Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In Defense of Children's Athletics

Even though I am prone to complaining about how much time and energy goes into taking the kids to all of their various basketball practices and soccer games and swimming lessons, we do it because we think sports are a precious opportunity for some major life skills.  
Eamon was almost 3 years old here :)

I know every family has different needs and there are plenty of seasons in life where getting oldest child to three basketball practices a week just isn't possible because there's a newborn in the house and Dad works late.  But for those times when the budget allows and there is some flexibility in the family schedule, I highly encourage sports for kids.  

Why?  I knew you would ask that!  And so I'll tell you:

1) Exercise
I have written about the physical benefits of exercise before, and the same points hold true for children.  Obesity among children is on the rise, and has so many physical ailments and disorders that are linked to it.  Either due to safety issues or parent's schedules, a lot of kids today can't make spontaneous exercise part of their daily routine like the generations before have.   Sports teams are a way of exposing children to exercise in a fun way.  
Maggie has no clue she's burning calories running around for an hour!
And although I wouldn't push a toddler into athletics, I do believe the younger they start (school age) the easier it is for them to learn a sport and excel without being too critical of their (lack of) skills.  

2) Socialization
Think about how we used to socialize when we were kids.  We would ride bikes with the neighborhood kids, go play ball at the park, play tag and all sorts of other outside games.  Can our kids do that now?  Nope, well at least not where I live, not unless they are supervised.  Sports teams allow children to make friends very easily...your teammates are automatically your friends.  And bonus!: sitting on the sidelines with fellow parents can be good socialization for the shy moms like me.

3) Trying Something New
You know how adults can get stuck in their routines and stop trying new things?  It's so easy to try something new when we're children, even if we only do it for one season.  I think new opportunities beget more opportunities.  In sports, it might be that a boy learns how to swim, and then becomes a lifeguard for a summer job.  Or a girl takes gymnastics and realizes it's not her passion, but has developed a great sense of balance and posture to guide her through life.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?  
Andrew's first and last season of baseball.  He declared it too boring.  Agreed. But just look at that hand/eye coordination he's learned!

4) Winners and Losers
Competition is a good, healthy motivator for kids, as long as it is kept in check.  When my kids get too worked up over the potential of losing a game, I remind them that there will be a winner AND a loser every single time, and they better get used to being on both sides of that.  What a disservice we do when we try to show our kids that they will always succeed at everything they try.

Failure makes us begin anew, next time even stronger.

5) Family time
Our kids love it when Mom and Dad can be at their games cheering them on, even though it's not always possible for us both to attend.  One of the most wonderful parts of the summer Olympics for me was watching the parents watch their children compete.  You could tell how involved, dedicated, and supportive they were.  What a great type of family to be raised in!  Most ran over to thank their mom after winning a medal:
Having an athletic child means the whole family gets involved.  Even siblings learn how to root for each other and truly want success for someone other than themselves.

6) Hard work and Dedication
It took him so long to be able to move forward, but he never gave up!

You want to be a swimmer like Michael Phelps or a gymnast like Gabby Douglas?  You'll learn very quickly what it means to have priorities, be dedicated, and work hard at something.  Even for the 99% of children who won't ever compete professionally or on a world stage, there are still lots of lessons to be learned on dedication, pushing oneself and not giving up.  These are good old fashioned values that it seems lots of kids aren't getting.

7) Self Esteem
Self esteem isn't just reserved for the best players on the team.  
I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller...
Take my 9 year old John-Paul for example.  He is the shortest and second youngest on his basketball team, he hardly gets any play time, and he has three practices a week.  But his world isn't clouded yet with the realization that basketball just might not be his sport.  He loves it and so he plays.  End of subject.  When he gets 2 out of 10 of his free throws in, he smiles so big you'd think his cheeks would break.  Sports give kids an opportunity to improve and to see themselves getting better by leaps and bounds or baby steps, but no matter what, they will advance over time.  

8) Patience
Waiting in the dugout, or on the sidelines teaches bunches of patience.  A life lesson some of us (ahem, me) could still use a refresher on!
The Martin Boys are on deck to the 6th degree

All that being said, I do think there's a need for balance when it comes to sports participation for kids.  Right now my lovies play soccer in the fall (starting at age 4), basketball in the winter (starting at age 6), swimming in the spring (starting for *real* at age 5), and then track and field in the summer (which starts at age 3).  We are at our full capacity!  The older they get, the more I want them to focus in on two sports so we can keep it more manageable.  As for now, whenever we are able to get the kids on the same team or schedule their lessons at the same time, we do it.   Right now, we say no to sports that fall into the too expensive or dangerous categories, like gymnastics, ice skating, football, and ice hockey.  And that's where we're at.


  1. I agree with everything you stated. Right now we have the boys horseback riding and they just started swimming lessons. Rhett just started riding a sweet pony for now, but Clark and Eric on on large horses. I'm hoping horseback riding will teach them about responsibily for animals as well as just building character. I'm thinking about finding a soccer league to put the older two in as well.

  2. I'd like to make a motion that ice hockey be moved from the dangerous category to the expensive category. I've actually heard that there are not as many hockey injuries as there are basketball injuries, because there is so much equipment that a hockey player wears for protection/safety.
    However, lots of equipment also means high cost, so in the end I think many would still rule it out.

  3. i agree about the obesity. I do not think its all mcdonalds etc...i personally feel its the direct lact of activity for children. My oldest son was just telling me that they only have 5 mins for recess in 5th grade. Then, most children that are overweight live in poorer areas where there is no safe place to play plus they can't afford the sports in their area. Football here costs 170 to register, extra fees too and plus uniform fees...Hockey is more expensive, Sofia wants to do gymnastics but its 100 a month here not counting extras like outfits etc...Its too expensive for most families. Even our YMCA here is outrageously overpriced.

  4. my husband and i grew up playing multiple sports at various levels. we're thankful for the experience and agree that many of life's lessons can be learned through sports. on the other hand, sports are a rocky path that can often suck one up. we once worshiped at the altar of sports. we desire more for our children. we are prudent not to overdue it. sports are not what they used to be and i prefer better socialization opportunities for my children, especially as they get older.

    we have found our CYO sports to be somewhat of a happy medium but that can even get tricky at times (ie; games on Sun.). there are also many other avenues to acquire the benefits that you mention. over the years we have participated in PE in the park, family sports, specialized clinics, sports days hosted by Father on a weekly basis, and more. finding alternatives to the current offering of sports can take some work but we have found it to be well worth the effort.

    i pray that we sanctify sport, fitness and practice in a way which brings us closer to Christ.

    prayers for your journey. ALL FOR!

  5. Awwwww....if you and I could be soccer moms together, I may consider signing the kids up. As it is now, I can't imagine how you do it, so I just force the kids to ride their bikes for hours on end.

    sort of.

  6. It's so interesting, I was just thinking about sports and how we are going to get our kids involved in them. I can't wait, but I also get nervous about the schedules/and truthfully, the 'culture' of some sports. It is good to remember the benefits and to keep those in mind when we consider what our kids will one day be involved with.

  7. Totally agree! My 2 yr old is begging for ballet class b/c her 3 yr old friends are doing it! When she turns 3 there is mini kickers around here for her - and she loves wearing her cleats around the yard. I'll probably sign her up for swim class too because I think learning to swim is well... insanely important!

  8. Ok, before I forget--you were kidding about that "shy moms" comment right? (I do not picture you to be shy at all:)

    You are such a fun mama--great post as usual!

    Our girls just started gymnastics, because, well, they are going to try all those moves anyway...I agree, though, it's dangerous. Clare, our 8 year old, fell off the beams this past fall (she had forgotten to use the beam with padding to fall on) and she got hurt in several places, I couldn't believe how many places she hurt--and she was lucky, she was better within a week, but didn't want to go back for a couple weeks. I cringe every time they are doing the beams, I'm praying to all the angels in heaven to keep them safe--There, add brings you closer to God--all that praying in the stands and for themselves, look at how many professionals make the sign of the cross before playing!! (well, it can)

    Our 6 year old tried gymnastics, now she is not coordinated or graceful at all, but she just kept trying, I loved watching her spirit, of not giving up, at all.

    til an opportunity came up to try Tae Kwon do. Now she's really into that....She got to try it last week and can't wait. We are letting her try it, it seems a better fit for her than gymnastics and she seems to like it more. Although, her reason was that gymnastics hurts your body all over and TKD does not. (hmmmm....)

    The thing I've learned with 6 kids is that they are not all the same. They all have different interests and dislikes and gifts and talents. (lots of ands in that sentence, huh?) Our oldest has never liked sports, if he ever broke a sweat doing anything, I think I'd have to start "woo hoo" ing. We made him do soccer for a few years, but gave in when he was old enough to really say why he didn't like it. He's not that competitive. He loves piano. He loves Tae Kwon Do, to the point he's written a few papers on the benefits of it, and the biggest for him is the confidence he notices in himself.
    So, as I'm typing this, I'm even realizing that the things he picks are things that better himself, without the competitive aspect. (he is in piano festivals competing to get high scores but they are in front of one single judge in a small room--he does not see the competition, so just does his best--he does get to perform in front of larger crowds though, which adds to that self confidence thing) He also loves swimming.

    As a parent, I'd love to see him in "normal" sports, but seeing him bloom in the things he enjoys is priceless. Being the oldest, he definately knows what he likes and what he doesn't.

    Our 2nd born is completely opposite of him, wanting to join everything possible. She's good at everything she does too. She's very athletic and competitive (to a fault) We did have to put limits on her, she had to choose between gymnastics and band this year, I just can't do everything, the driving, the costs...she picked gymnastics, for the fitness aspect.
    Homeschool theatre, piano and gymnastics...enough running for me.

    Our 3rd born, keeps it simple and practical. She wants to focus on one thing at a time, and now it's gymnastics. Tried piano, not her thing. Tried Tae Kwon Do, does not like the outfits. She's the middle child, does not like to be the center of attention at all.

    I went way off there as usual...my point, they are all different and sports and extra activities have helped bring out their personalities and all the things you've mentioned.

    OK, that got way too long. So sorry, I'm pumping away here, needing adult conversation I guess...

    1. She wasn't lying. She IS actually shy (but in a social way... if that's possible). I'm less shy but do less "social" things. She's more shy but does more "social" things. I know, weird. I laughed out loud at your comments and agree that there are all sorts of ways to socialize and excersize our chidlren and give them opportunities to find interests.

      And I think Colleen's right about getting kids moving... hoping that somehow trickles down to me someday as I've just admired the Martin family and their athleticism over the years.

  9. Oh, gosh, forgot to add, love those pictures of when the kiddos were littler--Eamon running, how cute is that?

    (very very cute!)

  10. I have to add, (I know shut up already, right) my 2nd child, was in ballet for like 5 years, starting at age 3, she finally gave it up because it was not competitive, there was no challenge there for her. I think doing sports and letting our kids try things helps them figure out what fits them best.

  11. thanks for stopping by :), I'm a new follower.

    I love your list I'm trying to keep us being more active together.

    Keeping so is the way to go :)

  12. Scheduling definitely gets challenging with a big family...especially as they get older and the practices/games are more often! We have to limit, too, for our own sanity. It's really important that we can eat dinner together at least some seasons of the year! Basketball is our biggest sacrifice season bc 4 of the kids play plus Andrew runs track. So far, that's the kids' favorite....and I have to say that I am SOOOOO glad the baseball years are over! Ellie tried softball but I think it was a failed experiment(thank God!) and I think we will do soccer with Luke!

  13. This is so hard for me. Not because I disagree because everything you said is right. I just have a hard time that we can't do everything, you know? Every family seems to have their 'personality' and ways that they focus their energy and darn it, only a certain amount of hours in a day. We're signing the boys up for baseball again this year (first year for Michael) and I'm already nervous about the commitment. And that's with only one sport :) I'm pretty jealous of our family time and think it's more important than any other activity so we're taking this one year at a time to make sure that we're happy with the sacrifices these sports entail. It's the only way I can approach it without having heart palpitations thinking about when all four are old enough!


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