Life Lessons Kids Can Learn From Sports

Use the lessons sports teach to guide your kids in the biggest challenge of all.

For children to become responsible adults, how you act after the game determines whether your kids truly win or lose. "Letting kids participate in sports gives them the opportunity to learn many valuable lessons," says Rick Wolff, cofounder and chairman of the Center for Sports Parenting. "However, it's up to parents to help their children apply what they learn from sports to other areas of their lives." For advice on incorporating lessons learned from sports into everyday life - click on the following slides.

Never Underestimate the Strength of Teamwork. "Sports provide an opportunity for kids to learn to take turns, set goals as a team, and cooperate with other children to achieve those goals," says Sharon Bergen, senior vice president of education and training at KinderCare Learning Centers. "It's this kind of emotional and social development that can easily carry over to how well your children work with their teachers, classmates, relatives, and anyone else they may encounter in life."

Bringing it home: Look for ways to encourage teamwork within everyday family life. Rather than focus on your children's individual tasks (cleaning their room), focus on the main goal (a clean house), then explain the part that each family member will play toward reaching that goal.

Everyone has something to offer. In team sports, it's rare that a star can perform every task well. For example, one child may bat well, another catch, another run the bases fast. Some kids may be more developed cognitively and understand the sport's strategy, while others may be more adept socially and instinctively know how to motivate other kids to play their best.

Bringing it home: "The next time your child makes a remark about someone's differences or weaknesses, immediately point out that person's strengths," says Bergen. If your child feels frustrated by her own shortcomings, remind her of the skills that come more naturally to her.

Practice makes perfect. Through sports, kids can see the results that come from repeating certain skills in order to perfect them. "They develop a more positive self image through personal achievement and learn that if they spend enough time on a task, they will eventually become better at it," says Wolff. "With the right guidance, that valuable lesson can carry over into almost everything they may want to achieve in life."

Bringing it home: Great coaches have cultivated the ability to link practice to a clear and specific goal. "The key is to explain to a kid why he is practicing, what he's getting better at, and how that skill will help him achieve a specific goal," says Bergen.

Feedback doesn't mean failure. Good coaches know how to offer constructive feedback in an uplifting way. This can make kids more respectful and receptive when taking advice from others, even their parents.

Bringing it home: "Skip the post-game analysis," says Wolff. "Immediately going over all their mistakes only tunes kids out and can lead to resentment." Regardless of how well she performed, always praise your child for her effort and for the things she did right. "Offering compliments that are too general, such as 'you did great today,' isn't practical because it doesn't point to anything specific that kids can understand," says Wolff. Once kids start talking about the errors they made, always keep the conversation positive. Acknowledge their failure by saying ┬┐It's OK to be upset. You did your best and I'm proud of you."

Guide, but abide. You think you know exactly what activity your child would excel at -- and you might be right -- but don't let him feel railroaded. "Even if your child's size, shape, or skills make him ideal for a specific sport or activity, explore a variety with him so he can see his options," says Wolff. Ultimately, let him make the final decision and do your best to support his choice.

Bringing it home: Children learn best from sports that fit their personalities and talents -- and from having your support all through the process. "Knowing that you accept them -- regardless of how well they perform -- will give your kids all the confidence they need to succeed far beyond the playing field," says Wolff.