By Lavender Williams, HRI Program Specialist

Raising healthy, smart, and happy children is a difficult task. Parents today are extremely busy and it often feels hard to keep up with the many demands on their time and energy.  Among the many daily tasks parents perform, where can parents find the opportunity to have a discussion about valuable life lessons when sometimes it’s a struggle just to get out the door on time in the morning?

Well, it turns out that youth sports are an amazing way for child to learn valuable life lessons, and parents can take advantage of opportunities to impress upon their children the importance of these life lessons. Whether it’s on the way to the game or on the way home after a game, conversations about what it takes to grow as an athlete, as well as the practice that goes into winning, can be beneficial to children in many life situations later in life.

Here are a list of a few key life lessons that parents can discuss with their children who are involved in youth sports that can be easily translated into multiple life situations.

  • Challenge, Don’t Punish. The foundation and definition of sports is competition. In the sports world, many parents can get focused on the goal of winning, so much so that they put that pressure onto their children. Parents may begin to threaten their children with punishments if they don’t win or perform well. In these situations, parents believe the threat of punishment to be encouragement for improved performance when actually, it could lead to poor performance and even low self-esteem. Instead of threatening children with punishment, challenge children to push themselves. A challenge is similar to a call to action and teaches children to motivate themselves to be better than they were in previous games, matches, or situations. For example, challenge them to pass the ball three more times in the next game or work on beating their personal record. Later in life, this can be transferred into different life situations—such as their education or career—by encouraging them to reward themselves for doing their personal best.
  • Stress Work Ethic, Not Result. Similar to challenging children to do better, stressing work ethic encourages self-motivation. Many young athletes will see the goal of winning as the mission. Of course, everyone loves winning, but in youth sports there are so many more goals that can be accomplished, such as learning to work as a team, developing basic skills, and practicing positive sportsmanship. Teach children to focus during the game on their personal and team performance rather than the end result. At the end of a game or match, if they are able to say they did their best and gave their all, that should be commended.
  • How to Lose. Along with stressing work ethic comes learning how to lose gracefully. Just as in life, there will be days where the play doesn’t go as practiced and the result isn’t what they hoped for. Yes, even these moments can be valuable. After stressing the value in knowing they tried their best and gave their all, parents should emphasize the importance of respecting the efforts of their opponent. Losing a game does not mean the athlete is not a good player or that they should quit the game. Rather, losing means that their opponent had a better day and circumstances worked in their favor. As much work as they put into practicing, so did their opponent and that is to be commended and respected. It is normal for children to feel sad and disappointed after losing; these emotions are natural. To encourage children out of these emotions, remind them of their value and that your love is unconditional. Then when they’re ready, encourage them to think through what they learned from the loss and how they can work to continue to develop into the best player that they can be.

Youth sports are not just about developing children as athletes—they are also about developing the whole child, including their emotional maturity, ability to relate to others, and sense of self-concept. Parents can take advantage of the many life lessons that sports provide to help their children gain wisdom through playing.