Whether it’s physical, mental, or even academic; youth sports organizations provide a variety of healthy benefits to children in a fun and engaging way.

Youth sports is extremely popular in the U.S. since about 75 percent of American families with kids have at least one child that participates in an organized sports activity, according to a 2013 published article in the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine.

The article discussed both the positive and negative aspects of sports with some of the downsides being injury rates, moral issues and the importance of winning. Even with some of these undesirable aspects, the article determined that there was more good than harm especially considering the sedentary lifestyles of many Americans and increasing childhood obesity rates. These common health problems can lead to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and more. While sports like any other activity has its risks, the published article stated that it’s a fun way to get kids fit.

“It appears that an emphasis on fun while establishing a balance between physical fitness, psychological well-being, and lifelong lessons for a healthy and active lifestyle are paramount for success,” stated the article.

Regular sports activity is a great way for children to get their recommended daily exercise. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans states that children six to 17 years old should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. The guidelines also state that young people should be encouraged to do activities that are enjoyable.

Chris Lerch, general manager of the 422 SportsPlex in Pottstown, said one of their most popular and fun camps this summer is the multi-sports camp. The weekly camp is for children of all ages and abilities. Kids that participate have the opportunity to play a variety of sports including basketball, dodgeball and hockey.

The SportsPlex is the host of several summer camps and youth programs throughout the year. Lerch said they serve several nearby towns including Royersford, Boyertown, Exeter and Reading. He said when school starts, there will be a lot more league sports and other class trainings. Sydney Coleman, for the first year, will start a field hockey league in September. There will be a free open house event about the sport on Aug. 6 at the SportsPlex from 9 a.m. to noon where children will learn about dribbling, passing and more. For more information about the field hockey league, contact Coleman at 484-515-5548.

Lerch said he played several sports as a child including hockey. He said sports provide children with a great social atmosphere that allows them to learn about teamwork and leadership skills. He said former SportsPlex campers have even become coaches when they got older. Lerch said some of the same skills kids learn doing sports are ones that can be used later in life for their career. Sports helped Lerch to develop interpersonal skills and how to effectively communicate with others, he said.

“With video games and cellphones, there are a lot less direct person to person interaction,” he said adding that teammates learn how to work well with one another.

Lerch also said several programs are conducted at the SportsPlex that go beyond the athletic training involved with sports. This past winter Rian Wallace, NFL Superbowl XL Pittsburg Steeler Champion and former Pottstown High School football player, did a free after-school program there. The sports-based leadership program taught children about the importance of exercise, nutrition and academics.

Lerch said there is also a sports psychology group called Mind of the Athlete that have discussions at the SportsPlex about the mental side of sports and life in general. The organization is based out of Bethlehem and its focus is to improve the emotional health of athletes, according to its website at www.mindoftheathlete.com.

There are several youth sports organizations where the focus isn’t about winning but about creating great character traits in children. Youth development is one of the main goals of the Police Athletic League (PAL), said Ted Qualli, executive director for the PAL of Philadelphia.

“We are trying to help young people deal with the challenges in their neighborhood and in their communities and to develop positive attributes,” Qualli said.

The Police Athletic League is a national youth-serving organization that uses recreational and educational opportunities to prevent juvenile crime and violence. There are several local chapters in the area including the Pottstown Area PAL, the Phoenixville Area PAL, North Penn PAL of Lansdale and more.

Qualli said sports obviously includes physical activity which is good for overall health but that PAL also makes it its mission to instill other qualities in children. He said the coaches are mentors to the children and help them learn how to deal with diversity. A 2010 study about sport’s role in society conducted by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency stated that according to a survey, coaches were ranked as the number one positive influence on youth.

Qualli said children involved in the PAL of Philadelphia also learn about the importance of education through programs like 24 Math. The youth practice math skills then compete county-wide. He said there’s a lot of research about how physical movement has a good impact on the brain. He said children are still developing their brain so sports can definitely be a benefit to them.

There are plenty of area organizations that provide sports opportunities including local PAL chapters, the 422 SportsPlex, the Media Youth Center, Reading Youth Athletic Program, Greater Pottstown Tennis & Learning and local Soccer for Success programs through The JT Dorsey Foundation.

For more healthy living stories including healthy recipes, visit the Fit for Life website at www.pottsmercfit4life.com.

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