Now that we live in Florida and are only 90 minutes from our daughter's home, we get to watch our grandkids play sports.

Kiele (16) plays volleyball and soccer for her high school and also plays on a soccer club team. Conor (10) plays soccer and is also quite the tennis player. Colton (4) will most likely start playing tee-ball this spring.

Going to their games and sitting on hard bleachers brings back memories. When daughter Jennifer was young, I used to sit and watch her do gymnastics, play basketball and softball, and run cross country.

When I was young, girls didn't have much opportunity to play organized sports. Sure, we had 'gym' and (when we weren't tossing Indian clubs or marching or square dancing) got to play basketball. I did become a cheerleader and enjoyed that experience.

I truly believe that every child should play some form of team competitive sport. The benefits of that activity are many and lasting throughout life.

First and foremost, playing with a team gives the child a sense of camaraderie that can't be found elsewhere. Friends that you make while striving together to win a game are friends that can last a lifetime. Ask anyone who has played sports and they will tell you that some of their best friends as adults are people they played with as youngsters.

A second reason for being involved with sports is gaining perspective on winning and losing. Life can be so much easier if you learn at an early age that you can't win all the time. Sometimes, young children have a hard time learning to lose gracefully. I have seen some major tantrums and breakdowns when a child loses a game.

Certainly, everyone wants to win. But, realizing that when you do your best you can still lose is a powerful lesson. Too many people think that we must cushion our children from failure. I believe otherwise. When I play a game with my grandkids, I play to win. If they beat me fair and square, I let them know that I am proud of them. If I win, I expect them to congratulate me and say "Nice game, Grandma." No pouting allowed.

The third good result from playing sports is learning discipline. You can't ignore your coach's words. You must take care of your body and learn the rules of the sport. You must control your behavior during a game. And, after the game is over, you must show you opponent some courtesy. All of this demands discipline from the player. There is not a better classroom for discipline than the playing field.

The physical benefits of playing sports are self-evident. Exercise is essential for a healthy body and participation in sports allows you to exercise and have fun at the same time. Even at my advanced age, I enjoy competing in shuffleboard. Some may scoff at that sport and say that it's designed for "old folks." Well, that's partially true, I guess. But, shuffleboard requires concentration and strategy. The pushing of the stick might not be the most strenuous exercise, but it is definitely better than sitting on the couch. Even my young grandchildren enjoy playing shuffleboard when they come to visit us. Conor is getting to be quite adept at it.

Some people may be cautious about allowing their child to engage in team sports. They worry about injury. It's true that accidents can happen, but the benefits far outweigh the dangers. If your child is not "football material," let him try a sport like tennis or baseball. I think there's a "lid for every pot," and there's a sport for every child.

I'm sure that there are many more great reasons for participating in competitive sports. I have only scratched the surface. If you are a parent reading this, please consider getting your child interested in sports. It will be one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO CONTACT DR. SMITH, SHE CAN BE REACHED AT HER EMAIL ADDRESS: JSMITH1313@CFL.RR.COM OR IN CARE OF THIS NEWSPAPER.