There was the three-foot plastic hoop designed for toddlers. There were dozens of Nerf backboards and rims hanging from the top of my bedroom door. Then, of course, there was the full-sized beauty my father so graciously assembled for me when I was too young to help.
Although I never achieved my goal of winning six NBA championships and five MVP awards like Michael Jordan, I gained a lot from playing basketball competitively for over a decade during my formative years. Here are eight benefits I received, all of which turned out to be lifelong slam-dunks.
1. Cardiovascular Health1 of 9
Have you ever run up and down a 94-foot hardwood court over and over again for 30 to 45 minutes? If you haven't been running much lately, it's a serious workout.
Basketball is one of the most demanding sports when it comes to cardiovascular conditioning, and it's an entertaining form of exercise for many children.
2. Hand-Eye Coordination2 of 9
Nearly all sports require some form of hand-eye coordination—basketball is no different.
Whether you're grabbing a rebound, dribbling while keeping your eyes on what's around you, passing to a teammate across the court, or shooting the ball, your brain is working just as hard as the rest of your body.
3. Agility3 of 9
Watch Stephen Curry change direction in the blink of an eye with a killer crossover dribble. Check out old highlights of Gary Payton, one of the greatest defensive players of all time, smothering opposing players as he slides his feet from side-to-side.
Generally, the best youth basketball players have exceptional lateral movement. When children play the sport for several years, they're bound to improve their agility and flexibility.
4. Cross-Training4 of 9
In addition to improving cardiovascular health, agility and hand-eye coordination, playing basketball develops several skills that translate to other sports.
• The timing it takes to jump in the air and grab a rebound at the highest point relates to catching a football.
• The footwork it takes to pivot on the wing or in the post relates to competitive dance or cheerleading.
• The vision it takes to find an open teammate relates to soccer.
5. Camaraderie5 of 9
As with all other team sports, the friendships children can develop with teammates last forever.
With several players working hard together, the bond they develop is priceless. This camaraderie is a lifelong benefit, as kids will quickly appreciate the importance of developing close relationships with others.
6. Teamwork6 of 9
A dozen players working toward the same goal requires sacrifice, unselfishness and teamwork.
Learning how to work together with others is a crucial skill in life that goes far beyond sports. Playing basketball at an early age sets children up for future success in situations that require collaboration, such as group projects in school or meetings at work.
7. Discipline7 of 9
Basketball—like all sports—is a game of inches, and this margin of error requires attention to detail from everyone on the court.
One missed shot, one errant pass or one mental error can negatively affect any given play. Because of this, children who play basketball often learn the importance of being disciplined with everything they do.
8. Work Ethic8 of 9
Some days, putting on your practice jersey and lacing up your shoes just does not sound like a fun thing to do. But practice makes perfect, and preparation is needed to be successful in basketball.