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Edition #225: Don’t Underestimate The Power of Community
Community building remains one of youth sports biggest benefits.
Happy Sunday October 8th …and to our Canadian subscribers… Happy Thanksgiving !
Friday evening I caught the Guelph Storm hockey game and boy are these fellas skilled! It has been a few years since I have seen a local junior hockey game live, and I was so impressed with the skill level these young athletes exhibited. The speed, the puck handling and shooting, the skating, and the overall work ethic was very impressive. These young athletes are born 2003 through 2006 for the most part (17-19 year olds). Their ability level is off the charts. One can see how the grind of 68 games + playoffs will be one of their toughest challenges. Both mentally and physically. No one on that ice gets to that point without having committed the majority of their lives to their sport. So impressed. If you get the chance to find a local team play in the Canadian Hockey League, or in the USA via the United States Hockey League. They are both tier 1 junior hockey (under 20 years old) and incredibly fun to watch!
Here is quick evidence of the good people at community sporting events: As I was fumbling with my wallet, phone, ticket, glasses etc 3 x $20 bills fell out of my pocket as I was standing in the concourse. Within seconds, 3 different individuals let me know of my fumble. The guy next to me having a coffee, the older couple walking behind me and the young ladies and their dad raising money for the girls hockey program. That re-instilled some confidence in our community. Thank you to those random strangers for saving my $60!
Speaking of community, its power shines through as a hidden benefit in our youth sport programs. When we think of the parents of our kids teammates we come across, the friendships we build. We are bond together by devotion to our kids activity.
There are other benefits as well, most notably to our kids who develop their own friendships over the years of participating.
While the focus and discussion on youth sport is often on skill development and health benefits to our kids, these strong social aspects should not be overlooked.
When we examine the social/emotional benefits of youth sport participation, the ability to interact and communicate with others and to persist through challenges rise to the top for sure. What should be added to the list and was highlighted by the recent pandemic is the sense of community that youth sport can bring. To players, coaches, parents and volunteers.
What the pandemic taught us is that isolation has a drastic impact on our emotional health. This impacted our youth and us adults as well. In a technology driven age, it seems worth reminding that we are social creatures. We thrive with contact, and some of that contact comes from those in our youth sport community.
When I think back to all the friendships developed in my competitive days, my coaching days with other coaches, with parents of my son’s teammates it is quite incredible. My son then has started his own loop with building friendships with teammates he has played with.
Not all social benefits need to come from our strongest ties. New friends, new connections, connections from different groups in our lives all play a role in our strong sense of self. The “weaker connections” we have in our lives can play an important role in our mood and overall outlook.
That person on your team or that parent of a young athlete on your kids team for one year for example.
Our family got to know a young Japanese baseball player and his family over a 2 year period. That experience would be consider a “weaker connection”, and it left quite the impact. We got to know a family from the other side of the world, learned about how baseball is introduced in Japan (very different than in Canada) and were bonded by the love of watching our kids play baseball.
As parents, we start the journey focused on our kids’ experience, learning a new game, making friends. As time goes by and they get older, they develop friendships and those become lifelong friendships the longer your child plays.
This is not fluff, or anecdotal. A body of research has shown that we might just be shortchanging our own happiness by ignoring opportunities to connect with people around us. Social connection impacts our health
Research shows us that loneliness is on the rise, and that a lack of human connection can be more harmful to your health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.
In today’s age, we live busy lives, trying to strike a balance between work, family, relationships, school, hobbies, and self-care. Often, our social connections fall by the wayside. Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems.
This all sounds an awful lot like the intended benefits of participating in youth sport. Would these be unintended then? However, would they be any less important?
From weekend tournaments to community inspired events, youth sport athletes and their families get lots of opportunities to connect in multiple ways. Like many of the good things in life, we first must be aware they exist in order to benefit from them.