I want to share with you some of the reasons why parents sometimes choose sports over music for their kids, and how music lessons actually helps achieve those stated reasons in a much better, faster, and longer-lasting way than sports. This is not just my opinion, this theory is backed by much research and science.
We’ll investigate one reason at a time, and we will discover how you can help Johnny Realize is full potential.
Do any of these statements sound like the reasons you might have for putting your child into sports?
- I want my child to learn teamwork
- I want my child to be active
- I want my child to get some physical exercise
- I want my child to learn how to think for himself
- I want my child to learn discipline
- (and a really good reason) I want my child to work toward achieving something
All of these reasons are very legitimate and rational, so lets take a closer look at each one and see how music and sports each contribute to achieving each objective…
(for the sake of this discussion, we will talk at the kids’ performance level, NOT at a professional level)
“I want my child to learn teamwork”
– Sports can be a good way for kids to learn teamwork. They have to pass to teammates, get into position, coordinate where they will throw the ball to, and generally work together to achieve the aim of winning the game. This is very good.
You hear the odd kid shouting “show-off!” or “ball-hog!” but these kids are usually the outliers (i.e., the downers) in any activity
Sometimes kids have to be forced to work together or have to be shown the value of working together, but overall, learning teamwork from a sport is a real benefit of playing a sport.
– With music you HAVE to work together on everything in a band/ensemble setting or it all falls apart. There isn’t even the opportunity to “fight” with each other to make the music better, it is pure teamwork or nothing.
In a band/class setting you have to listen deeply and pay attention to what everyone else is playing in order to sync up at exactly the right times to create beautiful music. This is a much deeper level of teamwork than any sport or even dance classes.
There is no competing to perform better and being the “hero” of the song, everyone has a part and everyone works together to make the music better than if they all played separately.
So when we look at the two activities – learning a sport and learning an instrument – we see that both do produce the desired outcome, but it is a musical education that better achieves the aim of “I want my child to learn teamwork.”
“I want my child to be active”
I am going to make the assumption this means both physically and mentally active (this is different than getting exercise).
– Most sports do require some strategic thinking to win on the amateur and professional level. However, at a young kids level they are already much too focused on their own physical movements and getting the ball/puck up the field to worry about strategy or anything mental.
Even in baseball, thinking about, “I want to place the ball mid-left from center field” is too much for their developing bodies and minds to handle at the time with everything else they need to be thinking about.
Sports are great for developing physically (better than music), but the act of moving around on the field and achieving the end goal (scoring) takes up most of a kid’s brainpower, leaving none to focus on strategy and developing mentally.
– In music, a child’s mind and body is highly active at the same time. They are developing highly coordinated movements and using all parts of their brain to make it happen.
They are moving their fingers, playing a note, listening for feedback, making minor adjustments, playing again, listening even deeper, making more adjustments, all while keeping track of the rhythm, tempo (speed), what note/chord they are playing, where they are in the song/piece, and a whole list of things happening all at once. (“These include enhanced self-discipline from the requisite music practice regimen an instrument demands, increased confidence from performing and increased appreciation of different music styles and the arts in general.” (FirstTutors.com/uk))
A whole lot is going through their mind at any given time!
This is especially true when playing with other musicians. Kids have to be listening and focusing mentally while playing their instrument physically.
This can be quite strenuous for a child at first, but over time they develop the ability to focus on the mental aspect of things while letting the physical aspect go on “auto-pilot” (this also explain why kids with musical education generally perform better at sports than kids with no musical education). (“Attention in musicians is more bilateral than in non-musicians[musicians use all of their brain to listen, not just one hemisphere].” (Patston LL, Hogg SL, Tippett LJ. 2007))
It is true that playing a sport is both physically and mentally engaging and is a good source for being active.
When we compare that to playing an instrument, we see that learning an instrument stimulates and engages a child’s physical AND mental aspects on a much deeper level than any sport or any other arts activity out there.
“I want my child to learn discipline”
– Any sport is a pretty good way to develop discipline, especially on the “select” teams. It takes commitment to really reach and stay on those teams over the long-term.
In order to develop the skills needed to actually win a game of organized sports, it takes consistent practice and effort over a period of time; practicing a kick or throw or a certain play over and over again to finally get it to the point where a child can use it in a game.
This is good for a child’s discipline, but something is lacking from this approach.
– Music also teaches children this important skill. Learning an instrument requires regular and focused practice (not just aimless noodling on the guitar). (“Learning an instrument requires regular and focused practice. (Musical-U.com 2016))
When playing with a group, children learn to listen to others until it is his/her turn to join in. This develops patience and respect for peers as well as the ability to sit still and be attentive. (“One study found that teens…performed better, two years later, on a task that required them to pick out speech sounds from background noise — an ability that may help kids focus in noisy classrooms and other environments (Tierney et al 2013))
In order to play with other kids, a child really needs to have his/her stuff down in order to make the music sound really good.
In music, it isn’t enough to have one or two players “carry the team” and make the music sound great, everyone has to practice, practice, practice, and play their part.
“I want my child to get some physical exercise”
This is different than being “physically active”, where a child is actively engaging his/her body in an activity. Here, we are talking about physical exercise, pushing one’s body to a further limit than ever thought possible.
I’ll hand this one to sports because there is just so much more physical exercise involved in sports, period. Even if you’re jumping around on stage for 3 hours with a guitar, it doesn’t match the physical intensity of playing a sport.
Though, playing a sport or exercising with music playing in the background contributes to how effective a workout may be. This is why you see MMA fighters and other professional athletes “getting pumped up” before a show. (“A repeated-measures analysis of variance on the 400-m times showed a significant effect and follow-up pair wise comparisons revealed differences between the synchronous music conditions and the control condition.” (Simpson & Karageorghis 2006))
(“the music condition demonstrated increased number of steps, time in activity and level of enjoyment over no music.” “basketball with music resulted in significantly more time in activity than basketball without music.” (Lindsey Kaye Benham 2014))
So far its Sports – 1, Music – 3
“I want my child to learn how to think for himself”
– In a given sport, you follow what the coach says, you have your position, you know the strategies to implement to win, and you do it.
There is some quick thinking to be had in a snap decision, “this or this?”, and there are some tough calls to have to make, but this is at the reactionary/perceptual level, not on a long-range conceptual level (the level responsible for all of the human race’s progress).
– The most important thing I’ve found that kids learn from learning to play an instrument is that they develop and enhance the skill of independent thinking.
When children practice something again and again with the aim of getting better at it, they tend to naturally ask themselves questions that lead to this conceptual level independent thinking.
Questions such as:
“What am I doing right now?”
“What mistakes are happening?”
“What is causing this mistake to happen?”
“How do I fix it now?”
“What does it sound like when I play it without the mistake?”
“What happens if I use this finger instead of that finger?…”
These natural questions lend themselves to developing a child’s conceptual faculties faster and more deeply than kids without a musical education. (“…music lessons cause small increases in IQ, but comparable nonmusical activities do not have similar consequences.” (E. Glenn Schellenberg 2004)
The kids still ask me questions and to help them out, but the process they go through before asking me the questions is critical for their self-development.
The skill is discovered by developing discipline in other areas/activities, but I have never seen it develop so incredibly fast as I have in kids who develop discipline through music. It is yet another reason why I chose to become a music teacher. (“…extracurricular activities (other than drama lessons) with similar properties (e.g., chess lessons, programs in science or reading) may confer similar benefits.” (E. Glenn Schellenberg 2004))
This skill of independent thinking is critical to have as an individual, now and for the rest of their life.
(and a really good reason) “I want my child to work toward achieving something”
This is one of the most valuable goals for a parent to have for his/her child, and I have it for my child as well.
I want Emma to work toward achieving something bigger in her life, which is why a music program will be the primary activity she takes for many years of her life. Everything else (baseball, dance, or whatever else she wants to do) will be supplemental to her education.
– In sports, kids work towards a win, a tournament win, a season win, etc. That is fine, and is something good to work towards. It is good for a child’s development to help them have goals that they want to work towards.
– However, if you want your child to work towards something they will feel proud of achieving for years after the fact, and then still have the abilities and skills to take it further (as well as having those skills/abilities for the rest of their life), then a good music education is significantly more aligned with that outcome.
This is especially true for guitar players. Piano players (as well as kids enrolled in sports) tend to stop playing after high school; guitar players tend to play for an incredibly long time after they are finished high school.
An investment into a child’s guitar musical education is truly an investment that lasts a lifetime, not just to when they get out of high school.
Now that we’ve gone through many of the reasons parents have for putting their children into sports, you probably have a better picture of whether your child should pursue sports or music, now that you know more of the story.
Some things we didn’t mention that didn’t fit the reasons stated was the risk of injury in sports, dance, or even theater. These risks are very real, even in less contact sports like baseball or even golf.
If your child does play sports already, then you know first-hand the risks associated with playing a sport.
Think about when the kids get older, those injuries start to ache every time the weather changes. And for what? For less than half the benefit of learning to play an instrument.
Think about when they grow and will be able to play an instrument to their kids. I don’t know anybody who plays a sport or dances just for their kids… but I know plenty who do play music for their kids.
When you compare the (very good) reasons for wanting to participate in sports against which single activity actually produces more of the outcome parents are looking for, a proper musical education wins over dance, theater, hockey, baseball, basketball, karate, parkour, crossfit, sketching, painting, etc., every single time. (Music lessons improve cognitive skills, non-cognitive skills, and school grades more than twice as much as sports, dance or theater (“How Learning a Musical Instrument Affects the Development of Skills”, A. Hille and J. Schupp, SOEPpaper No. 591. September 2013))
I am not saying to disregard physical activity/exercise altogether, I am simply bringing to light the fact that a proper musical education should be the foundation of a child’s learning, not supplemental to sports, theater, or even dance. A proper musical education is almost as foundational as the three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic).
If you can, enroll your child in both a music program AND a sports program, with the emphasis on the former. The two activities combined together create the very best environment for success.