I was recently sent in a question from Aled Davies from Pontypool, South Wales for my ‘Don’t Stew – Ask Sue’ feature on my Sue Atkins Parenting Show podcast. LINK
‘Dear Sue, my son really wants to get a bike as he’s been inspired by Geraint Thomas after he won the Tour de France. Apart from the obvious benefits to exercise – what are the psychological benefits of sport for kids as I don’t want him to be disappointed if he can’t be successful.
There can be no doubt the importance of sport and exercise for kids, particularly with the rising rate of obesity, as it’s an undeniable fact that kids’ health and fitness should be one of your top priorities.
We’re all aware that active children are more likely to become active adults. But sport is much more than just a means to an end in trying to keep kids physically fit.
Studies suggest that sport can also have a huge impact on a child’s psychological and social well-being while also teaching children some extremely valuable life skills too.
Benefits of sport for children.
Some of the many benefits of sport participation for children include:
- reduced risk of obesity
- increased cardiovascular fitness
- healthy growth of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons
- improved coordination and balance
- a greater ability to physically relax and, therefore, avoid the complications of chronic muscular tension (such as headache or back ache)
- improved sleep
- mental health benefits, such as greater confidence
- improved social skills
- improved personal skills, including cooperation and leadership.
Here’s some ideas around sport’s top 10 psychological and social benefits for kids to ‘Pause to Ponder’ …
- CAMARADERIE & TEAM SPIRIT
Joining a sports team gives kids a sense of belonging and the opportunity to make new friends. Some may even become friends for life!
My friend Nicky played hockey for years and they’ve recently planned a reunion bash, to celebrate 20 years, with kids, dogs, partners and friends over a ‘get together BBQ.’ Her two sons play at the same Club as their Mum & Dad too now so history is repeating itself?
Getting involved in a sport also gives children the added benefit of a wider social circle of friends outside of their school.
Bonding with like – minded people is really a wonderful way to feel connected and it also has the added benefit of freeing kids up from their technology to actively engage in the world.
With roughly one in four children reporting being bullied at school, joining a sports team could also be a much-needed source of social support as well as giving children a wider perspective to their problems.
- LEARNING TO LOSE
And learning to do it graciously! ?
Poor sportsmanship isn’t a pleasant thing to watch. No one likes a bad loser. Think John McEnroe !
Of course, there’s no harm in being competitive and expressing frustration in a non-aggressive manner, that’s all part of the sporting experience but it’s important to be a role model and ‘Talk & Teach’ kids to lose with dignity and good grace. Losing with good grace to a better opponent is a lot more honourable than throwing tantrums & being a ‘bad loser.’
Part of the learning experience is to lose, and a better question to ask your child is’ What did you learn from today? What can you improve on next time?’ ‘What went well today?’
It’s what I call ‘Failing Forward’ – learning from every experience not wallowing in defeat….
- RESPECTING AUTHORITY
One of the benefits of playing a sport is that children learn to handle authority by having to comply with the referee or umpire.
Following the games’ set rules, taking direction and accepting decisions is a big part of playing competitive sport. And players are often penalised for bad behaviour from being booked to being sent off and learning to handle even a ‘bad’ decision by a referee is all part of life’s learning!
With regular interaction with coaches, referees and other players, respecting their elders and listening to their peers is an important skill kids can take from the court or pitch into life.
- CONTROLLING EMOTIONS
As children grow up, society expects them to learn to control their emotions – especially the negative ones in a healthy and balanced way.
In sport, emotions often run high and learning to channel them the right way can be a challenge but also good for them as your child will be better equipped to tackle a whole range of other life challenges too.
From learning to handle disappointment, anger to frustration and elation – sport offers your kids it all!
Research studies have shown that sport and other physical activities can really contribute to the development of self-esteem in children. From internally knowing that they’ve tried hard, or played well, or stuck at something, to a friendly pat on the back from the coach, to a high-five from a team mate, or a handshake with an opponent at the end of a match (even if they lost), is all character building for your child & can all positively contribute to their self-esteem.
The trick is to find a balance & to not let their self-esteem be defined by winning or losing – make sure that you focus on their effort and enjoyment of the sport instead.
A better question to ask is:
‘How it did it go?” not “Did you win?”
- PATIENCE & GRIT
Unless your child is another George Best practice will play a large part in whatever sport or activity they’re involved in. Even sporting super stars like Harry Kane or Owen Farrell practise, practise and practise even more to make sure they are on top of their game.
And if practice makes perfect, then perfect takes patience.
‘Talk & Teach’ your kids that the message is: “if you want to get better at something, it’s going to take time.” Then this is certainly a worthwhile lesson for your children to learn.
Similar to patience, the discipline of training and the commitment it takes to pursue a sport is a trait transferrable to many other aspects of life. It’s no coincidence that participation in sport is linked to higher academic achievement in school.
If your kids put time and effort into getting better at something, and see the results of their hard work they’ll be able to see that tenacity can transfer to other aspects of their life too.
- WORKING TOGETHER
Becoming part of a team is crucial to most sports. Kids learn that no one team member is bigger than the team.
A team can’t succeed without working together. No matter how good the individual players.
Watching England play in the 2018 World Cup showed how Gareth Southgate built up the ‘Team Mentality’ and camaraderie to take the team further than most of us expected.
Communication & learning to work as part of a team, is key to sporting success but also being effective in any community or in the world of work.
Working together is useful lesson for kids to carry into adulthood and their future careers.
- LESS SELFISH
We live in a ‘Me, Me, Me’ society from L’Oréal extolling the virtues of ‘because you’re worth it’ to the ‘I want it now’ generation – team sports are a great platform to teach kids to be less selfish.
In sport, kids need to think about what’s best for the team. Not themselves.
Sometimes when my son was young & playing football for Hamsey Rangers players would have the opportunity to pass to a teammate, but instead choose to go for glory themselves.
Egos are not good for team morale or performance so being part of a team teaches children to be less egocentric or selfish.
Sport can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.
The highs. The lows. The wins. The losses.
The poor referring decisions.
So, I was interested to discover that studies have found that youngsters who are highly involved in sport are more ‘psychologically resilient’.
Playing sport teaches kids to pick themselves up after a hard tackle, or to hold their head high after losing badly, or that things don’t always go according to the ‘game plan’ they learn to get back up, dust themselves off and go out and play the following week again.
Sport is about bouncing back and learning from mistakes. The earlier kids can learn these skills, the better.
Overall, the psychological and social benefits of playing sport can help kids become well-rounded, mature adults.
So whether it’s a team sport or an individual sport like tennis, what your kids can learn goes beyond the physical.
But don’t worry if your child isn’t sporty or interested in a particular sport.
There are plenty of other activities (i.e. Kids Club), where kids can develop the above skills and attributes. All of which undoubtedly have a positive impact on the adult they become.