A new study suggests involvement in a positive sports team environment and learning to improve oneself, rather than being compared to others, are important life skills fostered by youth sports.

A cohesive team environment and involvement in enjoyably challenging practices help children learn invaluable social and personal skills.

“There’s a lot more to sport than the idea of winning and losing and developing physical skills,” said researcher Jean Côté, Ph.D. “Under the right conditions, youth sport can help children develop transferrable personal and social skills — citizenship qualities that they’ll retain throughout their lives.”

Côté found that for children between the ages of nine and 19, positive experiences were associated with coaches who created an inclusive, cohesive team environment where the team engaged in social activities outside of sports and all participants were equally valued on the field.

Researchers found that learning to compete against internal benchmarks rather than focusing on comparison with others improved younger player’s initiative and motivation.

Moreover, coaches who provided challenging, innovative practices also helped foster an environment in which young players enhanced personal skills.

Investigators discovered a dichotomy among sports, with some associated with higher demands, more injuries, a more structured coaching approach and higher dropout rates. Typically, athletes who compete in these sports – such as diving or gymnastics – peak at a young age and rarely continue to enjoy the activity in adulthood.

Other sports, such as soccer, baseball and hockey, don’t require athletes to specialize early on since they continue to develop and reach their peak in adulthood.

“Other research we’ve conducted suggests that kids don’t necessarily need lots of pressure early on to become elite,” Côté said.

“If you create a coaching environment where the kids are happy and passionate they’ll continue to be involved and develop their skills. If you burn kids out at a very early age, you might be left with a small group of technically gifted kids, but you may also waste talent in the process.”

Source: Queen’s University