Sports have always played a critical role in my life, beginning with dance at the age of three, to playing volleyball in college, to continuing to play volleyball as an adult recreationally. I have also had the incredible pleasure of working as a volunteer and as an official coach for dozens of kids throughout my life. As an athlete myself and also as a coach, I have witnessed firsthand the joys and challenges that come from engaging in sports, and the life lessons that I feel are uniquely learned through sports and team activities.
Participation in sports and regular physical activity is essential. Unfortunately, it is on the decline among youth populations in the United States. Its importance cannot be undermined; participation in sports at an early age has significant positive effects on a child’s development and can influence that child’s future life path. Each child is different in their personality, temperament, coping style, and interests. Nonetheless, all children seek to explore their world through social interaction and building relationships with peers. Engagement in organized sports can satisfy these basic needs in a child. There are proven results demonstrating the benefits of sports on child development. These benefits regarding health, education, and social skills are explained in greater detail below and play a part in the preparedness and resiliency of developing youth and are skills that they will carry with them throughout their lives.
There is a wealth of physical and mental health benefits from playing in sports for children. Regular physical activity helps build a strong heart, bones, and muscles while helping to prevent chronic diseases and lowering the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Evidence suggests that regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of 13 different types of cancer, including breast, colon, liver, and myeloid leukemia. Additionally, participation in sports and regular physical activity improves sleep, and quality sleep is dramatically essential to meet the needs of a growing child’s body. A 2009 study found that the average time it took for children to fall asleep was 26 minutes. Those who were active during the day took less time to fall asleep than inactive children; every hour a child was sedentary, the time it took for them to fall asleep increased by 3 minutes. Therefore, a child who sits around most of the day playing video games or watching television will struggle to fall asleep at night and decrease their quality of sleep.
Participation in sports has also been shown to positively affect mental health, such as reinforcing self-esteem, building confidence, and preventing anxiety and depression. A team environment allows children to build a peer network and develop friends that will act as preventative factors in developing mental health problems. A 2019 study reported that when compared with children who exercised for at least an hour a day, children who did not exercise at all were twice as likely to have mental health problems, particularly anxiety and depression.
Sports participation is also a natural method of relieving stress. Those who are less stressed can interact positively with their peers and environment, making regular developmental progress and maintaining relationships and academics. Additionally, children who are less stressed through participation in sports with a stable support network are less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors and habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol, engaging in delinquent behaviors, and conflicts with others.
Sports and physical activity have a significant effect on improved cognitive skills. Research shows that physical activity encourages class attendance and is associated with improved academic achievement, attitudes about academic and classroom behavior, and enhanced concentration and attention. It is also a predictor of future academic success and achievement at the college level. According to research, students who participated in sports were more likely to graduate from a four-year college as well as achieve higher grades. Additionally, a survey of a population of business executives, 94% of whom had previously played a sport, reported that sports participation had contributed to their success in almost two-thirds of the respondents.
Furthermore, sports participation engages tools and skills learned in their formal education and enables them to use these skills in new ways. While our children are memorizing formulas, equations, concepts, and grammar rules, they also are memorizing formations, drills, and techniques through repetition. This encourages healthy habit formation where children can learn reward cycles and delayed gratification, something often present in academic endeavors.
Participation in sports is a great way for children to develop their social and interpersonal skills. Inherent in team sports is the camaraderie that develops through working together to achieve a common goal. Skills such as teamwork, patience, leadership, effective communication, respect for authority, sportsmanship, and fairness are foundational for success in life. They are easily developed through a team environment reinforced by strong and caring coaches. These skills are also developed through non-team sports such as tennis, martial arts, swimming, and gymnastics.
Lastly, sports teach children necessary values such as respect for authority, learning to get along with others, sportsmanship, and fairness. Most importantly, sports are a fun way for kids to stay engaged with their peers in their neighborhoods, communities, and schools. The importance of FUN in the activities they choose cannot be stressed enough!
Engagement in sports in adolescence provides numerous benefits to children regarding their health, social lives, and education. Core values and skills are learned through sports participation. They are vital in building their confidence and sense of preparedness and safety, no matter what the situation. Skills like leadership, effective communication, and discipline necessary for preparedness are mirrored in active participation in sports. ◙
About Logan McIntosh
Logan McIntosh is a Research Analyst intern for Kiernan Group Holdings. She assists with data collection and analysis, primarily on domestic extremist groups. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a minor in Chemistry.
After graduation, she worked at The New Academy Charter School in Pittsburgh, PA as a Certified Pennsylvania Private High School Biology teacher to children in 9th grade. In this extremely rewarding role, she worked as a teacher/counselor to the students, many of whom were delinquent or troubled youth.
After a year at the school, she moved to Arlington, VA and recently graduated with her Master of Arts in Forensic and Legal Psychology degree at Marymount University. She looks to explore a career in intelligence analysis, threat assessment and gun violence, or criminal investigations.