In my house, football just ended and our youngest son went straight away into wrestling. In the spring, he’ll end the school year playing lacrosse. While many parents worry about their children participating in school sports, especially in middle school, when kids are still learning how to take good class notes and study for exams, hubby and I couldn’t imagine our son not being involved.
Of course, academics always come first, and we make that very clear to our son. Yet we are firm believers that after school sports offer too many benefits to disregard.
Eight Benefits of School Sports:
- Activates the Brain: When the body is active there is ongoing communication between the brain and the muscles. Split-second decision-making during athletics forces the brain to regularly rewire its neural pathways as the brain and body quickly analyze the situation and respond appropriately. In this respect, physical activity enhances cognitive ability!
- A Body in Motion Stays in Motion: The American Heart Association reports that children’s cardiovascular fitness is in decline worldwide. Isaac Newton’s classic law of motion that a body at rest stays at rest captures the trend perfectly. But the converse is also true, that a body in motion stays in motion. Kids who participate in after school sports are more apt to continue to stay active in high school, and beyond. Kids who go home and play video games are less likely to give up gaming to exert themselves on the playing field – now or later.
- Reduces Stress and Depression: Middle school is tough. Bodies are changing, and kids are coming face-to-face with decisions that have long-term consequences. A physical outlet is good for all of us, and growing kids are no exception. Kids on team sports don’t often have frowns on their faces; instead, they are engaged and supporting their teammates. Even if their team loses, kids encourage each other to be proud of their effort. This is great practice for life. Engaging in activities that make kids happy lessens the effects of stress and depression. Team sports support inclusion and offset the feeling of being left out.
Teaches Teamwork: Academics become more competitive the older kids get. School sports teach students the value of teamwork and the dangers of playing in isolation. Even one-on-one sports like wrestling have a team presence; an individual may win the points, but ultimately one team walks away the victor. While striving to do one’s personal best is always a goal, learning how to leverage the collective skills and abilities of the team can yield even better results. That is an important lesson that will carry a young mind successfully into the working world.
- Offers Adult Mentorship: While there may be the rare coach who kids just don’t like, most after school sports provide adult role models who help shape young minds. When parents and coaches work in partnership, they can emphasize important habits like time-management, respecting self and others, and always doing one’s best. What parents tell their kids may go in one ear and out the other; but when a coach says it, that’s golden.
- Enhances Social Skills: Even in middle school when students are changing classes, kids might not take the opportunity to make new friends; preferring to stick with the friends they already know. School sports give kids the opportunity to make friends outside of their classroom. They may look up to older kids or become a leader for younger ones. The good news is that the friends they make in after school sports are, well, active! And that beats sitting around playing video games all afternoon.
- Increases Self-Confidence: Anytime someone learns a new skill, it increases self-confidence, and sports offer a fun way to learn something new. In fact, kids who are shy engaging verbally in the classroom often find after school sports an expressive outlet.
- Boosts Parental Involvement: After school sports get parents involved, too. Whether moving the yard markers up and down the football field or selling concessions to raise money for the team, parental involvement not only sets a good example for the kids, but it also gets parents out of the daily grind and into their community.
How can you convince a reluctant middle schooler to join an after school sports team? Use their active participation as an incentive for rewards they enjoy. Offer to take them out to their favorite restaurant after games (when they’re not too stinky and sweaty), or allow them to bring a friend to a Sunday matinee for each week they successfully manage their athletic and academic demands. Of course, that includes getting all of their homework completed and turned in on time.
Making after school sports an expectation of your student is the best way to avoid an adolescent negotiation, and to get your middle schooler off on the right foot for good, long-term physical fitness. With so many benefits to offer, it’s hard for them to argue otherwise.