Kids climb on a rope dome at the playground in Pioneer Park in 2017. 

Sports are a fun way for kids to be healthy, build lifelong skills, and gain confidence. They are also a great way for kids to get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity and can help them maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives. Physical activity can also boost students’ performance in school, maintain a healthy weight, and decrease their risk of heart disease.

A study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that afterschool physical activity programs were one of the most effective ways to reduce obesity. Obesity rates have continued to rise within our country and among our among children. In Yellowstone County, 28% of young people are overweight, according to the 2017 Community Health Needs Assessment. Nearly 33% do not get an hour of physical activity each day.

Youth sports can also help build essential life skills and resilience. Participation in organized sports involves learning, communication, and can help students set and achieve goals. Kids learn how to work with others on a team and can improve their self-esteem by helping them form a strong social network. Organized sports also gives students a safe space to learn how to face challenges, deal with loss, and persevere — essential life skills.

Unfortunately, there are some obstacles to participation in organized sports. The Aspen Institute’s Project Play Report found that children living in poverty have the lowest participation rate in sports, and that cost can be a significant barrier. Other groups that are less likely to participate in organized recreational activities include women, individuals living with disabilities, and certain racial or ethnic minorities.

Opportunities for all

Here are some things that coaches, sports clubs and communities can do to open up more opportunities for young people to participate in sports.

  • Coaches can attend training to learn how to tailor activities so that everyone can be included and have fun.
  • Sports clubs and organizations can offer scholarships or financial assistance to make sure anyone who wants to play, can play. Businesses can also help sponsor scholarships.
  • Cities and organizations can help expand recreational space, such as parks and playing fields, and make them accessible to all.
  • Parents can encourage their kids to participate in sports or regularly go out and play.

A great rule of thumb to follow the 5-2-1-0 message adopted by the Healthy By Design coalition. That message recommends eating five or more fruits and vegetables each day, having two hours or less of screen time, doing one hour of physical activity, and replacing all sugary drinks with water. Starting those healthy habits early can deliver lifetime benefits.

In Yellowstone County, some youth sports programs and camps offering financial aid include: YMCA, Billings Parks & Recreation, youth hockey at Centennial Ice Arena, and Montana Juniors Volleyball Club.

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Morgan Miller, a Prevention Health Specialist at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 247.3276 or morgan.mil@riverstonehealth.org.