Are sports enough?

We’ve talked quite a bit on the Family Anatomy show about the importance of extracurricular activities. Research shows that participation on teams can have a positive impact on school performance and can increase a student’s feeling of connectedness to their school, reducing the likelihood that they’ll drop out. I often recommend these activities for kids who are having social difficulties because it places them in a supervised setting with clear expectations and rules in a group of kids with a shared interest. A study in the new issue of Developmental Psychology looked at the impact of various extracurriculars on a range of areas: academic performance, self-confidence, social connections, aggression/rule breaking, and caring for others. They found that participation in sports produced more positive results than little or no involvement in activities. Interestingly, sports plus other activities produced the best results.

One of my kids would sign up for everything if we let him. We limit him to two activities – he’s currently in soccer and a martial art, but he’s asked to sign up for swimming, skating, scouts, etc., etc. I’m certain my younger son will follow in his footsteps once he’s six and he’s old enough to sign up for the same things. I’ve noticed that he’s learning to cope with losing, his confidence has improved, and he’s become less shy than he was previously. Even with the time that’s taken up by his activities, he’s still motivated to keep up with his schoolwork and usually doesn’t require much encouragement to do his best work. I know that I’m lucky to have kids who are interested in schoolwork as well as extracurriculars.

When we talked to parent coach Barb Desmarais on the show, we asked about encouraging teens to sign up for activities. She suggested that, although parents couldn’t force their children to sign up for things, they can facilitate participation by arranging drives and removing obstacles to their kids’ participation. At our house, we’ve found it a lot easier when teachers give the week’s homework on Monday so we can schedule homework time around extracurriculars.

How have you encouraged your kids’ involvement in extracurriculars? Do you have suggestions that might help other parents? Leave us a comment.

You can read more about the study here.

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2 Responses to Are sports enough?
  1. Barb Desmarais
    March 16, 2009 | 11:20 am

    Brian, I support extra-curricular activities for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. My daughter took riding lessons for several years and although it involved driving her across the city to make it happen we were happy to support her love of horses and I know for certain it contributed to her sense of confidence. She also danced for several years and that too, helped to give her poise and confidence. Despite all the hours it involved, she always got all her school work done. My son played hockey from Grade 6 – 12. What he learned through being on a team was very, very valuable and it was an area he could shine and be a leader where he couldn’t in the classroom. If a child isn’t academically strong, I’ve always encouraged parents to support their outside interests so they can say things like: “I may not be good at Math, but I’m one of the best soccer players on my team” or “Maybe I only got a C in Science but I’m great at martial arts”. My son also played soccer and soft ball for several years and I know without a doubt, all he learned being on a team during those years and being involved in things he loved, contribute enormously to the confidence and strong sense of self he now possesses at 19.

    If children have been given those experiences in the earlier grades and they decide to discontinue in their teen years, they still have all the benefits they gained in the early years.

    With respect to extra-curricular activities though I think it’s important we set limits as you mentioned in the beginning Brian, because knowing how to spend free, unstructured time is important for us all. That’s a whole other topic.

  2. Cherl Johns
    March 16, 2009 | 4:55 pm

    I have had my kids in sports for the last 3 years. I agree with all the reasons you mentioned as well as the family closeness time. The extra 20 minute car ride to practice has has such great conversations come up. We only allow 1 sport per season due to time restraints and they continually pick football for 2 boys (one now in high school and still on the team) and our daughter does cheerleading. It is a busy but good time for all. our 4 year old will be starting football next year. I think it is a very important part of growing up and learning. This coming from the mom that did no sports/ lessons growing up.