Wednesday September 23 2020
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Do Non-Athletes Miss Out?

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Well, that depends on who you ask. Some people say yes, while others say no. And a few say it depends. KidSPORTS Magazine talked to parents, coaches, teachers and other experts about the issue.

Those who say non-athletes miss out
Tim O’Brien, a parent from Pittsburgh, said the benefits of sports participation are so many that kids who don’t do some sort of sport activity miss out.  “Sports require hard work, practice, discipline and dedication. They force kids to learn how to deal with and try to overcome obstacles and challenges,” he said.

What’s more, O’Brien said kids learn how to focus and become goal-oriented. “They bring these lessons learned into the classroom at school and onto the job when they graduate from school,” he added.

According to Lisa Cohn, co-founder of The Ultimate Sports Parent, non-athletes miss out on the social, physical and emotional benefits of playing sports. “They miss the teamwork and the exercise. Often, sports are a great way for kids to feel as if they belong. Sometimes, sadly, kids who don’t play sports get left out of social groups,” she said.

Thomas Bunchman, founder of the national franchise JumpBunch Children’s Fitness, said, “Playing sports offers a variety of benefits unparalled by other youth activities.” Moreover, Bunchman said the obesity rate in children has tripled during the last 30 years. He cited childhood fitness studies that show the earlier kids get involved with physical exercise, the better.

Diane K. Danielson, co-author of Table Talk: The Savvy Girl’s Alternative to Networking, has found that non-athletes lose out in business in a number of ways. She said athletes learn resilience and how to be team players. What’s more, Danielson said, “Athletes learn early that the best team doesn’t always win, or that you can blow the big game, and that you have to come back the next day and play.” Plus, for those who have never been on a team, Danielson said it might be hard to adjust to working in groups later in life.

The Naysayers
Lisa Earle McLeod’s kids gave up on team sports by the time they reached third grade. This mom from Atlanta said, “After years of worrying that their lack of participation in sports would turn them into lazy non-goal oriented couch potatoes, I’ve finally realized they are having much fuller lives without spending their afternoons at batting practice.” Since then, her two kids have made a movie, attended drama camp and wrote essays that were published. “They are loving life without having to spend their weekends being driven from one game to the next,” she added.

Bob Purifico, president of Destination ImagiNation, Inc., said all the benefits kids get from participating in team sports and competition can be met in year-long Destination ImagiNation team challenges. This non-profit organization provides creativity, teamwork and problem-solving opportunities to kids and teens. He said, “The team participation, whether it’s on a debate team, a Destination ImagiNation team, a football team or a team raising cattle for a 4H competition, is one that creates leadership, collaboration and mutual self-respect for all of the participants equally. We don’t believe that those skills garnered through sports are any better or more valuable than those gained by participating in Destination ImagiNation. We are proud to be one of the many organizations building teams and esteem for kids today.”

Dr. Richard Lustberg, a New York-certified school psychologist, doesn’t believe non-athletes miss out either. In an article he co-authored on the hypocrisy of youth sports, he explained, “We want our youth sport community to be fair, just and equitable. We want all of our children to get equal playing time, and a chance to excel…The problem, however, is that psychologically, sociologically and developmentally this is not what is really happening.”

Lustberg described a T-ball field full of young children whose parents and coaches are screaming at the kids to perform better. He said, “We need to prepare our children for this world. We need to teach them to accept who and what they are. As it stands, we do not accept losing in any arena of life. If we do, we investigate why we lost and fix it, so next time we will win, or metaphorically at least, die trying.”

The bottom line, according to Lustberg, is that parents need to understand their children because parents remain the greatest influence on their children’s development in the early years. “There are some children who can be put in highly competitive situations, not perform well -- either by not playing or making mistake's and be fine with it. However, there are other children who cannot thrive in these situations. They must be taught how to cope or find other arenas to compete in. And many parents don’t want to accept it, but that arena might not be on an organized playing field,” he added.

It depends
Bill Shay, men’s basketball coach at the Community College of Allegheny County’s Allegheny Campus (CCAC), said the net result of youth sports can be positive or negative. “There’s a potential for worthwhile physical, social and emotional well-being, but it depends on the value structure of those involved.”

His colleague, CCAC Athletic Director Frank Kaufman, agreed, saying intercollegiate athletics aren’t for everyone: “For those who participate, it could be a very meaningful part of their life. For those who choose not to participate, they can find other areas of interest and never miss the athletic experience.”

Nancy Kelleher, a mother of three from Brookline, Mass., said youth sports can be great fun, but parents and coaches sometimes ruin the experience for the kids. “If a kid is not very good at team sports, he’s probably better off finding something else, because other kids and many parents and coaches will make it clear he doesn’t make the grade,” she continued. Kelleher recommends individual pursuits for individuals who don’t excel at team sports, such as running, skating and golf.

The benefits of physical activity
Regardless of one’s position on the question posed above, the benefits of physical activity are many. The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research cites improved fitness, coordination, weight control and a reduced risk of health problems, such as heart disease, later in life.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that youth get regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight, reduce blood pressure, raise HDL (i.e., good) cholesterol, reduce the risk of diabetes and improve their self-confidence. In addition, exercise helps children build strong bones and muscles, helps them sleep better at night and feel more energized during the day.

Sara Neal, a teenager from Stowe Township, joined the Kennedy Township Curves, a fitness franchise for women that offers a 30-minute workout. She finds it fun to work out at Curves, has lost weight as a result and feels better overall. While most Curves members are adult females, Neal said, “The members really welcome me. I would recommend Curves to other teens because I feel like a brand new me.” For Sara, it’s a family affair, since both her aunt and mother work out at Curves as well.

Finally, a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reports that junior high and high school teens who participated in recreational sports on a consistent basis had better eating habits than their non-fitness minded friends.

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