Dr. Gregory Jantz

The Importance of Sports and Play for Boys

April 28, 2014

An 8-Step Audit of Your Son’s Activities

Among the wonderful assets available to you, as parents, to help your son build character and self-discipline, are his own body and mind. These attributes will most likely direct him toward activities such as physical play, sports, or athletics. Through play with his friends, he will push his physical limits and learn from you and others how his body and mind work together to find boundaries. Later, he may join in sports, athletics, and other group or solo competitive challenges to “test the world” and guide his own development of self-discipline. His experience of success, failure, and a great deal of heroism will be developed within these playful, competitive frameworks.

To make sure your son is getting all the heroic development he can from play, sports, and athletics, take time to study him, his coaches, his interactions, and yourself as a parent. You can move through this study by answering these eight major questions:

  1. Does my son get enough physical activity for his particular physical and psychological design? All boys need some physical activity every day because their brains need the activity in order to fully develop. What is your son’s level of need? How much physical activity does your son need in order to thrive?
  2. Is my son getting enough team or solo competition to motivate him to grow, challenge him to succeed, and equip him to handle failure and defeat? Play and sports should provide healthy, competitive frameworks for character development.
  3. Is my son getting too much team or solo competition to fit his design? While every boy (and girl) needs competitive arenas in which to test and hone individual skill, some kids don’t need as much as others. What is your son’s design?
  4. What is the quality of mentoring and coaching my son is getting in play, athletics, or sports? The best coaches, supervisors, and adult leaders integrate character and self-discipline development into practices, games, play activity, and athletic competitions. Study your son’s coaches and mentors. Help your son connect with the ones who are best for him.
  5. Am I (and are others) teaching my son lessons of character and discipline through rough-and-tumble play? Boys are geared towards this kind of play—wrestling, jumping, hitting, and rolling. Men, too, are geared toward it and engage in more of it with boys than women generally do. Rough-and-tumble play is essential for a boy’s design and should be encouraged as appropriate. Study yourself, your son, and your home to make sure playtime is also character-development time. You might say, “Son, it’s great you like to roughhouse, but you can’t cross the line into making someone cry.” Wherever you draw the line, stick to that boundary for as long as it is developmentally appropriate.
  6. Is my son getting enough undirected playtime? A boy’s brain needs to learn on its own, as well as in organized group times. Study how much time your son spends being directed (six hours in school, for instance) and how much time he is able to play as he wishes. As you consider this, remember that boredom during playtime is actually useful for your son’s developing brain!
  7. Is my son learning humility through play, sports, or athletic activities? Every hero must learn to be humble. In sports, this humility development can show up when a coach critiques your son. This can significantly build his character and increase his chances of future success, and he may realize it, even if he can’t verbalize it.
  8. Is a boy’s design understood by my son’s organized athletic institution or system? Perhaps your school is among those that have banned recess and/or games like tag and hide-and-seek. If so, it may be that the educators and faculty are not paying enough attention to a child’s design. If they feel they must curtail these actives for liability reasons, you may not be able to solve this piece of the puzzle. In this case, it is important to look at your child’s daily routine holistically, and ensure that he has dedicated “free time” each day.

Not every boy will love sports or even rough play. Some boys will never enjoy team sports or team athletics. They may be sensitive, have a naturally shy personality, or need more help in handling failure and defeat. Some boys may care so much about sports and rough play that they neglect academics or other important things. No two boys are exactly alike, and that is why it is so important to study your son, his design, and the physical activities that build character and self-discipline.

To learn more about the spectrum of boys and how to utilize brain science to improve your parenting or teaching style, join us on May 24th at the first-ever Helping Boys Thrive Summit. This one-day conference will cover the most recent discoveries in male developmental science, and provide you with the tools and techniques needed to make your son a hero.