In Ancient Greece, Aristotle promoted the benefits of a “sound mind and a sound body.” That correlation is true today, especially for young people. Allowing your children to participate in youth sports is an outstanding opportunity to explore and develop lifelong skills. Youth sports not only play an important role in exercise, but can promote mental and psychological advantages that will serve them well.

The city of Palmdale is doing its part to encourage more childhood exercise with its innovative new Challenger Sports British Soccer Camp scheduled June 26-30 at Pelona Vista Park, 37800 Tierra Subida Ave., in Palmdale.

The camp will feature a specific brand of innovative practice sessions and professionally coached games all leading to a “camp world cup.” The most important aspects of the camp, however, maybe the opportunity for youngsters to learn sportsmanship, dedication, teamwork, and character skills all while learning about how soccer is embraced by kids just like them throughout the world’s cultures. The camp will consist of “first kicks” for ages 2 and 3 (sessions from 9 to 10 a.m.; $93 for residents, $117 for non-residents); “mini soccer” for ages 4 and 5 (sessions 10 a.m. to noon; $107 for residents, $134 for non residents); and “half day” for children and youth 6 to 16 years (9 a.m. to noon, $135 for residents, $167 for non-residents). Registration includes a soccer ball and a T-shirt.

Sports can boost academic performance

It is generally known that children who participate in sports do better in class, are less likely to drop out of school, or become involved with gangs, drugs and alcohol. The physical benefits of organized sports, however, may pale in comprison to advancements a child can make mentally. Keeping a child active in an age-appropriate level in sports is an excellent way to increase learning, focus and even test results.

Because many grade schools nationwide have had to curtail their traditional exercise periods in favor of more classroom study to close the “achievement gap” present in many underserved communities, these changes have reportedly reduced instruction time in non-academic subjects, such as arts, music and, unfortunately, physical education. Couple this with more youngsters leading a more sedentary life behind a video game, tablet or smart phone, and the results show the obesity epidemic is spreading across all socio-economic boundaries.

“Good physical fitness helps to build healthy young lives,” said Laura Jeffery, regional director for Challenger Sports. Her organization has conducted soccer camps across the nation, but this is the first one in Palmdale. She explained that the “British” way of playing soccer can differ slightly from America’s MLS (Major League Soccer) or AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) competitions, specifically the latter in that the British utilize full-time professional coaches. The AYSO relies primarily on volunteer coaches.

More kids are overweight

Of course, soccer is not the only way to encourage childhood physical fitness. Any outdoor physical activity is good for growing bodies.

“Sports activity is a known stress reducer and it builds good character, teamwork and discipline in young people,” Jeffrey explained. “Our objective is to get the kids away from their video games and smart phones and out exercising and having fun. Sports boots self-confidence and has been known to assist in academic improvement. The youngsters come away with advantages they can apply to their daily lives whether playing any sport or as it may apply to their studies.”

Today, less than half of youth 6 to 7 years old meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) which recommends at least one hour of physical activity each day. Physical activity is said to facilitate a child’s cognitive development and academic success—as well as good character and social development—all of which can be achieved in a variety of ways before, during and after school. In the summer months in locales like the Antelope Valley, physical activity can abound in many different and exciting ways from the court to the field as long it is tapered to the ability of the child and, of course, weather conditions. Children should avoid outdoor play on 100-plus-degree days.

A game of tag has real meaning

Many studies have been conducted over the years that have focused on the positive relationship between aerobic fitness (e.g. cycling, running, active games and sports), and learning and memory. The HSS looked at a group of fourth-grade children and their exercise habits few years ago and suggested that reducing physical education in schools may actually hinder academic performance for developing children. They found that even occasional aerobic exercise of moderate intensity is helpful. Apparently, when you see little ones exhibit spurts of running or playing “tag” this is known as “activity-based learning” that correlates directly with better cognitive performance. Younger children tend to prefer short bursts of activity—they’ll run all-out after a playmate, for instance—and that innocent gesture, according to the HSS, is an excellent form of exercise for little legs. Older adolescents can participate in longer durations of more structured activities.

It is becoming more widely known that physical activity has a direct result on brain function. However, many U.S. schools have had to reduce physical education activities because of less funding to school districts and the ongoing push toward improved test scores. Essentially, kids are in the class much more than they are outside on the playground exercising. Often it is up to parents to make sure that children are staying active after school and on weekends. Many studies have concluded that regular exercise among children can encourage their brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnectedness and protecting them from damage. One example of this finding is the “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” that triggers numerous other chemicals (endorphins) that promote natural health and have a direct benefit on brain functions, including learning.

Exercise at least 30 minutes each day

Overweight and obese children need at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, and may benefit from closer to 60 minutes, according to findings from the HSS. But even if your child is not overweight, you should encourage him or her to take part in physically engaging activities after school and on weekends. The typical child does not need to log 30 to 60 minutes in a gymnasium on any specific exercise, unless that’s what they want to do. As long as they are outdoors and not cooped up in front of a television or computer screen, any type of exercise is beneficial. A January report from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health revealed that the Antelope Valley, behind South Los Angeles, has the county’s second highest percentage of childhood obesity. Getting youngsters to exercise regularly may be more important now than ever.

The many benefits of childhood sports/exercise have been known for years. For instance, children who participate in sports—and eat three balanced meals each day—will develop stronger muscles and bones. Participating in sports will keep children active, aid in reducing the chance of obesity and, in the long run, decrease the risk of diseases that arise from being overweight such as heart disease and diabetes. Participating in sports increases a child’s cardiovascular endurance which can help to ward off heart disease as an adult. Playing sports at a young age builds character because children are introduced at the early age the social interactions of teamwork, leadership skills and responsibility as they learn to work with others to achieve a common goal.

Sports builds self-esteem, character

The social media world filled with bullying and “shaming” that sometimes leads a sensitive child to contemplate harming someone or, even worse, themselves. Children engaged in sports activities will gain enhanced self esteem for a positive outlook on their lives. What each child contributes to the team—whether it be in leadership positions such as team captain, or in fulfilling important roles—will ultimately contribute to a boost in their self confidence. Learning perseverance or a adopting a “stick-to-it’’ attitude is important at a young age because adversity leads to better coping skills, as well as critical thinking and application skills in life, when will certainly face much bigger challenges.

Playing sports requires discipline. Children who learn self-restraint early can translate that into a positive view of themselves, devoid of any need for drugs or alcohol, and can be a big benefit in resisting peer pressure. Good discipline translates directly to life situations in order to achieve goals and reach their full potential later in life. And while some naysayers may point the finger at overly-zealous, sports-minded parents who can sometimes interfere with the “fun” aspect of youth sports, athletic competitions can be beneficial because as children grow, they will face competition in school, the workplace and in their personal lives. Learning early how to interact in competitive environments will teach good character, sportsmanship and build confidence in a child that he or she did their best, regardless of the final score.

Some professional sports teams have dietitians and nutritionists to help monitor player’s food intake. Parents can serve a similar function by keeping tabs on what their young athletes eat by providing plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole-grain products. Serve low-fat or non-fat dairy products, and opt for lean meat—not fatty portions—and serve more baked poultry and fish for needed protein. Encourage youngsters to put down sugary soft drinks and energy drinks and choose water instead. Kids love snacks, so allow for them in moderation but limit high-fat and high-sugar or salty products.

It is important for parents to encourage more outdoor play for kids. That involves a limit to TV and video games, and having them use their imaginations outside whether it be a quick game of hoops, tossing the football or baseball … or simply climbing a tree.