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3 Big Values Your Kids Will Benefit from in Sports

  • Margot Starbuck and David King
  • Updated Apr 04, 2016
3 Big Values Your Kids Will Benefit from in Sports

Worthy Values that Can Be Developed in Youth Sports

Given the choice between our kids playing youth sports and countless mindless hours of video games, sports feels like a big win for parents. But when parents and coaches are cursing out referees and our kids are missing church and family events every weekend to attend travel leagues, we have to wonder whether competitive youth sports are instilling the values we'd hoped they would.

If we agree that parents can’t assume that the values they hold will be reinforced in youth sports—priorities like community, church involvement, emotional health, family time, and diversity—we might also agree that there are important values that youth sports candevelop in children. Let’s look at three fundamental ones:


Sports also have the potential to develop socialization in children. Something great happens when children learn how to play with other children. It happens in backyards and on playgrounds, and it can also happen in organized sports. Kids benefit from the opportunity to relate to a variety of personalities as they develop their own. They also have a unique opportunity to discover how to be themselves within the construct of a group. Sports can connect them with a diverse spectrum of people.

We also applaud the development of a type of league known as “Buddy Ball,” in which children with physical and mental challenges are paired with peers who help them play ball. At the same time, the kids with special needs often end up instructing their able-bodied “buddies” in valuable lessons of sports and life, such as how to have fun, deal with hardship, contribute to a team, and prioritize friendship over winning and losing.

Sports provide rich opportunities for kids and families to embrace relationship with others.


Third, sports are an opportunity for children to learn about commitment. In sports, children learn that practicing is how they’ll improve. They discover what it takes to reach a goal. They discover not only what they have to do to become better players themselves but also what they need to do to help the team reach its goal. Sports can develop the deep value of commitment as children learn to sacrifice self for others.

We hear a lot of families tell their children who want to quit a sport, “If you started it, you finish it!” Even if we may be reluctant to admit it, our insistence is often driven by the fact that we paid for it! (Case in point: we don’t get that hot under the collar when our teen’s commitment to French Club begins to wane.) But sports really do provide an opportunity to develop commitment, particularly as you help your child understand what it means to be committed to a team and not just himself or herself. You help your child begin to ask, “What does it take for us to reach our goal?” And while she doesn’t have control over anyone but herself, she can ask, “What do I have to do to be the best I can be to help our team reach its goal?”

My (Margot’s) son Rollie has a friend named Omar, who was captain of the middle school soccer team. After Omar injured his foot one day during lunch hour, the team was without one of its most-skilled players for the last three games of the season. But Omar was cheering the team on from the bench, wearing a boot brace on his foot.

I expected that kind of participation and support from Omar, who is a wonderful young man. But I was more surprised to see Omar’s family continuing to show up for games! His brother, dad, and grandfather remained loyal to the team even when they knew that Omar would never make it off the bench. This commitment signaled a great show of support for the team. But in a more subtle way, it also communicated to Omar that their relationship with him is not performance based. It allowed him to see that his family’s commitment is to something larger than Omar.


Finally, you can help your child understand that sports are an opportunity to be intentional about developing his or her character. On the field, on the court, in the gym, on the ice—there are countless opportunities for your child to make small decisions that will build or diminish his or her character. Too often we forget, or maybe never even realize, that that’s why we play the games. It really isn’t about the score, satisfying adult egos, determining which town is “better,” or impressing any college coaches who come to watch. The reason we play is to provide everyone—players, coaches, and spectators—with opportunities to learn about themselves, others, and God.

Imagine that your daughter Courtney is playing soccer and finds herself with the ball in a breakaway situation. It’s just her and the goalie, with her teammate Maria on her left. She knows what the coach has always said to do in this type of a two-on-one situation: “Keep the ball until the goalkeeper comes toward you, then pass it to your teammate for the easy score.” While Courtney understands that, she has never scored a goal. And besides, Maria is always bragging about herself. So Courtney is facing a real dilemma.

All of these thoughts likely go through kids’ minds in these situations. What a great opportunity you as a parent have, after the game, to help Courtney process this and learn a lot about herself. Depending how you help your child navigate and understand his or her experience, sports have the potential to help shape your child. Athletics also provide an opportunity for parents to reflect for their children what characteristics they are recognizing in a child. When my (Margot’s) son Abhi was playing soccer at seven years old, bravely weaving through boys twice his size, a mom next to me marveled, “He’s fearless!” The word resonated deeply with what I knew to be true of my son. Six years later, another mom on the bench used the exact same word while watching Abhi play! These were opportunities for me to communicate to my son, “This is one of the neat qualities I see in you, and here are some others I’ve seen you display on the field.” I shared with Abhi the ways I saw him being his very best self when playing soccer.

book[Editor’s Note: Reprinted from Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports by David King and Margot Starbuck. ©2016 by Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Va. Used with permission.]

David King is director of athletics at Eastern Mennonite University. He has taught and coached at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Margot Starbuck is the award-winning author of six books. She is a widely sought-after speaker and columnist at Today’s Christian Woman.

Publication date: April 4, 2016