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Why playing competitive sports can give your child a leg up in life

When it comes to competitive sports for kids, there are two schools of thought. On one side of the field are the proponents of participation trophies and not keeping score while on the other bench are those who feel if you’re not first you’re last. This age-old debate usually needs a referee, but the truth is, participating in fun competitive games for kids can actually be worthwhile. A lot of important life lessons are learned through sports, and being a part of a team includes time management, responsibility, and decision-making skills. Playing competitive sports is also great for growing confidence and self-esteem in kids. That’s not without even mentioning the health benefits.

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”

UCLA football coach Red Sanders tapped this phrase, which often gives competition games for kids a bad rap, as do the sometimes overzealous parents on the sidelines. Of course, “winning is the only thing” isn’t a healthy attitude, but no one takes the field or plays a competitive game with the intention of losing. Playing competitive sports though does teach kids how to handle winning and losing in life. You can’t learn how to take winning and losing in stride if you never experience it. Competition also teaches kids how to work toward a goal and how to handle ups and downs along with perseverance. So if you’re thinking about getting your child involved in a competitive sport, do it. The key is to find a sport he or she enjoys. If your child happens to get a win-at-all-costs coach, don’t throw in the towel. Look for another organization. Not sure what competitive sports are good for kids? We’ve got your roster.

Competition games for kids

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This is a great sport to introduce kids to at any age. Soccer is excellent for exercise and teaching kids how to work together. It’s played outdoors in the spring and fall before moving indoors for the winter. Recreational soccer leagues are available for kids as young as four and go into adulthood. If your player gets into the game, travel soccer can be a lot of fun and an all-around learning experience.


Don’t let those stories of 5 a.m. practice scare you off. Ice hockey is a fun competitive sport for kids with leagues available for all ages and abilities. Since the equipment can be pricey, look for an introductory league that lets kids borrow equipment and rent hockey skates to see if they take to the sport. You don’t want to outfit your child in all the gear only to find they don’t enjoy it.

Kids having fun playing basketball outside
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Like soccer, basketball is an accessible sport for kids of all ages and abilities. It’s also one they can play their whole lives and is relatively inexpensive. All you’ll need is a ball and a pair of sneakers.


Baseball has long been known as America’s pastime and is a popular youth sport for kids. Many girls and boys get their first taste of this competition at a very young age. T-ball teaches 4, 5, and 6-year-olds the basics of the game. Players then move to instructional leagues where parent coaches pitch and continue to teach the fundamentals. The progression brings kids into the competitive nature of baseball and softball at a slower pace. If your child likes the sport, there are different options to choose from including recreational and more competitive travel leagues.


This is an energetic outdoor sport for kids that is excellent exercise. Like ice hockey, there is definitely gear involved. Look for an instructional lacrosse league that allows kids to borrow or rent the equipment.

Child In football gear
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Due to the concussion risks, there has been quite a bit of debate about when kids should start playing football. Some schools of thought recommend starting kids in this team sport in middle school while others begin the introduction to the game as young as 5. If your kid is interested in the gridiron, try a recreational flag football league first. There isn’t any tackling and the emphasis, while still competitive, is on the fun.


If you’ve tried team sports with your child without success, don’t head to the locker room. Give tennis a try. Tennis is a competitive sport that kids can play their entire life with opportunities to excel or simply enjoy at the recreational level. Even though tennis is not considered a team sport per se, it is in high school and college. Playing tennis gives kids and teens the same benefits as participating in traditional team sports like soccer and baseball.

Final thoughts on sports

Putting kids in a win-at-all-cost environment regardless of age isn’t healthy, but that doesn’t mean competition is bad. Participating in competitive team sports like soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, lacrosse, hockey, and tennis teaches many important life lessons. Kids learn what it means to be a part of a team as well as responsibility and accountability. Balancing school, practices, games, and other activities helps kids learn vital time management skills. Playing competitive team sports is also a social activity. Kids make friends with their teammates and learn how to coexist with others. All these skills come into play later in life. Recreational leagues offer competition in a more laid-back atmosphere. Travel leagues are often more competitively intense. Both are beneficial to participants, but it’s important to find the one that’s a good fit for your child.

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Dawn Miller
Dawn Miller began her professional life as an elementary school teacher before returning to her first love, writing. In…
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