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Time to Choose: Extracurricular Activities

As children and teens head back to school, many are deciding what sports they would like to try out for, what clubs they want to join, and how they want to spend their free time. It’s worth encouraging your kids to get involved in extracurricular activities — there are a number of benefits to physical and mental well-being. Here’s what you should know as your kids get involved. 

The benefits of organized sports

Some of the physical benefits of youth sports are obvious — they provide a source of exercise, which can help children develop a lifelong commitment to health and fitness. Research has shown regular physical activity can improve overall cardiorespiratory fitness and build strong muscles and bones. Further, it can also reduce their risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. 

In addition to the physical benefits, exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and help kids build self-confidence. Additional benefits include the development of coordination and motor skills for young children, learning about teamwork and how to be a good team player, and developing important social skills. Just as important, it gives kids a way to have fun. 

Don’t forget other extracurriculars

While many kids love sports like baseball, football, and basketball, organized sports aren’t for everyone. Other extracurricular activities, clubs, and organizations can deliver the same self-confidence, team-building, and social skills as sports. Though they may not provide the same source of exercise team sports do, extracurriculars like marching band, theater and volunteer organizations can help your son or daughter avoid being sedentary. 

Don’t overdo it

Sports and other extracurriculars have several positive benefits for children and teens. Physical, mental, and emotional growth — not to mention great friendships — can emerge from these activities. It’s also important, however, to not overdo it. While the benefits are obvious, and extracurricular activities often play a role in college applications, it’s also important that children and teens aren’t over-scheduled. 

Kids also need time to be kids, and that means time that isn’t structured, scheduled or organized. Like adults, your children and teens can get burnt out, stressed out, and anxious about their responsibilities. Make sure your children have time to complete all of their homework and extracurricular activities while still having adequate time to rest and relax. Additionally, don’t forget the importance of family time! Try to have at least one family dinner a week — without phones or screens — to touch base about how the school year is going.

Keep it in perspective

Competition is normal and healthy, as long as we don’t take it too far. Remember, these are kids — it’s not the end of the world if they don’t win a baseball game, or don’t get first chair in their band section. No matter how good someone is at an activity, they can’t always win and they won’t always be the best. So don’t pile on the pressure to win. Instead, applaud effort and hard work, good sportsmanship, teamwork, and a good attitude. Winning is great, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating success. Just remember, competition should bring out the best in people, not the worst — which applies to the kids on the field, and the parents in the stands as well.  

Dr. Heather Spain is board-certified in both General (Adult) and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Monument Health’s Behavioral Health Center in Rapid City. While Dr. Spain is trained to treat all mental health concerns, specific clinical interests include anxiety disorders, mood disorders and collaborative care across health care disciplines. She is a member of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and enjoys hiking and biking in her free time.

To make an appointment with Dr. Spain call 605-755-7200