THE JOY IN YOUTH SPORTS

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“God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

–Eric Liddell, Olympian Gold-Medal Sprinter, 1924

A child doesn’t have to be an Olympian to find joy in sports. The sweaty face smiling ear-to-ear, the playful noise, the contented exhaustion are all signs that a sports experience is working for your child. From the earliest ages, running, jumping, skipping, cartwheels, throwing and catching, are examples of the larger muscles in action. As children grow, more precision is required in certain activities like jump roping, scooter riding, skating, shooting at a basket, pitching to a glove. Physical movement and the exertion of sports is good for total body health including brain, heart and lungs.

Not only physical movement, but social interaction creates fun. Children like working together for common goals. Someone shared results of a study about children at play. Enthusiasm skyrocketed when they were working together during an activity. Not every social interaction is positive. However when there are conflicts during play, there are usually low stakes when it’s “just a game.” Children discover what works and what doesn’t; lessons are learned about cooperation and teamwork that transfer to the classroom and later to the workplace, to life.

I recall as a child the excitement I felt when I learned how to use a pogo stick, how to walk on stilts, how to ice skate, how to do a backbend. As a teenager I learned to slalom on water, and anticipated each year as I aged whether I could still pull up on one ski behind the boat. As an older mom, I was at my daughter’s gymnastics workout one day. The coach permitted me to get on the trampoline before practice started. When I first started jumping up and down, I was unsteady. But eventually I progressed to a back flip and landed on my feet! There was a rush, some dizziness and exhilaration. The coach responded, “Oh, that’s only adrenaline…you just haven’t felt it for a while.”

My favorite sports activity to observe with the youngest children is Cross Country. When I was the Athletic Director of a pre-K thru 6th grade school, we had more than a hundred children on our cross country team. The youngest runners were the first group to start the race, K-2nd grade. Our kids looked like a sea of green at the sound of the starter’s gun. They ran until their little faces were red and wet with perspiration. Most were out of breath as they crossed the finish line. It was not nearly as relevant how they finished–their rank–as that they finished. Parents scooped them up and shared the joy of the moment. Then they were off to find Polar Ice (snow cones) to punctuate the celebration. That’s the visual representation of joy that I revisit in my memory.

As young athletes progress in sport, there is another joy that is rare but highly cherished. Individual and team championships are memorable in proportion to the challenges met to attain them. No matter what level or sport, whether it be 6th grade football in an urban sports league, or a high school state title in pole vault, a championship worthily obtained should be celebrated and honored. Very often there’s a history of failed attempts and near misses that mark the journey to success.

With all that is imperfect about youth sports, there is joy to be found in the trying, the learning, and the overcoming. When the activity has lost its element of fun, it is time to move onto something different. Undoubtedly there are many joyful adventures yet to discover, even into your adult years.

Key Tips

  • Exploit the joy that sports produce in your child. Celebrate and share it!
  • When the activity is no longer fun, move on to the next adventure.

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