Healthy Kids as a Team

From Marines raising the flag at Mt. Suribachi to pick-up games of football in the backyard, teamwork is everywhere! Children learn from a young age the importance of working well with others. Team sports give children the benefit of practicing valuable teamwork skills while developing healthy habits to last a lifetime.

Team sports offer children several benefits, both physical and psychological, that will stay with them as they reach adulthood. The physical benefits include weight loss and/or maintaining a healthy weight, increased muscle tone and fitness, and the instillation of habits that will help keep the body healthy for years to come. The numerous psychological benefits of team sports include:

• Establishing confidence and promoting strong self-esteem

• Learning cooperation and leadership

• Using problem-solving skills

• Developing tolerance and acceptance for diversity

• Appreciating fair play

• Gaining a healthy sense of competition, which motivates children to do their best

• Most importantly, making new friends and having fun while exercising.

Even though all team sports provide similar benefits, not all sports are created equal. It is vital to find the sport that is most appropriate based on a child’s age and individual interests. Younger children may find sports like t-ball, wiffleball, gymnastics, swimming, karate and kickball better for their size and ability level. Running, tennis, football, baseball and soccer will be a better match for older children. Parents should avoid placing children on teams in sports above their physical level or depth of understanding.

Another consideration for parents is to decide with their child what kind of team sport is most beneficial for them. Sports like swimming, running and dance allow children to use their individual skills in a team atmosphere, whereas sports like basketball, lacrosse and field hockey require a higher level of on-the-field collaboration. This decision should be based on the child’s personal drive and level of desire for individual merit.

As children and parents explore the many options available for team sports, encourage children to learn more about them by reading books, talking to an older, more experienced player or enrolling in a camp or summer program to learn the basics of a particular new sport.

Once a parent has found the best sport for their child, they must explore the wide variety of league associations to determine the best fit for the child. According to an online parenting website, parents should look for leagues that foster skill development over winning. Gary Gutshall, Head of Parks and Recreation at Marine Corps Base Quantico recommends, “Look for a fun, fair situation, that supports and encourages ALL team members. Fun is often the most neglected aspect of team sports.” Parents should find a league that:

• Aims to keep kids actively engaged in the team

• Values diversity and a variety of skill levels

• Seeks to benefit the child, not the parents or the organization

• Promotes practice of new skills and continuous challenges

• Teaches the ethics of sports, not just the rules

Once a child is involved in team sports, parents can support their child in many ways:

• Make practice time, family time- run together, work on pitching at the local park, swim as a family at the community pool.

• Attend as many games as possible and practices with the team coach’s approval.

• Be sure to ask children first how they played, not who won in order to foster a healthy sense of competition while reminding children what is most important- fun.

• Praise children for mastering even the smallest skills to boost their confidence.

Both parents and children should remind themselves the most important part of being on a sports team is for fun, fitness and new experiences. According to a  study to determine what motivates 10 to 18 year olds to participate in sports, the top response was for fun, followed by improving skills and staying in shape. Winning was at the bottom of the list at number ten.

Getting children involved with team sports allows them to learn necessary teamwork skills in an active, fun environment. With thought and careful selection, parents can use sports to cultivate in children healthy habits and the ability to work with others-a skill certain to contribute to ongoing success throughout their lives.

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run to be held on Sunday, October 30, 2005. Online registration is now open. The one-mile run welcomes children ages 6-13. Visit . Beth Cline is the Public Relations Coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon. No federal or Marine Corps endorsement implied.


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