It’s All About Education: What Kids Learn from Sports
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
In gymnastics, I learned to perform as an individual who is also part of a team. From both sports, I learned that hours of practice doesn’t always make perfect, and that perseverance is the only route to mastery. I learned that people aren’t always nice to one another. I learned that when you fall, the best thing to do is to get back up as quickly as possible and keep on going.
Both of my children played team sports in recreational leagues and school: field hockey, soccer, gymnastics, basketball, baseball, cross country. They learned many of the same lessons: you are a valued part of the team, even if you aren’t the top scorer. When you commit to doing something, you have to show up, even if you’d rather be somewhere else. And of course, things don’t always go as planned.
According to a recent NPR poll, 73% of all adults played sports as children. More than three-quarters (76%) of all parents of middle and high school children encourage their children to participate in sports, as well. According to the Aspen Institute, 21 million children in the United States between the ages of 6 and 17 play team sports on a regular basis.
Although we tend to stress the physical benefits of being active (less risk of obesity, healthier eating habits, decreased stress), there are many other benefits to sports participation. Kids who play sports tend to have higher self-esteem and leadership qualities. They tend to perform better academically. They are more likely to exhibit goal-setting behaviors.
Children who participate in sports learn the value of practice and determination. They learn to work with teammates to accomplish shared goals. They learn about friendly competition, to be good sports who congratulate the winners and don’t denigrate the losers. They learn about cooperation and discipline.
And these principles translate into the workplace. A Cornell University study found that athletes who played youth and high school sports have better employment opportunities as adults. They tend to display higher levels of leadership and hold higher-level positions than their non-athletic peers. In addition, they are more likely to volunteer and donate to charity.
Not every child is going to find a sport he or she loves. Many children will find that they don’t excel at one or more sports. Sometimes, there is a personality conflict between your child (or you) and the coach. But these things, too, offer teachable moments (as teachers like to call them).
Teaching your son to finish out the season once he discovers that he doesn’t actually like swimming is important. Reminding him that not everyone is good at everything will help him to be forgiving of himself and others. Helping your daughter find the words to respond to a bully will give her the tools to stand up for herself in other situations. Telling your children about how you’ve dealt with an obstinate co-worker or boss will help them navigate difficult interactions in their own lives.
Dr. Jim Taylor, author of Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Child, believes that parents should guide their children to try new things. Many kids would rather stay within their comfort zone (wouldn’t we all?), rather than attempt something they perceive as challenging. Parents need to gently encourage their children to try new things without turning into the caricature of a “pushy” sports parent yelling from the sidelines.
Lisa Endlich Heffernan wrote in the Atlantic that parents ruin sports for their children by focusing too heavily on winning. “It is our job to teach [our kids] that they can only control their own effort, preparation and focus and not the outcome.” As parents, we are responsible for making sure that our children have fun playing sports while learning the life lessons inherent in the game.
Sports can have a lasting impact on a child’s life for years to come, and they are part of a child’s broader education. Help your child identify a sport that she might want to try. He might find a lifelong passion. Then again, he might hate it. Either way, you can help make that experience meaningful for him.
Related Slideshow: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education
On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."
Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.
"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.
Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students. This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."
"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."
"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."
"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula. With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not. Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"
"Issue one is quality. Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code. And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."
"Issue two is equality. In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K. In Pawtucket it's $12.9. What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding. A difference of $3000 per pupil? We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case. An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."
"Issue three is Infrastructure. A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction. If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained. These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."
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