By Kaitlyn Trotter
A couple of weeks ago I came across a picture of my 4th grade basketball team. It was a (supposedly) co-ed team, although I was the only girl, surrounded by eight boys much shorter than I was. There I am standing tall in the middle, gawky and uncomfortable, wearing my baby blue uniform, a sweatband covering my forehead, knee high socks, and my brand-new Nike basketball shoes.
Looking at the picture, most people would probably feel sorry for the gangly girl towering over the boys or wonder why this lone girl is on a team made up of boys. While I understand such thoughts (having had most of them myself), these ideas miss the bigger picture. As I look at the photo today, I see past my awkwardness. Now I spot a girl grinning from ear to ear, elated to be playing a sport she loves on a team where she belongs. I see is a girl who has no idea that this first team, and the many more after that, would be so important to her development and well-being.
I am not alone. Many studies have shown that playing sports can have tremendous benefits. Aside from the obvious physical benefits, there are numerous social and emotional perks. One study reported that out of 14,000 high school athletes, the ones who regularly played sports were less likely to use drugs. Furthermore, the article stated that youth who play sports have increased academic performance, are less likely to drop out of school, and succeed at the corporate level at a higher rate. Lastly, sports are consistently shown to boost confidence and improve self-esteem.
At Hillsides, our recreation department is constantly trying to get children and youth involved in team-like activities. Our youth have been through numerous traumatic experiences that put them at a higher risk for dangerous behaviors. We have introduced programs such as Strength and Fitness All-Stars that encourage our children to work together and stay active. By mimicking a team sports atmosphere, we help these children make better choices, teach perseverance, and foster character. Moreover, given that these youth have had such unpredictable lives up to this point, our programs give them a sense of belonging that is so crucial to becoming healthy adults.
Sports certainly are not the only outlet that can assist in the development of children. However, for our children—and for all children — sports open the door to various opportunities and are critical in developing healthy, well-adjusted adults
Kaitlyn Trotter currently works as a group rehab specialist, conducting recreational activities with our clients, developing clubs, and helping clients focus their energy on healthy physical outlets.