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Let me tell you a little about my weekend and why I think competitive sports teach kids values. I have three kids in very competitive sports.  Long story, short, it was busy! (Some of you know exactly how this story goes.) Madeline practices gymnastics until 730 Friday nights.  Weston played in a baseball tournament.  First game, Friday night. (Luckily they won up until the championship so he only had to play 5 games.  Not bad for baseball.)  Maizy had a two day, 4 event per day swim meet.  How do we do it?  We don’t have any family locally to help us.  Like the Beatles said, we get by with a little help from our friends.  And, planning. And, carpools.  Thank goodness for the carpools!!

Often, on Monday’s I’ll talk to my dad on the phone and he will ask how our weekend was.  I give him a version of the above with some highlights about Maizy getting first in her heat after coming from behind.  Or, how Weston threw a kid out that was trying to steal to second base while he was playing catcher.  He usually responds with disbelief and a tinge of disapproval because he feels our kids are too involved in sports.  That they practice too much.  He hints that maybe we are pushing them.

I don’t think we are.  Actually, that isn’t true.  We are pushing them.  Not to excel at sports or to value sports above education but pushing them to do better.  Be better.  Work hard.  Be tough.  Not one of these values is sports exclusive.  But, they are important values kids can learn through competitive sports.
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Plus, physical activity is healthy. It’s good for them. It’s proven to have not just physical but also (and equally important) mental health benefits. When our kids first chose an activity, we just asked that they do something physical. They could choose something else, too, like music or Girl Scouts, but we wanted them to develop a habit of being physically active.  The habit of being active, like the values listed below, will stay with them through adulthood.

They take care of responsibilities even when they are tired. 

I know that when my kids got up this morning, they were tired.  Weston didn’t have practice today but after school Maizy had to go with the carpool to swim.  She won’t get home until about 8:00 which leaves just about enough time for a shower and dinner and a little chit chat about her day.  Did she really want to skip swim since she spent both days of the weekend swimming?  Probably, but she didn’t.

She has learned through competitive sports that sometimes you don’t want to go but it’s important that you get up and go anyway.  I know as a mom, I feel the same way some Mondays. (And maybe Tuesday’s…)  No one wants to get up, make breakfast, do dishes, do laundry, iron….(Do other people iron? I still iron.  Is that weird?  What year is it, 1950?) But, we do it.  We get up and take care of our responsibilities.  That’s what you do!

They know about time management.

Okay, maybe they don’t KNOW yet, but they are learning.  They are practicing the important skill of time management on a daily basis.  Madeline is a competitive gymnast.  She is in 7th grade and does 19 hours of gymnastics a week at a gym that is about 40 minutes from our house.  Most days she leaves at 7 for school and doesn’t get home until 8:45 at night.  She gets more homework than our other kids but she uses her time wisely at school to get it finished.  If she knows she has an assignment due during the week, she uses the weekend and has it done by Monday and ready to turn in.  She knows she has very little extra time during the week so she takes care of things when she does have free time.


They understand that others rely on them and that they are accountable. 

Weston has nine players on his competitive baseball team.  At the level he plays, you have nine boys on the field.  His coach tries to pick up a tenth kid to play for most tournaments, but sometimes he isn’t able to find anyone.  For Weston, that means your team needs you.  People are counting on you. If you aren’t there, you are letting people down.  Now as I put it on paper (or computer), it sounds harsh but I think it’s a great and very important lesson for kids.  Other people will have to work harder if you aren’t there.  You don’t get to pick and choose, you have committed.

They understand importance to detail.  

This is two-fold.  First, uniforms.  Maizy has a special team suit.  Madeline has a competition leotard and warm up and must have her hair in a specific style.  (Before gymnastics meets, it’s a little bit like Dance Moms at our house.  Hairspray, gel, comb, spray bottle of water, 7 hair bands… I really earn my paycheck on those days!)  Weston has multiple baseball uniforms. He has to know what the team is wearing down to the correct hat, belt and socks.  A few of the teams the kids have been on in the past didn’t make that a priority. It drove Kevin crazy.  As a former Marine, he knows that looking like a team helps you BE a team. Looking good helps you feel good.  Feeling good helps you be good.  These details are important.

Second, knowing what you need and having it.  Goggles, swim cap, grips, catcher gear, 2 gloves, helmet, bat, batting gloves, water, etc.  It doesn’t matter what competitive sport your kids are involved in.  They need the right gear. When you are an adult there are a lot of things to remember.  Purse, keys, wallet, cell phone, briefcase.  It’s a long list.  Paying attention to the details now is important.  It will help them remember all the important things as they get older.

They are learning to deal with stress.

It’s stressful to be at bat.  Stressful to stand up on a swimming platform.  Extremely stressful to do a back handspring on a 4 inch beam at a State meet.  Sports, especially at competitive levels, are stressful.  Being a goalie is stressful.  Shooting a free throw is stressful.  Being a quarterback is stressful.  But, kids will learn to manage that stress if they can practice it.  They’ll learn important coping mechanisms, breathing techniques, visualization, etc.  All of these things that will help them later in life no matter what they choose to do.  Presentations at school. Managing the course load for college.  First job interview.  We all know how stressful life is and it never hurts for kids to have a little extra practice handling tough or stressful situations when they are young and the stakes aren’t as high as they may be as an adult.

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They are learning lessons

While competitive sports are the way our children are learning these important lessons, I don’t think they are the only avenue.  I feel like a lot of these lessons can be picked up through activities like dancing, music, boy scouts, etc.  As long as kids are doing something that makes them be responsible and accountable.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes, I do get frustrated.  There isn’t much free time on the weekends.  Sometimes, I just want to sleep late.  Lay in bed!  Watch movies all day.  I don’t want to drive them anywhere. Sometimes, I wonder if they’ll regret all the time they spent practicing and competing. But, it is, so far what is best for our family.

  

They have had to do hard things in sports.  Play sick, in the heat, in the cold, injured. Practice tired. Lose. Suffer perceived unfair calls or scores.  FAIL.  But, they know they can survive doing these hard things.  KNOW they can, because they have done it.  And, I know that the lessons they are learning will follow them through their entire lives.  They are becoming better human beings. Everyday.  As they work hard doing something they love.


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