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Want to know why sports matter? Here are four reasons:

Sports can teach values

Sports do not teach character and values, unless they are intentionally taught by coaches. Youth sports might be our last great hope to teach and maintain the traditional American values of perseverance, humility, integrity, compassion, courage, and the like. Our schools are struggling to do it. The Internet is not doing it. And popular culture is certainly not doing it. A 2011 study by UCLA psychologists Yalda Uhls and Patricia Greenfield examined television data over the past fifty years. Their study demonstrated that the values expressed by the shows most popular with kids age’s nine to eleven have changed drastically during that time. From 1967 through 1997, shows such as The Andy Griffith Show, Laverne and Shirley, Growing Pains, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch dominated the ratings in this demographic. The values represented by the shows changed very little during that period. The five most expressed values were community feeling, benevolence, image, tradition, and popularity. At the bottom of the list were fame, physical fitness, hedonism, spiritualism, and financial success.

Fast forward to 2007, and the most popular shows, American Idol and Hannah Montana, exemplify the new top five values of fame, achievement, popularity, image, and financial success, closely followed by self-centeredness, ambition, conceitedness, and materialism. The bottom five values are spiritualism, tradition, security, conformity, and benevolence. The emergence and prevalence of new technology, such as computers, mobile Internet, and hundreds of television channels, can be all encompassing and always present. It has given popular culture a new level of influence upon our children’s lives. Today, many of the shows aimed at our nine- to eleven-year-olds are about children who are seeking fame through the entertainment industry. As a result, one study found fame has become the number one value that children age’s nine to eleven aspire to. Another study found that being famous, attractive, and rich topped the list of the most important things for children under age ten. The result, says psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Jim Taylor, is that “these distorted values are definitely not going to prepare [kids] for life in adulthood where, for most of us, narcissism and aspirations of wealth and fame don’t usually play well with reality.”

Sports will help a child live a longer, healthier life

For a parent it must be quite scary reading research that shows today’s children are the first generation ever to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, by five years! Why? Inactivity! Today nearly 2/3 of Americans are considered overweight, and some studies project that by 2030 nearly half of Americans will be obese. Our schools are cutting PE classes and recess, despite the evidence of definitive positive links between activity and learning (adding exercise might be scientifically prudent but sadly it won’t get a politician elected on an educational platform). What we know is that children who are active by ages 10-12 are 1/10 less likely to be obese, do better in school, far less likely to do drugs or get pregnant as teenagers, more likely to go to college, and more likely to raise active kids of their own. We have the power to give those 5 years back to the kids.

Sports teach courage, resilience, and grit

If there is a better place than sports to teach kids how to be courageous, determined, persistent, and patient, studies don't show it. Sports can teach kids to lead, to follow, to take responsibility, working with others, sportsmanship, and so much more. Every athlete, regardless of ability, has the opportunity to learn lifelong skills through sports, and every athlete deserves the opportunity to do so. As the Positive Coaching Alliance says, youth sports is a development zone not only for athletic skills, but for life. 

Sports matter because they can give a voice to the voiceless

Sports matter to our culture, but sadly the entertainment value has begun to outweigh the educational value of sports, and it has trickled down to the youth level. Yet they could be so much more than that.

Sports matter because they can change lives.

Sports matter because they might be the one positive in an otherwise crappy life for a kid.

Sports matter because they can provide a child with a positive, influential role model in a life that may not have one.

Sports matter because they reveal and develop character.

Sports matter, because they might keep a kid on the straight and narrow when other influences are leading him or her down a far darker path.

Sports matter for every kid, from the star quarterback to the kid who can barely run 10 yards without getting winded, but still has the courage to be in the arena, daring greatly.

Sports matter for every community that needs something to rally around.

Sports matter for everyone who wants a stronger, healthier nation.

It’s high time every one of us takes a stand and commits to doing them the right way.

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