The Benefits of Sport 1: Mental and Physical Training

Our city has the pleasure of hosting a National sporting event. We are not usually a sport watching family, we would rather being playing. However, for certain events like the Olympics or National games, we become sport watching fanatics!! It has had me thinking about the benefit of sport and what our family’s experience has been with it.

When our kids were small, we couldn’t keep them still. I know this is common in many homes. They would discover a loop in the design of our home and run laps. They would run and run and run. They would run for the simple joy of it.  My living room was a gymnasium, they were always setting up obstacle courses.

My goal was to have them nodding sleepily at the dinner table. Between our family recreation and sports, I maybe accomplished it a handful of times.  They were tireless! We started with swim lessons and gymnastics. Our kids had an affinity for movement and enjoyed it. We became a little gun shy of the opportunities for higher level competition after our daughter had been asked to try competitive gymnastics. She was excited to give it a try. She loved it, we couldn’t keep her feet on the ground.  Training for 4 hours soon became 6 hours, which quickly turned to 9 hours.  All of a sudden there was only eating, sleeping and sport for an 8 year old.  Her brothers were missing her.  So were we. In the end, we asked her if she was ready to try something else.  We were so glad she was!

We continued to let their interests drive what sport they tried until they found one they fell in love with.  For our older two that is volleyball. For our youngest, he is still searching.

Sport has been valuable for many reasons. I grew up with music and know the benefits of that training. I grew up doing sport as family recreation. Competitive sport has been an experiment for me and I see value in it for numerous reasons. It has taught our children many important mental and physical skills.

1. It has given them confidence in their bodies. Our kids know what they are physically capable of. They are body aware. From the time they were small, we encouraged them to explore  movement. They know how their bodies work and have had the chance to challenge themselves in a number of different ways, with a number of different skills. In Karate they had to learn to take hard hits. They know how to now, and they know how to work through pain.  They know they are tough because they have had to be tough. They know what a hard punch and kick feels like. They are not afraid. They know they are strong. That physical confidence gives them an inner confidence.

2. They know their limits.  Gymnastics and Karate specifically trained them to know that even if their muscles want to quit, their mind is what controls how far they can go physically. They can train to the point of nausea and they know it wont hurt them.  In Karate, it was a purposeful exercise in mental discipline.  If your mind wants it, your body will do it; some call it heart.  This has benefited them in numerous ways. Coaches comment on how hard they work.  Our kids have learned they only cheat themselves if they slack off, and are not afraid to push themselves.

3. They have the courage to try new things. Since they have confidence and know their limits, they have the courage to take a risk. It is great that they will try new things and honestly, it was one of our goals in introducing them to sport in the first place. Trying new activities is a great way to meet new people and discover new passions.

4. They know that they can only play their best when they are relaxed and carefree.  This is a huge mental battle and easier for some athletes than it is for others. They have learned techniques and tricks to try to get on top of their mental game.  They know it isn’t enough to be physically capable, but that being mentally capable is critical to being the best athlete they can be.  This discipline is difficult. Maybe the most difficult. They are young and to know it already is a big step. This helps them train their thoughts. It keeps them focused on keeping their sport fun. It is essential in helping them reach their potential as an athlete. This skill separates good athletes from great athletes.

5. Our kids know there are many talented athletes. They know that to be their best, they cannot ride on skill alone. Additional commitment to proper nutrition and over all fitness helps them be the best athlete they can be. They know there are committed players who deserve a chance and are working hard to get it. If our kids want that chance, they know they have to fight for it. If they have that chance, they know they need to keep working hard and fight to keep it. Sport has taught them that work ethic is valuable and important.

6. It has given them an appreciation for fitness. Knowing how their body responds physically when they are fit has developed a commitment to staying fit.  This was our biggest goal in introducing our kids to sport. We want our kids to have a love of movement and a commitment to health for their lifetime.
They have already demonstrated that they value a healthy body. They have all shown discipline in fitness during their off seasons. This has been exciting for us to see.

I recognize value in all of these skills. We love sport for what it has taught our kids. It has been worth the investment of time, money, sweat and tears. I believe these lessons have prepared them in beneficial ways for their futures. For us, sport was about finding something they loved to play at. If it was fun, they were the one pushing to participate in it. We wanted physical challenge and skill development for them. Sport was a chance for our children to develop their personal athletic potential.
The mental and physical training and benefits have been interesting for me to evaluate along the way. I would encourage families to encourage their kids to explore sport. I would also encourage keeping expectations and outcomes realistic, kid driven and healthy for their life times.

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