Sports: Good for the body, good for the mind…

We all know sports are good exercise for children’s bodies. But there are so many other benefits. At camp, in addition to teaching new skills, we talk a lot about teamwork, confidence and being a good sport. Sometimes the most valuable lessons, though, are a little less expected — and they help young athletes develop strengths that will serve them well not just on the playing field but in all aspects of life.

In this great post, blogger Jade Sharp lists “6 reasons to put yourself and your kids in gymnastics.” Among the reasons you might expect — life skills, patience — Sharp lists a surprising benefit: failure. We’ll let her explain in her own words:

“In gymnastics, you fail more than you succeed. In fact, we don’t even see failure as traditional failure. It’s just a necessary part of learning, growth and development. What I mean by that is, you rarely get things right. There is always a component of your training that needs work. You try a new skill, you will most likely not get that skill -1st time or even the 100th time but under the guidance of a supportive gymnastics coach, you persist. You eventually get it. You fail more than you succeed but the failures are the very important and necessary steps to success.”

As parents, we naturally want to protect our children from failure. How much thought and effort do we put into helping prepare our children for success? We want them to succeed in school, in relationships, in life — and it’s tempting to try to insulate them from failure as much as possible. But in protecting them from getting things wrong, we may be doing them a disservice. Part of the process of learning is making mistakes.

In one of our favorite books, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, author Wendy Mogel talks about the importance of encouraging children to stretch themselves even when we know that means they will sometimes fall short:

“If they don’t have the chance to be bad, they can’t choose to be good. If they don’t have the chance to fail, they can’t learn. And if they aren’t allowed to face scary situations, they’ll grow up to be frightened of life’s simplest challenges.”

But when they are allowed to try, and fail, and try again, the result is confidence. As Jade Sharp puts it: “Children feel a sense of achievement as they overcome the challenge of learning new physical skills and movements that they once feared and thought of as impossible.” And one of the great things about summer camp is that it’s a safe place to try and fail — not only physically safe, but emotionally safe as well, as campers are surrounded by supportive coaches, bunkmates and counselors who encourage them to get back up and learn from each and every attempt.

Another surprising benefit of exercise? Brain development! According to the New York Times, studies have found a correlation between “children’s aerobic fitness and their brain structure, with areas of the brain devoted to thinking and learning being generally larger among youngsters who are more fit.” Even children who are overweight or out-of-shape have performed better when they go for a walk before an academic test. And in a recent Illinois study, children who participated in an after-school sports program showed “substantial improvements” in cognitive tests — evidence that there are long-term intellectual benefits to physical activity.

What are some of the unexpected benefits your daughter has enjoyed by participating in her favorite sports?

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