Mental health has come to the forefront with the COVID-19 pandemic as people around the globe feel isolated and alone. The anxiety around the unknown is unusually high. Unfortunately, it was not just adults who have been impacted by the current events we face but also children and teens. With youth sports having returned to the court, the field, and the gym, the mental health benefits of youth sports have become even more important as we bridge the pandemic. Here are six mental health benefits of youth sports:
According to the American Academy of Sleep, children ages 6 – 12 should sleep 9 – 12 hours per night and teens should get 8 – 10 hours of sleep per night. Just how important is sleep? Experts say children and teens who do not get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, injuries, poor mental health, and problems with attention and behavior. An afternoon on the field or the court prepares the body for a restful night’s sleep, something we all could use.
No team wins all the time, every time. Dealing with a loss builds resilience and prepares children and teens for setbacks in life like not getting your dream job the first time. Playing poorly and making mistakes teaches children and teens to learn from those failures so they can do better next time.
Recreational and club sports give children and teens the opportunity to socialize with others outside of their typical peer groups they interact with at school or the neighborhood park. Additionally, it gets them away from their tablets, smart phones, laptops, computers, and TVs. Human connection is important for maintaining mental health, a lesson in the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Structured sports programs are not just about practice, winning, or drills. Youth sports provide a sense of community for children and teens the same way we rely on our circle of friends as adults or our churches. Cristiane Chiacchio, AIG Americas Head of Accident & Health, wrote for the National Council of Youth Sports, “Properly structured programs can provide a safe, wholesome and nurturing environment for children and teens, instilling a sense of community where they feel supported and are engaged with adults who care about their mental and physical wellbeing.”
CONFIDENCE and CHARACTER
Winning a game, hitting your mark, landing a routine, or simply making the team can build confidence and self-esteem. Children and teens are rewarded for their hard work, building character that will last a lifetime. Former MLB player for the White Sox and Blue Jays, Samuel Ewing, explained it this way, “Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.”
DISCIPLINE and DEDICATION
To excel in youth sports, to win the game, to hit your mark, to land your routine, to make the team, requires discipline and dedication. You must be disciplined and dedicated to doing well in school to stay on the team. You must be disciplined and dedicated to listening to the advice of coaches. You must be disciplined and dedicated to the success of your team as a whole… all of which build character.
James Hudziak, MD, Director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth, and Families is so impressed with the mental health benefits of youth sports, he encourages all kids to play into adulthood. In which youth sports did you participate? and do you still play?