Spring a perfect time for youth

As we approach spring, the childhood memories start flowing, the trees blowing in the wind next to the roller rink, the smell of fresh grass on the baseball field and the layer of fog coming off the pool in the morning air.

Youth sports don’t just provide fun memories. They contribute to the physical, cognitive and social development of children.

With a win-at-all-costs mentality, the fun can be taken out of youth sports.

Young athletes are often injured or burnt out due to excess stress or pressure, according to youth sports experts Ryan Hedstrom and Daniel Gould.

The egos of parents and coaches can add to the stress and pressure. Sometimes, misguided parents will try to make their son or daughter the next Hank Aaron, Michael Phelps or Mia Hamm.

Other times, an overzealous coach believes coaching winning teams will make up for his or her own shortcomings as an athlete.

Also annoying are parents who spend an entire game arguing with a coach or official while their children – the young athletes – just want to play.

However, the positives come from a warm spring afternoon on the ball field or a crisp morning on the roller hockey rink.

When participating in youth sports, children develop motor skills, an appreciation for fitness and a sense of belonging, youth sports experts Vern Seefeldt, Martha Ewing, and Stephan Walk said.

Parents must encourage their children to stay active, especially in a society where frequent trips to a McDonald’s or Burger King aren’t frowned upon.

Children participate in sports to get exercise and to stay in shape, according to Ewing and Seefeldt. Exercise and health should be the goals of youth sports.

Youth sports promote goal setting. Once a young athlete makes goals in their area of competition, they begin to set goals in other areas of their life.

Gaining self-esteem is another benefit of youth sports.

There is nothing quite like celebrating with your team after hitting in the winning run or scoring the winning goal.

When children feel like a contributing member to their team, they feel valued and become inspired to achieve their goals.

Youth sports also promote social interaction.

Even when children face mean teammates, they can learn to face those difficult social situations head on. Sports teach children social skills that will benefit them throughout their life.

Perhaps the most important lesson of youth sports is the understanding of sportsmanship.

At the end of a contest, when each competitor shakes hands with the opposition, it’s a great teaching moment. In life, we must learn to win and lose with grace and no matter the outcome strive to improve. It’s nice to see youth sports teaching this lesson.

When looking ahead to the spring and a welcome break from this long winter, if you have children, look into signing them up for a youth sport.

Blair County offers leagues such as the Altoona and Hollidaysburg soccer associations, various clinics of all types and countless youth baseball or softball leagues.

Have your kids play ball. You’ll be amazed by the impact it will have.

Jay Wareham is a native of Leesburg, Va., and a student at Penn State Altoona.