In one of my recent newspaper columns, I addressed one of the challenges with youth sports in the United States. Studies estimate that roughly 70 percent of kids stop playing sports by age 13. Since I believe there are many reasons sports are important for kids, I suggested we should consider adopting a youth sports system similar to Norway’s, where they don’t keep score and where the kids play different sports each season until much later than is typical here.
I received a number of comments, both positive and negative, about the idea. I think many people assume I have issues with our system because I want to scare parents away from letting their children play so they won’t get hurt. And while injuries, and overuse injuries especially, are a concern, my larger concern is that I want a system that encourages more kids to play sports and to keep playing sports into adulthood.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness just released a new policy statement which examines organized sports for children, preadolescents, and adolescents. Much of the statement focuses on the numerous benefits of sports, many of which might surprise many parents.
Here are fifteen reasons sports are important for kids:
- Young athletes tend to do better academically. Playing sports has been associated with better math performance and well as improvements in verbal and reasoning skills.
- Athletes use their free time more efficiently than other adolescents, as they are more problem focused and goal oriented. They also spend more time on homework.
- A higher percentage of high school athletes go on to college compared to students who don’t play sports.
- Compared to their non-athletic classmates, high school athletes demonstrate greater leadership ability.
- Young athletes report better relations with their parents and peers than those who don’t play sports.
- Kids who play sports have better social skills, and those skills appear to persist into adulthood.
- Sports bring children from different social, ethnic and financial backgrounds together, possibly leading to better social adjustment and less social anxiety.
Mental health and emotional benefits
- Athletes have lower rates of depression and higher rates of self-confidence.
- Adolescents who play team sports are less likely to contemplate suicide or attempt suicide.
- Playing sports has a positive effect on young athletes’ self-esteem and their satisfaction with their physical appearance and body image.
Obesity and physical activity benefits
- Playing sports at a young age increases the chance that those athletes will lead an active lifestyle as adults.
- Among elementary and middle school students, those who play sports are less likely to be overweight or obese. They tend to eat healthier diets and drink less soda.
Substance abuse and sexual activity benefits
- Teenage athletes have lower rates of substance use, outside of alcohol. They are less likely to smoke cigarettes and marijuana, or use cocaine and other illegal drugs.
- Both young male and female athletes more likely use condoms during sexual encounters, and female athletes are less likely to engage in sexual behavior overall.
Overall quality of life benefit
- Children and adolescents who play sports have a higher health-related quality of life overall.
These fifteen reasons sports are important for children and adolescents don’t even include the physical improvements. When you hear calls to make youth sports safer, remember the overarching goal is to keep kids safe and healthy enough to play them.
Note: A modified version of this article appears as my sports medicine column in the June 6, 2019 issue of The Post and Courier.
Organized Sports for Children, Preadolescents, and Adolescents. Logan K, Cuff S; COUNCIL ON SPORTS MEDICINE AND FITNESS. Pediatrics. May 20, 2019.