PLAYING FOR KEEPS; Youth Sports Credited with Imparting Lifelong benefits.(FAMILY TIMES)
Byline: Karen Goldberg Goff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
It is a sunny autumn Sunday, and a dozen sports teams are playing on a Chantilly athletic field.A youth football team is warming up, and a handful of girls' and boys' soccer teams are in various stages of the game. Two baseball teams are high-fiving down the line, mumbling "good game" to their opponents. It is scene similar to ones all over the Washington area and all over the country. The youths might not realize it now, but the lessons they are learning by being involved with sports will go way beyond punting, passing and kicking. Ideally, playing sports sets up a lifetime love of fitness, a foundation of self-esteem and principles of competition and teamwork that will carry over into the workplace one day.
"The lessons kids get from playing sports are completely as valuable as the sports skills themselves," says Dr. Jordan Metzl, a New York physician specializing in sports medicine and author of "The Young Athlete: A Sports Doctor's Complete Guide for Parents."
"The field or court is a safe place to play out and learn the issues of life. You can experience winning and losing, joy and pain, what it means to effectively prepare and what happens when someone is better than you."
Dr. Metzl says sports offer a unique learning experience for children because they provide a way for a youngster to get involved as a complete human being. Being part of a team is a social experience as well as a physical one. It also is a wonderful emotional and psychological training ground.
He can pinpoint highlights and lowlights from his own youth sports career that still impact him today.
"I played on a 10-and-under football team with kids from all different socioeconomic backgrounds," Dr. Metzl says. "So I learned to get along with all sorts of kids. My soccer team lost in the district finals. I was so sad and dejected, but we had to get past that. I broke my jaw and had to recover and get back on the field. Recently, I completed the Ironman Triathlon in 12 hours. It is all about overcoming injuries and setting new limits. Playing sports made a big difference."
Tina Wallace agrees. Her 12-year-old daughter, Hillary, plays for the Chantilly Youth Association's Purple Aces, a select soccer team for 12- and 13-year-old girls.
"There is a certain panache in having to try out and work for something," Mrs. Wallace says of the competitive level at which her daughter plays. "When they have a wonderful season, they feel so great about themselves."
She also sees Hillary setting priorities and making sacrifices.
"When she comes home from school, she knows she has practice, so she really has to prioritize her work," Mrs. Wallace says. "We recently had two commitments in one weekend, one of which was a big tournament. We had a discussion, and she really felt the team needed her. Hillary also has learned from negative experiences, from politics and cliques on teams and a difficult coach. All things being equal, though, if you have supportive parents and good coaches, sports can be a wonderful experience. I hope she plays sports forever."
Reaping the benefits
As a nation, Americans are notoriously sedentary.
Sixty-four percent of adults in this country are overweight, as are 15 percent of children and adolescents, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which was published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Obesity among adults has doubled since 1980, while the number of overweight children and adolescents has tripled. Extra weight can lead to conditions such as high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.
Numerous government studies also point out that children who play sports are more likely to stay in school, more likely to get good grades and less likely to use drugs. …