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Oregon Family Magazine

A Balanced Approach to Sports

07/06/2013 ● By Sandy Kauten

Sports and Life Balance

More than ever before, there is an emphasis on the childhood obesity and nutrition education for children. Even for myself, educating young minds on the benefits of healthy eating has become one of the top priorities of my summer youth sport camps. Most of this emphasis is on ensuring they receive a balanced diet full of all of the good stuff we’ve seen in the food pyramid– fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, dairy, etc. The message being that variety is the key to eating well. The benefits of a healthy diet are universally praised; more energy, healthier body weight, prevention of potential ailments down the road, and an overall healthier development process for our kids.

However when it comes to sports, the “variety is key” mantra has been thrown out the window lately. I’ve noticed more than ever before an intention from kids to focus on one particular sport and ignore their opportunities to participate in others, all for the sake of becoming a professional someday. Now there isn’t anything completely wrong with this belief; sure becoming a professional athlete will take years of concentrated practice and effort in a sport. Doing so at a young age though, I feel robs children of vital developmental opportunities that could actually benefit their overall athletic goals. I am such a firm believer in the value that sports play in a child’s development that I feel they are just as necessary as any type of formal education children receive while developing.

To make sense of the value of sports, it’s necessary to look beyond the goals and equipment and think outside of the painted lines on the field. It’s very clear that sports provide an opportunity for children to develop a variety of coordination and motor skills that are acquired when learning any sport. Much like a young inspiring pianist must practice repetition and develop coordination and muscle memory, so does any young aspiring athlete. It is the natural “trial and error” that leads to the breakthrough and skill development associated with sports that will teach children how to control many of the amazing features of their bodies; things like balance, coordination, acceleration, change of direction, and momentum. Similar to any instrument or art utensil, there comes a progression of skill in which the child is learns to harness the capabilities of their most vital asset, their bodies. All of this work they put in benefits their health by increasing their metabolism, burning calories, and developing strong healthy bones and muscles that will benefit them throughout their lives.

In my opinion though, there comes an even more important development of character for children when they participate in sports. There are lessons learned through sports that many children otherwise would not have had the opportunity to experience in the world they live in. The incredible thing about sports is that there are many parallels to life woven into the fabric of their competition. Beginning with one of the more familiar aspects, teamwork will be one of the first lessons children will be introduced to. The goal of any team is to be successful and to put that success ahead of the needs of any individual. This teaches children to be selfless and to sacrifice some of their individual desires for the greater good of their team. In addition, every team is comprised of teammates who must fulfill their role and duty. Throughout life, we all have had to serve in a number of roles that are reflected on any team. Children will have the opportunity to experience being a leader, playing a supporting role, or being designated to one particular task simply by being on a variety of teams throughout their athletic careers.

Along with teamwork, kids will have plenty of opportunities to challenge themselves, physically and mentally. I can speak first hand from my experience playing three sports in college and three years in the NFL that athletics will test your resolve, drive, and courage, but in the end will build your character. I remember the countless times I had to line up for another rep, take on another strong opponent, or head into another practice, unsure of how to face the challenge ahead of me. In each and every situation though, I learned to conquer my fear of the challenge and failure, and wound up actually embracing the adversity that stood before me. Being able to face a challenge and overcome it can build confidence and inner strength in children that they can then apply to other obstacles they will face in life.

However, not every game ends up in a victory, and I remember plenty of times stepping off the field or court and not having the best performance. Learning how to handle failure was quite possibly one of the most important skills I developed while participating in sports. It took me some time and I was stubborn, but I learned that I cannot be afraid to fail. Through sports, children will learn that the road to success has many failures. In fact, failure will be inevitable. By being able to overcome bad games, losses, injuries or any other setback, children build resolve and learn that failures do not define them. They also realize that in every failure there is a lesson for improvement that can be applied the next time. To come to this realization, it requires accountability and hard work. Children will learn to be accountable for their mistakes on the playing field, and thus the mistakes they will make in life. One of the main ways to overcome these setbacks is to work harder, and when children get the experience of dealing with a failure, learning what they must do to overcome, then working that much harder to rectify the failure, they are experiencing substantial character development.

In order to enjoy the full spectrum of character and physical development offered through sports, its vital for children to participate in as many types of sports as possible. My philosophy has been finding three to four sports for children to participate in, with at least one of the sports being a team based, and the other being individual. Each type of sport will command a different set of abilities and character traits to engage in. For example, compare football and golf. Football, in my opinion is the ultimate team sport. There are many members of the same time with the same goal, and each player is placed into a specific role to help the team win. The plays are designed in a way that everyone on the field is involved and accountable for their success. The sport requires athleticism and total use of your body to excel at your position. It can also be incredibly demanding physically, and will test any athlete’s courage. Along with that, there is the special comradery developed on a team when sharing a similar experience with several of your peers, and when you either suffer setbacks together, or experience the joy of victory together.

Golf on the other hand has its own unique set of challenges and demands that provide an opportunity for growth. In golf, virtually all of the accountability rests on the shoulders of the individual, who must meticulously master a variety of finely tuned skilled shots in order to be successful. The honing of these skills requires hours of concentrated practice and focus, along with a personal drive. During competition, golfers must have control of their emotions and be able to overcome the inevitable bad shots that occur during a round.

In both examples, there are stark differences in the physical requirements for the sport, but they each pose an equal challenge. There are plenty of other sports that also provide different experiences that will challenge, inspire, and motivate a child. Whatever the sport though, it’s always important to encourage kids to be the best that they can be, and that ultimately may be the best lesson learned from sports. In our lives, there will almost always be someone better than us at something. What makes each individual valuable is the unique set of talents, passion, and character traits they posses. Sports encourage us to develop our given abilities to their very best. For our children, sports are an invaluable tool to help shape them into the very best people they can be someday.

By Jordan Kent

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