The Family Pick-Up Game
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The Family Pick-Up Game

Some of our favorite sports teams are playing shortened seasons this year. Why not fill in the schedule with games of your own?

When we think of the ways families can spend time together, there are few activities as beneficial as a pick-up game. These casual backyard games—basketball, whiffle ball, soccer, volleyball, basketball, tag, even hide-and-seek, or any other game that appeals to you—don’t need much preparation or official equipment. Even a few minutes can add up to big wins.

Health As a pediatrician, the first benefit I think of is good health. Sports, even backyard sports, offer kids the opportunity to develop a variety of skills, including coordination, endurance, flexibility, and strength. They help kids build the awareness of their bodies in space. Over time, regular activity, like backyard sports, can help maintain a healthy body weight, lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, strengthen bones, and improve sleep.

Mental Sharpness If your and your kids’ focus is flagging after a long remote learning session, try a quick game of catch or Frisbee. According to one study, a bit of exercise releases brain chemicals needed for memory and concentration. A little bit of fresh air and some physical activity is the perfect way to perk up.

Emotional Wellbeing Scientists believe that physical activity provides a boost for the mood, too. A 2019 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that serotonin, a mood-regulating chemical the body produces, increases during exercise and can boost feelings of well-being and lessen mental depression.

Building Relationships Playing together is a great way for families to build emotional bonds. There are opportunities for praise and cheering each other on. Families make memories during once-in-a-lifetime catches and side-splitting bloopers. Keep it positive, and just have fun. Redirect as little as possible and save the hard competitive edge for people your own size. Your kids will love the time you spend together. 

Lifelong Benefits Making physical activity a habit can multiply the beneficial effects over time. Kids who enjoy backyard games may take their skills to school or recreational teams and build friendships, cooperation, and leadership skills to last a lifetime. The National Federation of State High School Associations reported survey data that high school athletes have higher grade point averages and miss fewer days than non-athletes.

Plus, kids who improve slowly over time are likely to relate practice with progress. Sports can teach the value of perseverance in overcoming challenges, a valuable life skill. Getting better at the skills of the game builds self-confidence, too. All of these qualities can add up to real success in the long run.

It may be tempting to encourage your kids to play and then sit on the sidelines. As long as you are in good general health, I encourage you to play along. The kids are more likely to play if you do. You’ll be setting a great example, maintaining your health, and having fun, too.

This weekend, why not ask the people sitting around the house with you for a game of catch. One quick game could turn into your favorite sports season of all time and a lifetime of good health and satisfaction for your child. 

Lynn Mann, DO, is a pediatrician who sees patients at SVMC Northshire Campus. 

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