Yin and Yang of Team Sports: Four reasons why competition is important for adolescent development.

With special thanks @Linda E Olszewski, PsyD.

Dr Olszewski is a licensed clinical psychologist practising in California, Florida and New York. As the Founder and Director of Mind Coeur, she has worked extensively with both adolescents and adults. She is also a former NCAA division 1 athlete and as such, has great experience as well as a deep understanding of athletes, when working with them. She has written for TalksForTeens about competitive sports.

There is nothing easy or simple about competition. Just the nature of it puts one person/one team against another. Yet it is universally understood that competition can push us to achieve our peak performance. While competition can be tough, a competitive environment acts as a catalyst for growth. Through it, we may not only perform better, but learn more about ourselves; both about our strengths and skills that need strengthening.

Though many may focus only on the wins, losing and the lessons learned from it are just as important as the ones gained from winning. Without a doubt, losing can feel frustrating – it is the yang of the yin. Both winning and losing in competition can be thought of as the balancing board that teaches us to accept both sides of ourselves.

Team sports introduces and confronts players with competition, lessons (both wonderful and difficult), encouragement, and community. That said, making and maintaining the commitment to team sports can be challenging for both adolescents and parents alike. Adding the discipline of daily practice to an already busy schedule can feel overwhelming, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Here are four reasons why parents should support and encourage kids to participate in team sports:

  1. Improved Physical Health. The benefits of exercise on physical health are well known. Despite this, most kids don’t manage to get the amount of activity recommended: 60 minutes per day of moderate or vigorous exercise. Regular exercise can keep inflammation (a risk factor of chronic disease) at bay. An unfit adolescent is more likely to have cardiovascular, metabolic disease, higher levels of body fat, and less healthy bones than those who exercise regularly. Regular participation in team athletics, not only provides adolescents with physical health benefits, but it builds the foundation of good exercise habits for the future. In fact, the physical health benefits of team sports participation during adolescence can last a lifetime
  2. Neurological Benefits. In contrast to the historical “dumb-jock” stereotype, being involved in competitive athletics can not only help cognitive performance but also lead to improved academic functioning. Furthermore, adolescence is a time of significant brain development, and according to research, exercise is not only essential for brain development, some studies suggest that regular exercise during the adolescent neurological growth spurt, is critical and builds the foundation for the future cognitive functioning. In fact, research on the neurological benefits of sports has consistently demonstrated the brain-enhancing benefits of exercise that improves brain cells and how they function.
  3. Mental Health Benefits. Participating in regular exercise through team sports has many positive effects on mental health. It can lead to lower levels of depression, anxiety, improve mood, attention, and self-esteem. Team sports demonstrate even more benefits than individual sports. Some researchers speculate that the social aspect and support experienced being a member of a team, plays a role in enhanced mental health.
  4. Social Benefits: Some suggest that participation in team sports, is essential for social development. Involvement in team sports promotes mentorship relationships and also provides adolescents with many opportunities to navigate various (sometimes complex) social situations. Healthy competition in team athletics gives an opportunity to young people to learn important life skills such as cooperation, discipline, sportsmanship, teamwork, and tolerance. Researchers have found that children who participate in team sports are more socially advanced than their non-sports participating counterparts. Furthermore, participation in team sports produces teens who are more competent, decisive, and better at managing their time.

In a culture that tends to promote winning, parents and adolescents should keep in mind that a “win-at-all-costs” mentality leads to the dark side of sports. After all, not every player can be the next Lionel Messi. Each and every player can benefit from the physical health, mental health, neurological, social benefits, and the yin and yang that team sports offer. Without a doubt, participation in team sports is always a win-win for all adolescents.