Trade Virtual Time for the Real Game

Read about why real sports are better than digital ones
Shutterstock 1099470401

Not every child needs to play sports, right? After all, maybe sports just aren’t his or her thing. Maybe he isn’t gifted in sports like he is at gaming and coding. Sports also can be a huge time commitment on a family, especially when multiple siblings are involved. 

My family has not always been sports focused. Our oldest of four children was really into sports until he wanted more time to play video games. At that time, I didn’t understand the role that sports play in a child’s life, so my son got his wish, which meant less carpooling for me. Now I know that letting him quit sports to spend more time gaming was one of the most significant parenting mistakes I ever made.

After the mistake with our oldest son, we took the video games away and put our younger daughter and sons in sports. Our daughter went on to become a college athlete at a Division 1 school. She didn’t play video games and we did not allow her to have social media. I often wonder what her trajectory would have been like had she spent four hours a day distracted by a screen. 

When it came to her younger brothers, we focused on the discipline of sports and not on their skills when they were young. In fact, one of our sons once made it through a whole basketball season without making a single basket until the playoff game when he finally scored. You bet he still remembers sinking that one. Did we take him out of basketball because he was not the best player on the team? No. We installed a nice driveway rim and put one over the door in his bedroom. He is now on his middle school basketball team. Sports are a long-term investment.

Physical activity is important for all children, even those who may not be the highest scorer on the team. With heavy activity, including chores and play, muscles and joints meet resistance that results in an “energy dump.” This energy release is needed to reduce hyperactivity and aggression. Exercise is also required for healthy brain development. Research says that oxygen must be carried to the brain in order for it to reach its highest potential. It doesn’t matter how you try to slice it, phrase it, YouTube it or sell it: Video games do not test a child’s physical and mental limits the way real sports do.

Even if children don’t feel like athletes, they are. Remove the gaming system for a season and get your children on the court, field, dance studio or just outside. The season of childhood only happens once, but the lessons learned through sports and being active can last a lifetime. 


Melanie Hempe is the founder of Families Managing Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families reduce screen overuse. She also has a nursing degree and is Mom to four children.


Why Real Sports Beat Screen Sports

Exercise. Sports are hard work. Children need to move in order to release energy, get focused, learn and be healthy. 

Expanded social opportunities. Developing multiple friend groups on teams is highly beneficial as kids get older. 

Respect and commitment to a coach and team. When a child is motivated to respect a coach and committed to a team, character development follows.

Grit. Children need challenges and opportunities to push to their highest potential while learning to keep their cool, control their impulses, and build patience. The feeling of winning a Fortnite battle and winning a basketball game is very different.

Empathy and compassion. Sports teach humility. Kids need opportunities to build real-life empathy. Participating in sports is a wonderful way to take the focus off self and learn to think of others.

Memories. All of the beginnings and endings in a sports season follow a natural order and create meaningful stories of shared experiences. Remembering the day you killed a bad guy in your video game rarely makes it to the family scrapbook or family holiday card.