best.
Most children who play sports for many years will have at least one opportunity to play on a winning team or to be the best player on a team. It is easy for children (as well as parents) to coast along in this situation. When you are blowing the competition out of the water or are carrying the team onto victory, why would you be working hard to improve? However, the fact is that there truly always is someone who is better than you out there. You may have to travel to state finals or even national finals to meet them, but they are out there. In addition to those who are already better than you are, those who want to be better than you are working hard to improve. Teaching your kids to constantly work hard and maintain focus to stay on top is a lesson that will come in handy throughout life. After all, there is always someone who wants what you have, and they are working hard to get it. You have to work hard to keep what you have.
4. When You're Not The Best.
Just as most children will have the opportunity to experience life on top in sports at some point, most will also have the opportunity to experience life on the bottom. Is your child one who will face adversity and give up, or is he or she one who will keep their nose to the grindstone and work even harder than everyone else to improve and achieve personal or team goals? When your child is not the best, talk to him or her about the options available and provide opportunities for improvement. This may include taking advantage of optional extra training sessions, camps and more or simply practicing at home. Sometimes winning comes easy, and sometimes it takes a great deal of time and effort. Youth sports teaches kids how to work hard and face challenges head-on in order to reach their goals.
5. A Team That Needs Improvement.
Many adults and children alike understand that sports like football, basketball and soccer are team sports, but they often consider player improvement as a priority. While improving individual skills is the key to individual success within the team, the overall success of the team as a whole lies in improving everyone's skills and promoting an overall team mentality. It does take some "showboating" or "ball hogging" to make the winning plays, but it also takes a whole team to win a team sport. One person simply cannot take on a whole team. With this in mind, you can talk to your child about taking on a leadership role within the team and promoting the improvement of individual teammates as well improving the team mentality. The lesson of improving the team to achieve goals and learning how to accomplish by working with different personality types within a team can play a significant role in your child's life over the years.
Youth sports may improve your child's social skills and physical abilities, but sports also provides your child with the opportunity to build character and develop traits that will be helpful for success throughout life.
Content by Kim Daugherty .