Invaluable benefits to team sports?
September 26, 2016 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Are there any amazing benefits to my child playing in team sports? And if so, where can he learn these without playing team sports?

My boy played soccer this past summer and didn't like it. He didn't abhor it, but he expressed it many times that he didn't like playing it. Long story short, he doesn't equate the participation of organized sports activities to playing (he prefers imagination-type games, like Zombies, where you run around trying to avoid zombies catching you).

I am totally fine with this, and am very happy that he stuck with it as long as he did.
He'll still go to practice if we ask him, and will enthusiastically do the drills, but he's not 100% loving the experience.

While contemplating whether to pull him out, I wondered if there are any benefits to having him do an activity he doesn't absolutely love (but doesn't absolutely hate).

I can think of some potential reasons, but I can also think of alternatives that he would enjoy better. For example, by sticking with soccer:
- He'll learn to put up with tasks that he doesn't absolutely love (alternative: homework!)
- He'll learn to be patient as he disciplines and trains his body to perfect a specific skill (alternative: art classes)
- He'll be exposed to "coaching", which isn't like teaching in school (alternative: art classes, maybe?)
- He'll be exposed to other people who have different interests than him (alternative: ?)

Is there an irreplaceable benefit that only team sports has?

FWIW, "individual" activities, such as swimming and martial arts are not interesting to him either.

Again, I have no problem pulling him out, and if I do, I'm not worried about him not getting enough exercise, because he's pretty active and we'll find other things to do.

But I just don't want him to miss out on an amazing growth opportunity because he's slightly annoyed right now!

posted by bitteroldman to Human Relations (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
One of the main benefits of team sports is that others depend on you.
posted by 4th number at 1:24 PM on September 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

Making friends and interacting with other adults on his own. Learning to work within the rules and still have fun. Learning to be a good loser. Learning the difference between pretend and real, his world and other people's worlds. Learning to shut up and listen every once in a while so he can learn something new (all kids need this!). Coordination and discipline and an enjoyment of exercise. The beginning of teamwork, although this is vastly overstated imho. He might just be too young for team sports. Most kids aren't really interested in the sport itself or good at "teamwork" till they're pretty old, they just like the fun parts or the snacks or their friends or getting away from their parents and siblings for a while. There is an incredible amount of whining involved in the younger groups even on a good day and I think most parents expect too much and the kids would be better off playing much less often for shorter periods of time than parents want [/coach]
posted by fshgrl at 1:29 PM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Some questions:

* how old is he?
* was this his first team experience?
* what specifically didn't he like?
* does he not enjoy soccer in general?

You note a lot of good reasons to stick with it, but I'm thinking that if he just doesn't like soccer that much, there are certainly other team sports. One of my kids despised playing soccer and baseball but happily plays on the varsity ultimate frisbee team at his high school.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:29 PM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

None of the stuff I mention is exclusive to soccer. He may prefer a different sport. Soccer and baseball are good for little kids because there is a lot of time to goof off and space out in a safe environment between being coached, which is probably why they're popular. Even the best kid is going to spend a lot of time zoned out.
posted by fshgrl at 1:34 PM on September 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

I (female) played soccer for a decade.

I really didn't much care for it the first couple seasons.

But god I am glad that my parents kept me enrolled. The biggest reason I was kind of "meh" about it is that I wasn't that good yet - it takes a few years generally to get good enough to feel great about it. But those couple years are where you're learning the rules of a new game, you're learning personal skills and teamwork skills and learning the joy you can get out of excellent teamwork, and learning that you are going to suck at most new activities and that it's only persistence and being willing to suck at something that gives you the opportunity to love it.

OTOH, my mom let me quit ballet. I was pretty bad at ballet, but my mom let me quit when I was one of the older girls (and thus able to remember the routine and be a leader, even if I was clumsy and embarrassed). I let everyone down, and realizing that when I got older and had more perspective than "I don't like how I look in a leotard" was a pretty disappointing realization.
posted by DoubleLune at 1:34 PM on September 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

So overall I'd say no, it's not an irreplaceable experience. I never did them as a kid and I survived.

In the longer term the one thing that I suppose he might learn playing a team sport is how to play a team sport which seems tautological but someday if he has kids of his own it might be a useful experience to inform his own parenting. My son turned out to sort of be a jock when I was definitely on the nerd side of the fence and I felt lost a lot of the time. But that's a pretty indirect benefit.

I will say this though:

I'm not worried about him not getting enough exercise

There's not-playing-video-games-8-hours-a-day "active" and there's swim team training "active".

My daughter is not into team sports. She's not into sports at all. We basically made her go to swim team as she disliked it the least and she didn't love it but she didn't complain. We never really made it seem like there was another option and it's not like it consumed her life. Honestly losing my weekend days to going to swim meets was harder on me that it was on her. Anyway, the point is that she's in much, MUCH better shape than she would have been with the basic exercise of walking to school every day. The other day she actually went to do laps with friends of her own accord (!) and did a mile and a quarter or something. When my daughter had to run track laps in high school phys ed she HATED it but she was more than capable of doing it at a reasonable pace. No one wants to be the poor kid dragging along and who can't run a mile. So I suggest having some sort of semi-intense aerobic athletic activity as it really makes a big difference in your kid's physical fitness.

Also in the end my daughter has a lot of friends from swim team as outside of the pool it's a pretty social atmosphere so that was a benefit as well.
posted by GuyZero at 1:36 PM on September 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

If he likes imagination type things, would he be interested in children's theater? Theater would also involve working with others, making new friends, learning new skills.
posted by ilovewinter at 1:38 PM on September 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

> he prefers imagination-type games, like Zombies, where you run around trying to avoid zombies catching you

This is fine as a kid, but be aware that as an adult, "imagination-type games, like Zombies, where you run around trying to avoid zombies catching you" is not as socially acceptable as, say, "soccer" or "basketball."

Depending on the path he chooses, an interest in and knowledge of sports can be very beneficial as an adult. Small talk in the office, networking, something to talk about when he meets a new person.
posted by paulcole at 1:38 PM on September 26, 2016

I had to stick with a sport and a musical instrument that I really disliked for years and years and years. Result: I never do the sport and I never play a musical instrument. Only events in later life gave me any interest at all in physical activity, although I'm pretty active now.

Does he have trouble with schoolwork such that you think he'll only learn to focus if he has to do a team sport?

Is he active on his own, or is this his primary exercise?

The thing is, kids have to do tons of stuff they hate around people they don't like - far more than most middle class adults. If I don't like my job, getting a new one may not be super easy, but I can give it a shot - a kid can't even change classes at school. Kids get very little choice about what they learn or how they spend their "workday".

What's going on now is that he's filing team sports under "chore" in his head. It's not playing, it's not fun, he doesn't like it, it eats into his precious free time. I don't think you're actually doing him a service, here.

What is the endgame for him here? Is he going to keep playing soccer until....he leaves for college? He gives it another year to see if it might be more enjoyable as he develops expertise? When does he become enough of a person to get to quit something he has tried but really does not like?

If he is quite young, why not wait another couple of years and see if he wants to take up another team sport later?

If he isn't getting enough exercise, why not find some other lightly structured kind of exercise for him?

If he is serious about art, why not just switch over to art lessons?

It seems likely that he'll come to enjoy some kind of sport over the course of his childhood and teens - most people do. He'll probably also come to enjoy some kind of collective activity, whether that's a team sport or another serious hobby. I don't think it's a zero sum game unless you make it one.
posted by Frowner at 1:38 PM on September 26, 2016 [12 favorites]

I think the teamwork aspect is one of the major benefits of participating in team sports, but you can indeed get that from other group activities, although I don't think the example of art classes you provide really hits that skillset. There are other non-sports teams/clubs that can replicate that, and also touch on another aspect of team sports, which is a sense of accomplishment/achievement. Ideas to consider: scouting, 4H, youth orchestra or choir, theater, dance.
posted by drlith at 1:38 PM on September 26, 2016

I couldn't help but think of scouting reading your question. New skills, challenges, teamwork, discipline, and in my case anyway, exposure to plenty of people with very different backgrounds and experiences. I grew up in a city going to a small parochial school - my scout troop and school community could best be expressed by a venn diagram as two totally separate circles.

I know some people have negative associations with Boy Scouts of America (tm) due to a variety of political and cultural reasons - but it was my experience that the biggest factor was what the leadership and parents of your specific troop have to say about issues like, for example, the exclusion of gay scouts/leaders.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:39 PM on September 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'd explore if he's interested in some kind of dance. The skills developed share a lot with team sports:
– developing whole-body physical skill, ability, body awareness, increasing skill
– working simultaneously individually and as a team
– instruction/coaching is different than that used in academic settings
– focussing stress; dealing with being nervous, anxious, before a big performance (as before a big game).
– Dealing positively with both a good outing and a bad one.

Also, all team sports are not the same. I loved hockey, was meh about soccer and baseball.
posted by Kabanos at 1:39 PM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can tell you I wish my parents had required me to participate in at least one cycle/season of an organized physical activity a year, even if that meant trying a new one each time. I was a good kid, and obedient and pretty easily motivated, but I was a) an only child b) almost entirely unaccustomed to any form of deliberate habitual activity c) a little overly startled by even the gentlest exertion of authority by an authority figure because I was so unaccustomed to it d) had not the vaguest concept of time management and e) then and now would give up if I was not perfect at something the first time.

But honestly, of all of those things the biggest issue, I think, is that I sincerely had no concept of how to practice a thing. Or how to nurture an interest. It wasn't until I was in middle school and my dad intervened and got me into a bowling league for a couple of years that I even knew first-hand how to get better at something on purpose, and I learned valuable things from that even though bowling was remarkably unsocial and he was really my only serious coach.

I've noticed my friends with kids seem to loathe the time/equipment requirements of soccer and other ball sports a lot, and for the most part are going the dance/gymnastics/martial arts/swimming-in-summer route which is sort of "individuals trained in groups" rather than "team" sports, but it seems to be accomplishing the same general things you want kids to get out of some kind of official activity routine. And none of them seem much put out if a kid decides to do something else next time; the point is not to get a soccer scholarship to college but just to participate in something and be active and and not 100% adore it all the time, if it comes to that. I think there might be some advantages, actually, to being a juvenile dilettante.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:42 PM on September 26, 2016 [17 favorites]

I think that if at the end of the season he does not want to do it again, that's fine, but he should honor his commitment to being on the team. I think learning that we do things through even if sometimes we are not enjoying ourselves is a great lesson. You can't always just quit because you don't like something.

There is a lot to be said for forming the habit of physical exercise, and also basically every word that Lyn Never said is what I was about to type.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:44 PM on September 26, 2016

I think most of the other comments have covered the important things, but there's one thing about soccer specifically that I just heard from my wife's cousin that sticks out to me. She works for the World Food Programme in Malawi, has lived long-term in South Africa, and has traveled fairly extensively in Africa and Europe, and she believes that soccer helps her meet people during her travels (as well as in the US). Because so many people worldwide play soccer worldwide, it's something that comes in handy nearly anywhere you go. And you can nearly always find a pickup game somewhere, so it's probably the single fastest way to interact with locals. She credits soccer as being the thing that most prepared her for life overseas.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:44 PM on September 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

had not the vaguest concept of time management

Seconding this element of Lyn Never's answer... only with the gigantic time suck that is high school varsity baseball was my son motivated to actually get stuff done on time. There's no "oh I'll do it later" if you know that later there's already a game or a practice scheduled. Most non-sports activities have more fluid schedules relative to the rigid scheduling of a team practice or game.
posted by GuyZero at 1:47 PM on September 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

"He'll still go to practice if we ask him, and will enthusiastically do the drills, but he's not 100% loving the experience."

I disliked pretty much all the sports my parents enrolled me in early on. I'm still not really a sports-person and don't participate in or even follow any as an adult. As a senior in high school, though, I got to experience being a captain on a state championship winning team. It was among the best experiences of my life. If my parents had let me quit in sixth grade, I never would have had the chance to do that. So, I think there is something to be said for sticking with something you don't particularly like for, well... I don't know... at least a while.
posted by scottatdrake at 2:00 PM on September 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

There are tons of other sports. I live in the UK and I've always detested soccer, found most sports to be pretty meh, but eventually fell in love with ultimate frisbee. Why not let him try other sports and see if there's something else he actually enjoys?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:02 PM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Part of the benefit of a good team sport is a huge risk of a bad team sport. If you like his coach, feel that his coaching style is inclusive and encouraging but still challenging and inspiring, then yes, that could be a very valuable team experience. He'd learn about how he doesn't have to be a star to be a valuable part of a successful team.
There is basically no benefit to being with a bad coach though - being yelled at for failing, learning how to sit on a bench because the other players are better, learning that the whole goal in both soccer and life is winning, learning to resent players who monopolize the coach's attention, and learning how to be snubbed by many, these are life lessons that you and he can do without. So, screen the coach and the team atmosphere.
posted by aimedwander at 2:22 PM on September 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

For what it's worth, when my mom was a kid, girls were not allowed to participate in sports teams most of the time. Yet the women of her generation turned out fine.

The really beneficial things about sports for kids come from learning to practice, being good at something that isn't school, working with other kids to achieve a goal, and learning to show up and not goof off too much. Other benefits may include getting good at the sport (not a guarantee, he may just be bad at sports but love them anyway), and learning to love physical activity (not a guarantee, he may be a solo-exercise person), but you can get the benefits with other activities like, say, drama, science camp, scouting...
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:26 PM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I sucked at ballet and when I finally was allowed to quit, I had to pick something else to do. I ended up in piano for a few years, which was immensely helpful when learning to play other instruments. I still don't have any affinity for sports or any aptitude at them, but as others have said above, learning to practice something and get better at it has been the most useful skill I gained from my extracurriculars.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:36 PM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, have him keep doing it until his obligation is over, then let him decide if he wants to keep doing it or not. There are plenty of ways to get exercise other than team sports, and otherwise it's a pretty significant time investment in something he doesn't particularly enjoy. Most of the skills he'd learn can be learned in other ways.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:39 PM on September 26, 2016

Being a good loser and learning to fail are a huge benefit of team sports that kids can't get a whole lot of other places. The whole "I did my best and we still lost" thing is a valuable life lesson. In fact, life (real life, you know, #adulting) involves a whole lot of failure, so learning to lose a game with your teammates and still show up next week is pretty useful.
posted by sleeping bear at 2:40 PM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

My son wasn't really a team sports guy at 7 so we enrolled him in martial arts and he loves it.

That said, now he's 11 and he was really sad in the fall last year because he wasn't able to make a lot of teams even at school (grr I know - grade 5!) and he felt at a disadvantage because most of the other boys are good enough to make at least one team. However, Ultimate Frisbee came to the rescue in the spring.

Still, if I were doing it over I might have kept him in soccer or T-ball or something just to give him the rounded experience.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:42 PM on September 26, 2016

I played kids' league soccer for 3-4 years and never really loved it. Practices and skirmish games were fun enough, but I hated games; I was never all that good, my team was never all that good, and I haaaaaaated the parents yelling at us from the sidelines. (I got to quit when I was sidelined with a non-sports-related injury in 8th grade, and I was secretly way happier than I let on to my parents.) It's probably worth exploring other sports with him, maybe go to some live games and talk about the rules and mechanics and see if anything grabs him. I know you said he's not interested in individual sports, but what about fencing/HEMA? (I was sent to golf camp one summer and hated it, never had any interest in other martial arts, but as a boy I would have been all over fencing if it had been an option.)

I was in cub scouts and boy scouts for... 8 years, I think? And got far, far more out of that experience in terms of teamwork, team identity, and leadership. Of course, there are all the caveats mentioned by Exceptional_Hubris above, but of all the organized group activities in which I participated as a kid the only one I actively miss as a grownup is scouting.

The one thing I wish I had been more strongly encouraged to pursue as a kid is some kind of band/orchestra instrument; I played trumpet briefly but had to give it up when I got braces, and although I took up electric guitar a couple of years later (when I quit soccer, actually) I never got the experience of playing more formally orchestrated music with the goal of concert performance; teamwork of a very different sort that is much more up my alley than sports.
posted by usonian at 2:51 PM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of Sports, loved them growing up and had a huge joy in them. But that being said I'm also totally anti "doing things that are supposed to be fun but are not fun for you".

I'd never force my kid to do something they don't enjoy. School serves that purpose for most kids. And much of what you learn in a sport can be learned in Scouts, clubs etc. I'd try to get your kid into something they're passionate about. The passion and trying to excel at something you enjoy (Sports or not) seems to be whats important.
posted by bitdamaged at 3:14 PM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

If he's really into using his imagination, and he's of appropriate age, is there anyone who could run a Dungeons & Dragons group for him? If that's not team playing, I don't know what is.

In the group I'm in now, we work together or Bad Things™ happen.
posted by Verdandi at 3:46 PM on September 26, 2016

It might be soccer specifically that your son doesn’t enjoy, but if he’s just not a team sports person, that’s okay too. I didn’t play team sports as a kid because I had zero interest, so it’s possible that I missed out on something huge and didn’t realize it, but if I did, I never felt the loss. I haven’t really come around to sports as an adult, either—I just don’t find competition much fun. It takes the pleasure out of doing physical things, for me. I one hundred percent understand what your son means about sports not feeling like play.

I did, however, do a ton of theater and dance as a kid/teen. I loved those, and theater has a lot of the same team features as sports without the “winning” part. You come together with other people to create something, and you rely on each other to make it happen. A kid who likes imaginative play might be right at home in a good kids’ theater program, and theater is great for self-discipline and training the body, too—just in a different way than sports.
posted by Radish at 3:47 PM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Benefits college and job applications, especially if they manage to be high achievers, but regardless it's a useful framework when BSing on applications.
posted by porpoise at 3:54 PM on September 26, 2016

Young kids don't necessarily know what they enjoy or don't. He may decide he misses it after the season is over. Encourage him to finish out the season and see how he feels after he gets away from it for a while. Learning to work with others is important, but there are 1000 ways a kid can pick up those skills, everything from team sports, to Scouts or 4-H, or robotics league, or chess club.

Anecdote: my daughter broke down in tears at her first horse judging competition around age 12 and we didn't think she'd ever do it again. 3 years later she won the first of a few national championships in competitive horse judging. She went from a shy kid to an assertive leader - that doesn't happen if she isn't in situations with her peers where she can learn to lead, and also learn when to follow.
posted by COD at 4:07 PM on September 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not all kids like sports and that's ok- but I think the team and social aspects are important and could be gained through scouts or other group activities as opposed to art or music lessons. I'm not a naturally athletic person but have played and enjoyed team sports for most of my life. I was a nerdy kid and sports taught me the value of hard work and effort leading to improvements- schoolwork came easily for me so I didn't have to try that hard in the classroom. It was also a great way to meet kids from other backgrounds not just the other honor roll types.
As an adult I still play soccer and most of my friends I've met through playing- as someone noted above its also a great hobby if you move overseas.
posted by emd3737 at 4:16 PM on September 26, 2016

Sports people think sports are great, and non-sports people don't care. On balance, I agree that finishing the year would be a good thing for lesson that one keeps one's commitments, but I wouldn't press him to sign up for another year.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:19 PM on September 26, 2016

hey all,

thanks a lot for the advice, for the suggestions, and for sharing your personal experiences!
You've given me a lot to think about, and opened my eyes to a lot of new perspectives and ideas.

The advice you give is amazing for my question now, but I'll be able to refer to it and reflect on it over the years, as my boy gets older.
posted by bitteroldman at 4:50 PM on September 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

This is fine as a kid, but be aware that as an adult, "imagination-type games, like Zombies, where you run around trying to avoid zombies catching you" is not as socially acceptable as, say, "soccer" or "basketball."

Sure, it is. There's an app. It's called Zombies, Run! You can train for a 5k and everything.
posted by yarntheory at 6:17 PM on September 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

I didn't get the chance to do organised sports as a kid, and other then when I'm on skis, it's pretty obvious. Coached sports give kids a chance to improve their control of their bodies, and learn what it's like to practice a physical skill.

That, and rec soccer is a great way to meet people when he's older.
posted by Kreiger at 10:18 AM on September 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might consider that at least a season or two in some organized team sport can affect the way he sees himself in later years in regard to social groups. My parents let me play sports but only if I played an instrument and did well in class. As I moved through my school years, the result of being exposed to various experiences allowed me to move fairly seamlessly between athletes, music kids, geeks and more. I wasn't pigeonholed into one group. It made me a more well-rounded person to this day. And I met a lot of cool kids I wouldn't have met had I been left to just follow my own preferred interest.
posted by lpsguy at 12:09 PM on September 28, 2016

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