How Youth Sports Help Kids Excel

From playing little league at the local ball field to hitting tennis balls at the park, youth sports are a great way for kids to be active and have fun at the same time. If they start early, they'll develop healthy habits that will benefit them for a lifetime.

For parents who want to encourage their children to be active and get involved in team sports, here are some recommended tips:

Challenge - Set goals and keep challenging your kids so they don't get bored. Supplement organized sports with outdoor family play time that includes new games they do not traditionally play in school, or by updating a classic with different rules or equipment. In all cases, be sure to incorporate greater challenges each season to help grow skills and confidence.

Choice Allow children to select the games and sports they play. This will increase the likelihood they will discover an activity they love and will play outdoors more often, throughout childhood and into adulthood.

Compete Soccer gold medalist Abby Wambach and baseball legend Cal Ripken, Jr. have joined forces with Wisk Laundry Detergent to support youth sports and improve community ball fields with the Wisk "Win A Dream Field Makeover" contest. Communities are invited to rally around their teams to win a field makeover and a visit from star athletes, or new sports equipment. This is the third year that Wisk has made the concept of a field of dreams a reality, and the first year any type of sports field can qualify for a makeover.

Go outside, have fun and get dirty

In addition to a lack of quality facilities, parents also battle sedentary pastimes such as television viewing and video games. They want ideas to engage their children in more active, outdoor activities. The national 2005 Wisk Sports Survey -- conducted by Harris Interactive Inc. for Wisk Laundry Detergent -- found that 35 percent of parents say their kids do not participate in organized sports, even though 96 percent of them see such activity as beneficial. Furthermore, a full 87 percent of parents agreed they are happy when their children get dirty playing because it demonstrates that they are living a full and active life.

Wambach and Ripken, Jr. both remember their athletic roots and the benefits they derived from being active. Today, both are committed to supporting youth sports.

One of the leading scorers for the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team, Wambach started playing at age four in her first youth soccer league and credits her positive approach to living an active lifestyle to this early experience. Ripken, who experienced many valuable life lessons on the ball field, is dedicated to inspiring kids to get out on the playing field and have fun.

"There seems to be a disconnect between parents and children who want to get outside and play versus those who actually do," says Ripken. "We live in a different world today and it takes a real effort by parents to encourage their kids to be more active. It's important for parents, kids and the larger community to actively provide the place, means and motivation to have fun outdoors."