Sports, exercise and play are key components for both mental and physical development in youth.

Regular physical activity can help reduce the risk of many health problems in children that are usually associated with adults, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. New research from the Aspen Project’s report State of Play: 2016, shows how organized sports can have an even greater impact on child health and development, some of which may carry over into adulthood.

The benefits for children aren’t just physical. A study from 2014 tracking children from kindergarten through fourth grade showed organized sports activity helps students develop and improve cognitive skills. Two other recent studies showed that adolescents who play sports are eight times as likely to be active at age 24 as adolescents who do not play sports.

Nearly 77 percent of people age 30 or older who play sports today played organized sports as school-aged children. The participating students showed improved academic achievement, including better grades, standardized test scores, concentration and classroom behavior.

A survey of parents of student athletes asking about the positive impacts playing sports had

for their children showed promising results. The parents believed their children had improved physical health, social skills and mental health, and learned to be disciplined.

A 2014 study of 400 female corporate executives revealed that 94 percent played organized sports and more than 60 percent believed sports played an important role in their career success. Physical activity in general has been linked to improved self-esteem, goal setting and leadership abilities.

Certain time and economic circumstances can prevent some families and children from participating in organized sports activities. Still, there are important benefits to be had from free play or creating a family fitness routine. Most after-school programs provide options for organized sports like basketball and volleyball, and generally allow time for free play.

In fact, one study found that free play can produce higher levels of physical activity than many organized sports. As much as 43 percent of the time spent in some organized sports practices resulted in inactivity.

Things to keep in mind before starting your children in sports:

  • If your child is part of league play, ensure they have downtime in their schedule to catch up with family and friends
  • Offer positive feedback to help keep your athlete interested and motivated
  • If your child is not sporty, take up a sport as a family. This allows them to develop skills and have fun learning without the pressure of performing in front of others who might be more advanced
  • Be aware of the risk for injury
  • Reflect together on losses to help your child deal with disappointments and problem solve for the next event

Chad Eiler is the senior copywriter for Healthy Living Made Simple.