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When kids take the field or the court, they can build a foundation of skills and life lessons that far exceed the final count of wins and losses.

Doug Egge, a pediatrician and the medical director of the Spartanburg office of Parkside Pediatrics, said good health, exercise, directed activity, discipline and fun are just a few of the benefits children can gain from participating in sports.

“All of us as parents, we try to recognize that there are a lot of really good things about being involved in sports,” he said.

Less obvious are some of the soft skills children can gain, like what Egge calls “people coping skills,” including learning to win and lose and learning how to overcome a sense of failure.

“I think it’s really important for a kid to win a game or lose a game,” he said. “You have to realize it’s not winning all the time. The stakes aren’t really high but you still get the experience.”

Egge said he sees a trend of more children specializing in a particular position or sport. In some cases, that involves year-round play or traveling extensively to play.

“I’m not sure that early specializing is good, but it is a trend,” he said.

Specializing too early, before age 13, may risk burnout or injury, Egge said. He noted that, for a variety of reasons, about 70 percent of adolescents drop out of sports.

Michael Moore, executive director of the George I. Theisen YMCA, said he has been with the YMCA for 16 years, 11 of those in youth sports. That time has allowed him to see the development process for young people who have participated in the organization’s sports programs.

“They don’t realize in the moment that they are learning life lessons,” he said. “They just think they are having fun and making friends.”

Moore said the children meet new friends, socialize with them and can take that foundation forward to school and other activities. Children as young as 3 can take part in some of the YMCA’s youth sports. And while at that age a soccer game might involve more time spent searching the grass for ladybugs than thinking about defense and goals, that’s OK. Moore said children are still hearing the message of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. They learn good sportsmanship and more.

“We talk about those teachable moment opportunities,” Moore said. “The hope is that you can plant that seed at a young age and allow that to grow and blossom.”

Consider these tips from Doug Egge:

For very young children, parents should ask about modifications. Is the field or court reduced in size? What about equipment? How often will children practice?

Because most sports-related injuries are muscle strains and pulls, children should be taught to warm up and adequately stretch, no matter how young they are.

Children should rotate positions and not specialize when young.

Parents should know the program’s goal – and the coach’s goal – for the team. “For a 3- or 4-year-old, we’re going to play and have fun in a somewhat organized way,” Egge said.

Programs should be organized by a somewhat narrow age range. Children should be selected, not cut, and should be with their developmental peers.

Fewer team members should give young children an equal opportunity to participate.

Some organizations and physicians offer the opportunity to measure a child’s neurological baseline before starting sports. In the event of a concussion, this allows a measurable standard for when an athlete is allowed to return to the field.

The YMCA of Greenville offers youth sports for ages 3 and older. Scholarships are available for families in need. Visit www.ymcagreenville.org.

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