Why Youth Sports Matter

Youth sports have been a part of the culture in the United States since the late 19th century- a time when industrialization in the US led the leaders of the country to encourage children- mostly boys- to play sports. 

Youth sports achieved two goals at that time. First, they kept young boys busy and off the streets, which decreased the likelihood that they would be engaging in harmful activities. Second, it supported a movement referred to as “Muscular Christianity” which developed from early Greek civilzation’s belief in balancing the development of the body with the development of the mind and spirit. 

The YMCA- A Rich History of Youth Sports

The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was one of the first major organizations to support competitive youth sports programming in the US. Luther Halsey Gulick was a pioneer in the development of these programs at the YMCA, establishing a physical training program at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. 

In addition to building youth’s physical strength, early organizers of youth sports at the YMCA believed that organized athletics helped foster cooperation, self-control, and loyalty. Today, youth sports have grown and changed at the Y, but the goals still remain the same. Rather than focusing primarily on competition, youth sports at the Y focus on character and skill development.

Still True to the Mission

True to the mission that was set forth so many decades ago, YMCA youth sports continue to be open to all children. Through Membership for All, scholarships are provided to youth whose families cannot afford to pay the program fees. In 2018, the Mattoon Area Family YMCA granted over $346,000 in scholarships to families and youth. 

In addition to youth development, one of the YMCA’s other areas of impact is healthy living. Regular physical activity has many health benefits for youth, including helping to build and maintain healthy bones, helping to maintain a healthy weight, and preventing or delaying the development of chronic diseases. In fact, youth sports has lifelong benefits. A study titled ‘Sports Participation as Predictors of Participation in Sports and Physical Fitness Activities in Young Adulthood’ found that adolescents who play sports are eight times as likely to be active at age 24 as adolescents who do not play sports. 

One study that tracked youth from kindergarten through fourth grade (Piche, 2014), found that physical activity in general helps improve school performance, including grades and standardized test scores. High school athletes are also more likely to attend college and get degrees, according to the US Department of Education. The benefits of youth sports can even extend to the workplace. A 2014 survey by ESPN of 400 female corporate executives found that 94% played a sport and 61% say sports contributed to their career success. 

Healthy Spirit, Body and Mind

A 2019 study found that children who reported no exercise were twice as likely to have mental health problems, particularly related to anxiety and depression, compared with those who met the recommendation of an hour a day, and a 2020 study by the New York Times suggested that the more physical activity teenagers participated in, the less likely they were to report depression as 18-year-olds.

At the Mattoon Area Family YMCA and Neal Center YMCA, we strive to offer a variety of youth sports programs that welcome children of all ages and abilities. Soccer, basketball, dodgeball and volleyball are among the current offerings. However, every program is at risk without the dedication of volunteer coaches. 

Change Lives Through Coaching

Research has shown that the quality of coaching- providing guidance while also offering support and positive reinforcement- plays a large role in whether children benefit from participation in youth sports. At the YMCA, coaches do not need to have experience in a sport in order to coach. We offer training for coaches and guide them throughout the season. Husbands and wives, siblings, and friends often enjoy coaching together. 

The YMCA offers Membership for All assistance that ensures that no child is turned away from youth sports due to an inability to pay. If you are interested in enrolling your child in youth sports, or you would like to volunteer to coach, call (217) 234-9494 in Mattoon or (217) 235-2500 in Toledo, or click here