The Benefits of Youth Sports (Plus 5 Tips for Helping Your Child Choose One)

Bedtimes. Seatbelts. Nutrition. Flossing. Sunscreen. 

As parents, we are constantly juggling a million things at once—all in the interest of keeping our kids safe and healthy. Making sure they get the recommended hour of daily physical activity can feel like just one more thing to worry about.  

It’s no secret that most kids spend too much time looking at devices and not enough time exercising. How can you counter this trend and help your kids reduce screen time and get more physical activity? 

The answer might be simpler than you think. Youth sports come in many forms beyond the ones that traditionally come to mind, and they are a great way to encourage kids to exercise.  

Why Kids Should Play Sports

Should all kids play sports? When answering this question, it’s important to consider the benefits of youth sports. Whether they participate solo or on a team, kids who play sports get more exercise and build confidence, social skills, and more robust mental and physical health. Involvement in extracurricular activities is associated with better academic performance, lower dropout rates, and fewer disciplinary issues. Let’s take a closer look at how sports can positively impact your child’s life. 

Academic Performance

Exercise is correlated with better cognitive function, attention span, and memory. Kids who play sports earn better grades and score higher on standardized tests. Male student-athletes are almost three percent more likely than their non-athletic counterparts to get A’s in school. The benefits of youth sports in academics are even more significant for girls; female student-athletes are four percent more likely to get A’s. 

Physical Health

The health benefits of youth sports incentivize many of us to sign our kids up for recreational activities, and with good reason–kids who play sports get more exercise, which improves cardiovascular health and builds stronger muscles and bones. Physical activity burns glucose, which lowers the level of sugar in the bloodstream and helps prevent type 2 diabetes. It also decreases the risk of developing other adverse health conditions like heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis, and several different types of cancer.    

Mental Health

Playing sports releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins and dopamine in kids’ brains. Compared to peers who exercise daily, sedentary children are twice as likely to have anxiety, and teens who are not physically active are more than twice as likely to have anxiety and depression. Participating in organized extracurricular activities is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. It also offers a protective effect; participating in team sports during adolescence is correlated with better mental health outcomes in adulthood for those exposed to adverse childhood experiences.

Choosing the right sport for your child

Look at natural ability.

Children don’t have to be born athletes to enjoy sports, but take your child’s natural gifts into account while weighing your options. Are they quick on their feet? Do they climb trees any chance they get? Are they drawn to pools, lakes, and oceans? Pay attention to the activities they have a knack for, are excited about, or both. If they choose a sport that aligns with their talents and interests, they’ll be more likely to stick with it long-term. 

Consider personality and social preferences.

When deciding on the right sport for your child, it’s important to select an activity they will enjoy. To find a sport they will be excited to play, consider their personality traits. Shy or timid kids may not be keen on aggressive sports like hockey or football. Some children may be better suited for team sports, while others might enjoy the solitude of mastering an individual sport. Team sports foster cooperation and teach kids how to work together with others. Solo sports teach kids to set goals and build confidence and independence. 

Take budget into account. 

Youth sports is an estimated $15 billion industry, and it’s easy to see why. Equipment, lessons, and transportation can add up to hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars per year. Research the sport your child is interested in so you aren’t surprised by hidden expenses. Ice hockey, lacrosse, and football are some of the most expensive sports, whereas swimming, volleyball, and cross country are more affordable. 

Think about nontraditional options.

If your child doesn’t love dribbling a basketball or running on a field, they still have plenty of sports alternatives. Fencing, martial arts, figure skating, rock climbing, and badminton are all great options. These complex sports require more brainpower, and there is evidence that they may help prevent dementia. Some children might need some extra motivation to get them moving; turn something they love to do into an active experience. Have you ever considered paintballing or geocaching as a sport? What about yoga, table tennis, or Just Dance? These are all great options, especially for children who aren’t into traditional sports. 

Be open-minded.

Try to have an open mind when choosing a sport for your child. They may not be interested in the same activities as you or other family members. Put your child’s interests before any other expectations. Do they want to play a competitive hands-on sport or do they prefer solitude? Do they thrive in structured environments or enjoy creativity and freedom? If you played football but your child wants to take a creative dance class, that’s okay. Dance classes are great outlets for self-expression, and burning calories is a bonus. Maybe you were a dancer, but your child loves rugby. Whatever they choose, encourage them and cheer them on! Try to let go of expectations and remember your child’s happiness is what matters. 

Regardless of which one your child plays, the benefits of youth sports are far-reaching. In addition to developing strength and physical fitness, kids can build self-confidence and learn essential life lessons from playing sports. It can be tough to peel them away from their smartphones and get them excited about physical activity, but that’s where Troomi comes in. Troomi’s parental controls help you reduce your child’s screen time and make more time to practice their sport of choice–whatever it is.