Having coached in LMSC for 30 years, I can tell you with 100% certainty that youth sports can have a great impact on children in
many ways. The social skills they acquire and the life lessons they come away with can be tremendous. Very few children will
wind up choosing a career in sports (either as players or in management), but the experiences that they have and the social
skills they acquire will help them tremendously in life.
One of the things that bothers me most in our society is when I hear about parents who donít want their children to play sports
in high school since they think it takes away from the time the children should be studying. Throughout the Main Line, I see
parents pushing their kids beyond their academic limits in the hopes that they will someday be doctors, lawyers or CEOís of
companies. Somehow, they assume that if their children simply bury their heads in their books, that they will someday emerge
and be successful in the working world. Unfortunately, those kids are the ones who miss out on a big part of their overall
education, the part you donít get by living in the library.
Children in youth sports learn to interact with other children in a different way than in the classroom. They are part of a
team and the members have to learn to interact well with each other and, as a group, work together to be successful. Soccer,
like many other major sports in our area, is a team game. The players have to work together to try and beat their opponent
each week. Learning to work as part of a team is an essential part of growing up. Players also have to learn to work with
and interact with their coaches. This is quite similar to people in the working world learning to work with their bosses
and with management.
Each child goes through a lot of emotional situations in youth sports. They learn to work with teammates (coworkers) and
coaches (bosses and management) to solve problems. They learn how to work together to be successful against opponents
(competing companies). They struggle with emotional highs and lows when dealing with their teammates and coaches
(corporate politics, company morale, etc.) They also have to learn how to properly deal with referees (government
regulators, lawyers, etc.)
At the high school level, coaches pick a few players to be captains of the team each season. These players are now
given leadership responsibilities and are charged with organizing the other players in practice activities, pre-game
activities and post-game activities. The players chosen to be captains learn about leadership and management, much
the same as people in the real world become project leaders, division leaders, etc. Freshman of course are at the low
end of the totem pole, similar to entry level workers in a corporation. They must learn to deal with the older players
and figure out how to fit into the social system already in place for that team. While this is a difficult task, it
provides the players with great challenges for them to solve and will help prepare them for the day when they are an
entry level worker at some corporation or business.
Along the way, there are many setbacks which players have to learn to deal with. Teams strive to go undefeated each
year, but very few succeed. During the course of the season, teams lose games. How do teams learn to deal with losing
games, especially ones that are considered upsets? How do players conduct themselves when their team is losing a game?
Do they learn to pick up their play, focus on the task and work harder to try and pull out a win or do they emotionally
crumble, lose control of their emotions and no longer be productive?
Losing can be difficult to handle for players and teams. The good teams set out to fix any problems that they had in
the previous game through planning and hard work at upcoming practices. It is the hope of the coaches that each player
will focus hard on improving during the upcoming practices and be determined to do better the next game. Some players
simply get frustrated when they lose and give up. Some donít care if their team loses and donít care about whether the
team does well in the next game. If this were the real world, they would not be very successful with this type of mindset.
Hopefully coaches can get the children to understand the importance of hard, smart, organized effort at practice so that
all the players will band together as a team and prepare hard for the next game.
Again, all of these situations make great life lessons which are important to the growth of each child. They are put in
difficult and challenging situations. The individual players (the workers) and the coaches (management) work together,
train together and prepare to compete against the other teams (competing companies). Players learn to abide by the rules
of the game, sportsmanship policy, the decisions of the referees, etc. Players also learn to deal with peer pressure and
criticism from their teammates, they learn to deal with the demands and emotions of their coaches and they learn to deal
with the stress and emotion from dealing with overbearing parents who scream on the sidelines at games and offer way too
much advice on the car ride home after the game.
These are lessons that you donít get from textbooks. These are lessons not found by going to the library every day after
school. These are lessons that provide countless experiences and interactions that will make our children much more
prepared to deal with the real world when they become adults.
THE MANY OTHER BENEFITS TO YOUTH SPORTS
Below is a brief list of other reasons why youth sports have so much value for our children:
GREAT FRIENDSHIPS THAT CAN LAST FOREVER - This is especially a benefit for players at the travel team level
since many players wind up playing together on the same team for many years. From 1986-1991, I coached the Lower
Merion Gorillas. They were a very good team, winning a couple of state championships as well as several league championships,
tournament championships, etc. But, what was most impressive about this group of players was how close they were as friends.
The players from that team are turning 35 years old this year. Many of them are still very close friends. Over the years,
they have been in each otherís weddings, have roomed together, still hang out together, etc. In December 2008, we had a
team reunion which almost every player attended. Many of the playersí parents attended as well. It was a great time and
it became quite obvious that these guys have shared a great bond together since they were young. Every so often one of
the players will send an e-mail blast out to all the players about something going on in their lives. While they now
live in different places throughout the country (Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington D.C., to name a few places), they
are definitely friends forever.
MAKING NEW FRIENDS IN A NEW TOWN - I worked at Rocket Sports (now YSC Sports) for 12 years and helped run a wide
range of adult soccer leagues. We often received phone calls or e-mails from young adults who just moved into town and
started a new job in the area. They didnít know anyone in the area since they had just moved into town. They had played
soccer in high school or college and wanted to get onto a team. We would ask them what their background was in soccer and
whether they wanted to play on a menís team, womenís team or coed team. Once we knew what they were looking for, we would
get them onto a team in an appropriate level league. These people would meet their teammates at the first game and
immediately have over a dozen new friends. From there, they could meet players on the other teams and the person immediately
had a large network of new friends. Long time LMSC Officer Nancy Worbyís daughter played in our club starting at the age of 4.
After college, Dana moved to Boston. She immediately signed up to play in a league up in Boston and now has a great group
of friends to be with. Hopefully our current LMSC players will take advantage of their soccer when they become adults and use
their soccer background to meet new people if they move to a new city or state.
HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS - Students who make it to the varsity of a sport in high school are often looked up to by the other
students. There are a lot of social values that come with that. Each year I work with a different group of players at Harriton.
Players who make varsity as a freshman are looked up very highly. By the time school starts in the fall, they already have friends
are upperclassmen. The better players get their name in the local newspapers. Playing in front of the student body is a thrilling
experience for them. Players on most high school teams become very good friends and do things together away from the soccer field.
Being a varsity athlete in high school is a very prestigious thing and greatly helps players with their self confidence, social
APPLYING FOR THEIR FIRST JOB - Many of the players in our club wind up getting their first job by signing up to be an
intramural referee in LMSC. Players 11 years of age or older may apply to be a referee. This is where these players get their
first chance to earn money. They direction from the program directors at the field, figure out what their responsibilities are
by attending the start of season referee meeting, etc. They earn their first ever paycheck, but along the way, they get their
first taste of working in a company and handling responsibility. The referees also learn how to work with young kids (our
youngest players are 4 years old) and are given the task of helping to teach these young players the basic skills of the game.
The referees get a chance to interact with really young kids and start to get an idea of how such young children function. The
life lessons they take away from reffing are much more valuable than the paycheck they get at the end of the season.
TIME MANAGEMENT - As I wrote earlier, I think it is totally ridiculous when parents steer their children away from sports
so that they will have more time to study. One of the great lessons that high school athletes learn is how to budget their time.
Players need to balance their school work, their athletics and their social life. They learn to not only prioritize all of this,
but figure out how to allocate the proper amount of time to everything. As a high school coach, I have found that student-athletes
who do not do well in school are not the stupid ones. They do not fail because of a shortage of time to study. Instead, they
fail because they did not properly allocate enough time to their studies. Instead, they were on the phone or on the Internet,
chatting with their friends. They were watching TV or just hanging out with their friends when they should have been studying.
Learning how to balance the different components of their lives is a tough task. As high school coaches, we do our best to make
sure they know that they have to make their academics a priority and they have to spend sufficient time studying. Learning to
budget oneís time is an important skill. All of us adults have struggled with this at one time or another. It is an important
lesson that high school students learn, one that will be very important in college and in the working world.
CONFIDENCE, SOCIAL SKILLS, HUMOR, ETC. - In my 30 years of coaching soccer, I have seen countless young kids grow up.
The first team I ever coached was an Under 10 team. This year, they will turn 39 years of age. The social skills I gained
through soccer were huge. Being able to interact with teammates, coaches, referees, opponents, etc. all made me older and wiser.
This is the same with so many players that I have seen play in our organization as well as other soccer organizations and other
youth sports programs in the area. Through the struggles and hard work, children learn to deal with success and failure, they gain
social skills, they gain confidence, a great sense of humor, etc. Children learn not only how to compete, but also, more importantly,
how to prepare to compete. They learn how to win, how to lose, how to work hard so that they have a better chance of succeeding on the
athletic field, etc.
Youth sports is not just about the sport. It is also about child development. The benefits gained from youth sports will not be found
in a classroom, in textbooks or in the library. Youth sports help children get through difficult times at home, youth sports help
keep children out of trouble. In short, youth sports make children much better children and prepare them to be successful adults.