No athlete can play competitive sports forever, not even Payton Manning. At some point, the glory days of playing sports must end.

Pros must retire, college athletes will graduate, and many high school students don’t get a chance to play in college. For that matter, your child may not even make the high school team.

Whether an athlete stops playing sports because of an injury, burnout, not making the team, or negative experiences, or whether he plays until his body can handle it no more–the question remains: what sort of person will be be when the glory days are over?

Over a year ago, my 25-year-old daughter played her last college softball game. For 15 years, softball was a huge part of her life.

This fall, my 22-year-old son plays his senior year of football. He won’t go pro; he’ll graduate and get a job in business.

Our youngest is entering her sophomore year of college and playing volleyball. She too, will play 3 more years and then go into business.

We spent a lot of money on gear, camps, trips, training, and lessons; and hours and hours of time pursuing their sports careers. Yet none of our kids will play past college.

Was their sports experience worth all the time and money?

Without a bit of hesitation, I would say YES!

Their sports experience was more about who they became than what they accomplished.

Our softball daughter is a stronger, braver, more unselfish person because of all the lessons she learned while playing. Those experiences played a huge part in making her the wonderful young woman she is today.

Playing sports helped shape our son into a strong, caring, sure-minded young man.

And our volleyball playing daughter is still learning lessons about persistence and mental toughness.

Playing sports brings excitement and recognition. It may even help pay for college and open doors for the future, but nothing will ever be more important than the type of person your son or daughter becomes in the process.

Press clippings and stats will come and go, but positive character traits learned in sports will be part of your young athlete’s DNA for life–whether they stop playing at 13 or 30.

Sure, it’s fun to get pats on the back as a parent whose child performs well. Yeah, we love to read our kid’s name in the paper or see her on the 11 o’clock sports news. But “what good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his soul?”

Daily, we see the results of athletes who gain the whole world, athletically speaking, and yet lose their character in the process.

This stuff, the recognition and success, is not really what our kids’ sports experience should be about. Instead, sports should teach our children to have integrity and strength. That is the true glory of sports!

Janis B. Meredith writes a sportsparenting blog, She’s been a sports mom for 20 years, and a coach’s wife for 28, and sees life from both sides of the bench. You can also follow her on facebook and twitter.