The opportunities are right there in front of us to learn valuable life lessons watching athletic events from the sofas, stands, and sidelines. Games, cups, playoffs, tournaments, bowls, matches, and other events are available every single day of the year.
Parents, educators, coaches, mentors, and empirical evidence encourage participation in youth sports or other extracurricular activities so children can develop their talents, experience team dynamics, make memories, and have fun.
Most activities, especially sports, require actual hands-on participation to enjoy to the fullest. However, what about the non-competitive kids who are passionate about their game?
Players are learning life skills firsthand by their participation, but fans also acquire lessons from pure observation. If you truly listen, sports broadcasting provides significantly more substance than just the play-by-play of the game. In spite of the secondary experience, these twelve life skills can actually be learned without wearing the uniform:
1. Application of Everyday Math
Continuous speed math must be applied in order to keep up with various games thanks to points, shots, yards, penalties, and outs. Definitely more fun than math worksheets and apps, a football game can be a three hour mathematical boot camp of keeping up with yards and downs, which can be more engaging than “Johnny had three apples and found seven more, how many apples does he have in all?”
2. Agree to Disagree
Accepting individual differences and opposing perspectives is a survival skill of adulthood. We disagree about our political candidates or Coke vs. Pepsi, so favorite sports team is no exception. Since we are encouraged to practice acceptance towards individual differences, how do people really look when they get downright angry during the “my team is better” debate? Thus, sports teams can be a great place to learn how to embrace that it is okay to have different favorites.
3. Improve from technical mistakes
Humans make mistakes and professional athletes are obviously no exception. Even the best player can miss the shot, strike out, or drop the ball. Rather than get the ego tangled up in feedback, a true star is intrinsically motivated to learn and improve from his or her mistakes.
4. Respect Cultural Norms
Whether it is painting their bodies green, wearing a cheese wedge hat, or chanting the fight song, every team fan base has something they do to support their team.
These common fan-based behaviors create the energy that bonds them together, like a secret handshake. Off the field or court, understanding different cultural norms in any situation is the core of social intelligence.
When our team wins, we feel pride and joy; when they lose, we ache. Similar to when a friend or family member is going through a rough patch, we support them, even if they disappoint us. Most importantly, we stick by our team through all seasons, regardless of their performance, and not just follow the hot champion.
6. Competitive Job Market
College and professional athletes do not get scholarships, contracts, playing time, recognition, fame, and trophies for getting dressed and showing up. The NCAA (2016) reported the numbers and percentages of high school participants who become college and professional athletes.
For basketball, of the 541,479 high school men’s players, 18,697 (3.5%) were NCAA college participants, and out of the 4155 draft eligible, 60 (1.9%) played on a professional level. Out of the 429,504 women’s high school players, 16,589 (3.9%) participated on NCAA teams, 3686 were draft eligible, and 36 (1.6%) were drafted to play for teams in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).
7. Hard Work Pays Off
The data from the NCAA (2016) report showed that professional sports are among the most competitive industries. The few players with contracts earned them from years of practicing drills, conditioning their bodies, and going above and beyond to exceed their personal best. Entitled to nothing, they have to work exceptionally hard to wear that jersey; since of the 60 male basketball players drafted by the NBA, had over a half million high school players dreaming to be in that spot.
Games, tournaments, cups, matches, playoffs, and bowls are broadcasted from all around the world. Some events are held in places that might not be on our radar. Thanks to these global events, children are introduced to these places, hear random location facts, and can find them on a map or Google Earth. Would you have ever heard of some of those places without sporting events?
Sports broadcasters and commentators are tremendous resources in reporting the team’s statistics, legends, and politics. They teach us additional insight about the venue, location, and event. A witty broadcaster is certainly more memorable than a web page or textbook.
10. Bond with Adults
Children seem to fall into two categories with adults: charming or annoying. The charming kids seem to connect easily with adults. Sports are a fantastic opportunity to bridge the gap between generations. The dynamic between the older historical insight and the fresh youth perspective provide win/win intergenerational bonding experiences.
11. Consequences to Bad Behavior
People make bad decisions from poor behavioral judgment and celebrity athletes are no exception. Unfortunately for famous people, personal mistakes, breaking the law, and other dramatic life situations are shared instantly through the media. Their bad behavior might suspend them from playing time, which not only punishes the players, but the team and fans.
12. Team Dynamics 101
When you look at a team’s process through a developmental perspective (Wheelan, 2005) teams with winning statistics are most likely to have already learned to work through conflicts and individual differences as well as maintain a clear group structure. On the flip side, team performance is certainly impacted when the team has unresolved interpersonal issues.
The good news is that there are sports on television every single day of the year, as well as easily accessible online. Our culture would not have it any other way. Unconventional, yes; but the lessons are there in front of us.
NCAA (2016). Probably of Competing in Sports Beyond High School,
Wheelan, S. (2005). Creating Effective Teams: A Guide for Members and Leaders
(2nd Ed.) Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
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