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The Benefits of Youth Sports in Child Development


Winning feels good, but youth sports is about so much more than that, with higher stakes than any football game or soccer match.

Through friendly competition, teamwork, and physical activity, kids have the opportunity to learn new skills, develop self-confidence, build character, and so much more. That’s why the aim of encouraging overall child development through sports supersedes any desire to top the standings. It’s these formative experiences, win or lose, that help shape future generations.

This article offers a high-level overview of the benefits of sports in child development and how they can positively impact physical health, mental and emotional health, academic performance, and social skills.

Exploring the Physical Health Benefits of Youth Sports

When thinking about the benefits of competitive sports and child development, physical health is likely the first thing that comes to mind. Over the last several decades, a major shift towards indoor playtime has coincided with the rise of video games, social media, and other digital technology.

A recent British study found that children now spend twice as much time indoors playing video games as playing outside. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the CDC recently reported a 19.7% childhood obesity rate in the United States. Clearly, the importance of encouraging physical activity in children and adolescents has never been higher.

However, all is not doom and gloom. Statistics on the benefits of youth sports clearly show how much those who participate gain from their experience. In addition to preventing obesity, the National Athletic Trainer’s Association and the government of the state of Victoria in Australia identified a number of other facets of physical well-being that show the positive impact of sports on youth development:

The healthy habits kids develop by playing sports lead to lifelong benefits: According to one long-term study, children who participated in youth sports between the ages of nine to 18 were five to six times more likely to be physically active as adults.

Uncovering the Psychological Benefits of Youth Sports

While the physical health benefits of K–12 athletics have long been known and publicized, there has been greater emphasis in recent years on the psychological benefits of youth sports. With less and less time being spent outdoors, what little exposure there is must do more of the heavy lifting. So, it is of paramount importance that coaches, teachers, and anyone else supervising K–12 athletes know just how much of an impact they have on their players and students.

In the midst of what some have called a “kids’ mental health crisis,” there is strong evidence that participation in sports during developmentally formative years can have a strong positive effect. Some of the psychological benefits of youth sports include:

Additionally, studies have drawn a correlation between participation in youth sports and higher self-esteem and happiness and — for girls in particular — between participation in youth sports and a healthier body image.

The Hidden Link Between Youth Sports and Academic Performance

The correlation between academics and athletics is not always obvious. In fact, some parents view time devoted to athletics as time taken away from academics in their child’s already busy schedule. However, there is evidence to suggest that the opposite is true — that participation in athletics during one’s school years leads to greater success in academics and beyond. This can manifest in the following ways:

The increased levels of attainment that come with child development through sports extend well beyond the classroom and later into life. Research suggests that former student athletes are more productive at work and see as much as 7%–8% higher annual earnings than those who did not participate in youth sports.

Building Bonds Through Youth Sports

Social skills help form the backbone of society by minimizing conflict and helping facilitate interactions between its members. Most people would agree with this. However, there are some who would invariably ask: How do sports help with social skills? Indeed, there are many ways in which fields and courts become the forums where young people learn how to develop these skills and take their first tentative steps toward creating identities.

Being young is to be in a constant state of flux. While much attention must be paid to looking inward, team sports require cooperation with others in order to achieve a mutual goal. This helps the focus become more external in nature, enabling participants to learn the type of bonding and team-building skills that will be necessary throughout their whole lives. High-level communication, collaboration, and evaluative skills incubate and grow during these types of interactions.

Children who participate in youth sports tend to develop stronger peer relationships and have a higher likelihood of participating in civic activities. As parental involvement in youth sports increases, it also creates new opportunities for kids to interact with their parents, which can improve the parent-children relationship.

Participation in K-12 sports can have a significant — and often life-long — positive impact on students. For many children, one of the key distinctions between a positive youth sports experience and a negative one is the support and mentorship of a qualified coach. Coaches not only teach kids the basics and foster a love of sport, but serve as role models, demonstrating leadership, creating inclusive environments, and teaching valuable life lessons.

The University of San Diego’s Division of Professional and Continuing Education (PCE) proudly offers a Coaching Today’s Student-Athlete Certificate that provides the information you need in order to unlock the holistic potential of those in your charge. The lessons learned through this program will empower you to nurture not only great athletes, but exceptional human beings and inspire the next generation.


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