Why Sports Matter

June 29th, 2011 | By Marjie No Comments

A very successful coach friend of mine says, “It’s not about the win. It’s about how a person or team gets to the W. If you’re doing all the right things leading up to the game itself, the win will be there.”

As a competitive athlete (back in my day), I know exactly what he means by that. Winning is fun, and it’s a powerful incentive to anyone with a competitive streak. But think about it. Actual competition comprises just a tiny percentage of the time and energy expended on sports. Practices, conditioning, strength and agility workouts, team-building activities … those are where the real commitment lies.

So why exactly do sports matter? If only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of athletes end up pursuing sports as a profession, why do they matter in our schools, recreation departments and colleges?

“Sports are very assessable when young people strive to get the physical activity they need and want,” states Bryan McCullick, Ph.D., professor and coordinator of the physical education teacher education program at the University of Georgia. “They certainly add an element of fun, especially at the college level, while students are here studying and testing and writing papers. This is something that helps with stress and keeps their minds alive.  It’s also an outlet for socializing, but also through movement we learn, and it’s important for sustaining the physical being.”
An Athens resident whose children both participate in extracurricular sports adds, “Participation in sports helps kids burn off energy and develop physically. We found that at the same time sports were helping our children stay fit and act, they also contributed to their ability to master self-discipline, as well as the ability to follow rules and structure.  The combined result is that our kids have been more focused and better behaved in class.”

Jamie Collinsworth, teacher at Comer Elementary School, says, “I can tell a big difference in the personality and self-esteem of students that play organized sports.  They are more confident and outgoing.  They love to come in and tell me about their practice or how excited they are about their next game.  It gives them a sense of pride and a group that they can belong to.” 
Many parents, siblings, grandparents and other extended family members also see a benefit from youth in sports. As McCullick states, “It’s a connection to my father and grandfather. They introduced me to sports … to playing, watching and learning sports.  It’s a link to my family but also an outlet for physical activity and keeping fit.”
While some school systems are limiting growth or even cutting back in the area of intra- and interscholastic sports, others are doing the opposite, with tangible positive results in the areas of student involvement, reported satisfaction and even test scores. Unfortunately, in these days of intense economic scrutiny and occasionally sweeping budget cuts, athletics – along with other perceived ‘extras’ such as fine arts and after-school programs – can be at risk despite their proven benefits. The bottom line is, well, the bottom line.

From the parent’s perspective, though, the bottom line is the health and well-being of one’s children. Jon Ward looks at why sports matter as athletic director and coach at Clarke Central High School as well as a father of three young boys. 

Says Ward, “I am glad our kids have chosen to be a part of sports.  I feel that sports are a tool for developing in young people a work ethic, self-discipline, and team work. Just as important, though, sports help youth understand the importance of working for the greater good in the world and becoming part  of a community.” Ward continues, “As a coach, sometimes you deal with parents who don’t see the value of learning and exceling in sports to further their kids’ opportunities in life unless they see a chance for scholarships and opportunities to play professionally and really change their life paths. But as human beings we are wired to compete – it brings out the best in us.  Our inner being is happier when we compete.”

The overwhelming, consistent message from all those we interviewed for this article revealed a complete lack of interest and focus on ‘the win.’ Clearly, sports aren’t about winning to the experts in our schools. Sports, arts and sciences all play their own roles in developing globally-aware, healthy citizens. When these areas are enriched at the K-12 levels, our children and youth come out with a W in life as well as in school.

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