Everyone from teachers to politicians are concerned about at-risk youth. No one wants to see young people fall into lives that are full of strife. One important tool to help lift at-risk youth out of difficult situations is athletics. Sports provide a number of benefits that can help lift young people out of difficult situations they may be facing.

Sports teach young people discipline. Organized sports, such as track and field or basketball have rules. The young people on the team need to show up to practice on time, follow rules, complete drills properly, and then compete effectively in organized matches. All of that preparation and structure is good practice for the adult world of jobs and family responsibilities.

The physical activity of sports also has important impacts on young people. It helps to regularize their sleep patterns, fosters a mind-body connection, helps to balance peoples’ moods, and improves motor skills. Physical activity is also a very important factor in combating the obesity epidemic facing many countries today. Getting young people to understand their bodily systems and the basics of health is no small thing.

Sports can help improve interpersonal relationships. Whether a young person is playing an individual or a team sport, the activity will teach them how to interact with others. In sports, most young people learn valuable lessons about teamwork. They also learn that their opponents are not that different from them. Sports teach young people to respect their opponents, their skills and the challenges they overcome, in the same way, that they respect their teammates. Coaches can also take on valuable roles as mentors to young people with no role models at home.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, sports teach young people how to be resilient. It’s very unlikely that a team will win every game they play. It’s even rarer to find an athlete in an individual sport who can dominate reliably. Most young people who go into a sport will not become Serena Williams or Michael Phelps. Instead, they will have some wins and some losses. They will learn how to win graciously, cope with defeat, and to learn from setbacks. These life lessons are some of the best and most enduring reasons to encourage sporting activity for at-risk youth.