Mike Lawrie—Getty Images
February 1, 2016 8:58 AM EST

The Superbowl might be the country’s biggest entertainment event of the year, with one out of every three Americans glued to the screen as the game unfolds.

But between the commercials, and the pop stars, and the non-stop action of the game, is there anything that kids can really learn?

Chad Hennings, a three time Super Bowl champion with the Dallas Cowboys, and author of Forces of Character: Conversations About Building A Life of Impact, says yes.

“To me,” Hennings says, “sports is probably the best leadership laboratory or character laboratory that there is.”

Much of what sports has to offer, Hennings says, has to do with “actual hands on experimentation”: teamwork, overcoming adversity, being a good sport, learning follow through, self-discipline, and self reliance.

But kids can also learn important lessons from sports as spectators.

From the time kids are elementary age, Hennings says, parents who watch sports with children can focus not just on the skill of an athlete, “but watch how they handle themselves from a character perspective: How do they interact with teammates? How do they react when they strike out?”

In middle school, parents can start to encourage kids to compare the behavior of athletes they see on the field to the way they’d like to act themselves, Hennings says: “How should we do that when we have the opportunity? How do you want to react?” Parents can also ask kids questions that help them to choose mentors and heroes based on more than raw skill, says Hennings. “Don’t just choose a role model because they’re a great athlete. Choose an athlete of character that handles themselves the right way.”

High school kids, says Hennings, can begin “taking those life lessons and making analogies to real world situations.” Once they’ve observed a player’s character, says Hennings, they can begin to ask questions like “Can I rely on that individual? When the stress levels rise, are they going to cheat, compromise, head for the hills when adversity hits? Who are good teammates who you can trust?”

And, Hennings says, kids can start to ask themselves whether they are acting as a team player in all walks of life: “someone that lives to be their best self every day, and encourages others to do the same.”

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