To show good sportsmanship, members of the One Hit Wonders (in blue) line up to high-five their opponents from Bertram after a 4U T-Ball game at the YMCA fields in Burnet. These games are organized through the Burnet Youth Softball and Baseball Association, which includes players from the ages of 4 to 14. Photo by Grace Gates
By Grace Gates • Student Correspondent
The loss of sports during COVID-19 shutdowns hurt the mental health of children, according to a study conducted in 2021 by Project Play and Utah State University. In the Highland Lakes, coaches, parents, and kids are back on the fields in force and happy to talk about what youth sports mean to them, their families, and their communities.
“The time and money is absolutely worth it,” said Jeanni Nelson, an elementary school counselor in the Burnet school district and mother of two boys involved in youth sports. “I love the lessons of having grit and working hard each day to get better. Learning how to lose and how to win while displaying positive character and sportsmanship is a great lesson for kids to learn.”
Her 10-year-old son, Pason, plays flag football and baseball. He likes the teamwork involved.
“It’s fun because you get to work together and make friends with new people on your team,” he said.
As children begin to understand what it means to encourage others, the impact of youth sports programs reaches beyond the little league years, according to the study and local participants who talked to The Picayune Magazine.
“Kids learn to work together to accomplish goals,” Nelson said. “It is important to invest in the character development of our kids, and sports are a great way to help kids make the connections between hard work and success and success and humility.”
The lifelong friendships and memories made in youth sports motivate kids to remain physically active as they get older, leading to better health in their adult years.
“I want to keep playing to stay athletic and get better at different sports,” said Pason, who is obviously already sold on the benefits.
As children with a sports background mature, they develop a growth mindset. Kids exposed to a competitive atmosphere learn how to be successful under pressure. Along with building muscular strength, youth sports also builds self-esteem and reduces the risk of depression, according to studies.
Children who play sports look up to their coaches and older players, developing mentor relationships that will help in their later careers, said Sonny Wilson, director of Next Level, a Highland Lakes nonprofit that gives kids an opportunity to play sports year-round.
“Keeping these kids in an environment where they will be trained properly and build competitive habits that leak into the schools can result in major success,” he added.
Bradyn Houston, 9, plays basketball, football, and baseball and runs track. He also serves as the official batboy for the Burnet High School baseball team. Father Russell Houston is the Bulldogs head coach.
“I like sports because they are fun and make me work harder,” Bradyn said. “I will most likely keep playing sports when I’m older because they keep me moving and maybe will help me in life.”
Sports teach children valuable life lessons such as work ethic, leadership, discipline, and overcoming failure. This is exactly why parents encourage their kids to pick up sports at a young age.
“When a kid knows that you believe in them, it rocks their world,” Wilson said. “Every kid deserves to have someone that is invested in them.”
Coaches claim they get as much out of youth sports as the players.
“I look at it as a huge blessing to be around amazing kids,” Wilson continued. “It just brings me joy to see a kid do something that they never thought they could do. The smile they give when they know they hit their goal — nothing is better than that.”
Youth sports are offered in the Highland Lakes year-round, including soccer, softball, baseball, football, and basketball. For details and links to where to register, visit 101HighlandLakes.com/youth-sports-clubs.