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Youth sports can produce more than wins and losses

Youth sports seasons are winding down all over the area.

Before you know it, your team's last out will be recorded or the final horn will sound, school will be out, summer vacations will start and the friendships made at the park -- by parents and players -- will long be forgotten.

But they shouldn't be.

One of the greatest outcomes of youth sports has nothing to do with individual statistics or wins and losses. In fact, many consider the most important statistic to be how many friends were made during the season. After all, a season lasts a few months. A friendship can last a lifetime.

My oldest son, now 19, met his best friend as a 5-year-old hockey player. Before playing on the same team, they had nothing in common. They lived in separate neighborhoods, attended different schools and churches, and the parents each had their own social networks.

Without youth sports, they never would have met. More importantly, without keeping in touch after the season, they never would have become and stayed close friends. Seeing each other once or twice a week for eight weeks every spring would have made it difficult to be "real" friends.

It's important that kids who enjoyed each other's company on the fields in the spring have a chance to continue those good times over the summer. Keeping in touch can be as simple as getting the friends together once a week or maybe for an overnight on the weekend.

Whether they get together in the backyard, on a playground, in a pool or just hang out at a house, a friendship that started in a competitive setting can often flourish even more once kids are given the chance to just be kids.

My son's friendship with that hockey teammate continues to this day. The friend is like a second son to me, and his father became my business partner.

Parents and players easily make friends during the season, but it's keeping those friendships alive in the offseason that can be a challenge.

The next time there's a lull in the conversation in the bleachers, why not start to make plans for keeping teammates in touch after the season. That way, it doesn't become one of those "gosh, we should have done it" things.

Making sure that my son's friendship with his teammates continued long after the season ended was one of the best coaching -- and parenting -- decisions I ever made.

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