When raising a family, you're faced with a lot of tough decisions.
What kind of encouragement should you give your kids? Are they better off on the debate team or the football team? Extra-curricular activities or spending time with friends? It can be hard to predict what sorts of activities will benefit your kids most, but an abundance of research has found one relatively safe bet: team sports are good for children.
Whether it's soccer or tennis or football, being on a team improves physical fitness and social skills. Indeed, researchers are beginning to see how the benefits of sports impact all aspects of life.
Obviously, there are the physical benefits.
Over the last few years, several studies have focused on rising obesity rates among kids. The surge in childhood obesity correlates with an overall decrease in the amount of physical activity that kids are getting these days. Meanwhile, numerous studies have confirmed that physical activity and sports at an early age reduces the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, depression and osteoporosis.
Students who play team sports do better in school.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, it's true. Multiple factors are thought to contribute to this, like better time management skills and a wider a social circle from which to draw on for academic support. Whatever the reasons, studies have shown that athletes tend to have higher grade-point averages, stronger standardized test scores, better attendance records, and lower dropout rates.
Student athletes are four times more likely to attend to college, according to the Department of Education.
But there's more...
They learn personal discipline.
"Sports are more than a game; they are a set of life lessons," Paul Caccamo, head of Up2Us, a national coalition of community-based sports programs, told the Los Angeles Times. A study from the University of Montreal supports his claim, concluding that "structured extramural sports help kids develop the discipline they need in order to engage effectively in the classroom." That study followed 2,694 children who were born in Quebec between 1997 and 1998 from kindergarten to fourth grade.
"By time they reached the fourth grade, kids who played structured sports were identifiably better at following instructions and remaining focused in the classroom," lead researcher Linda Pagani said.
Youth sports improve social skills.
Several studies have shown that students who participate in extracurricular athletics have better social lives. A study published in Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that athletes were less likely to use drugs, and according to public health researcher Keith Zullig, "there's communication, team building and emotional benefits."
These are all things that bring teens closer to their peers and improve their people skills. A study on 709 public school children in sixth grade revealed that those with the best leadership skills and highest empathy all participated in more than twenty minutes of physical activity a day.
They also boost self esteem.
Perfecting a precision task — like sports, dance and other challenging physical activities — has been found to improve self esteem. One study came to the conclusion that sports create a "fertile ground for adolescent self-esteem development because teams provide opportunities for youth to engage with adults and peers to achieve collective goals."
Youth sports reduce rates of teen pregnancy, juvenile arrests and school drop outs.
Multiple studies have show that activities outside of school, especially sports, help students avoid some of the most potentially harmful activities they can take part in: drugs, unprotected sex and giving up on school. (One study found that an astounding 92 percent of sports participants do not use drugs.)
Career outcomes are better among kids who played sports.
Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, school sports have been shown to drastically improve the career outcomes of future professionals. A survey of individuals "at the level of executive Vice President of 75 Fortune 500 companies," for example, discovered that "95% of them played sports in high school."
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