Kids in Sports, Part 1: Why it Matters

This week at Family Anatomy, we have decided to post articles about kids and sports. In the first part of this series, we’ll examine why kids’ sports matter.

Most people define sport as an athletic activity that involves rules, physical skill development, and competition. Sport can certainly be seen as a pleasant distraction for fans, although for those who engage in it, it is much more. As the definition suggests, development of physical skill is one of a number of interrelated benefits that sports brings to its participants. Sport can bring you in touch with your body and its capacities and limitations. Becoming aware of your developing skills can also be a source of pride and disappointment. Mastering the skills necessary to do a particular sport well can be an important experiential reservoir for self-esteem. Sport is always a relational exercise as well. Being in competition with others involves deft and subtle interpersonal negotiations related to how people treat one another in victory and defeat. While most parents place their kids in sports simply for the fun of it, when it is closely examined, it is clearly that and much more.

Studies are beginning to show that involvement in physical activity and sports can improve self-esteem in kids. Physical skills development also involves development in cognitive faculties. Studies are showing that the planning centers of the brain (i.e., the brain’s executive functions) improve when kids engage in sports. Socially, there is research that shows that kids see boys as more popular, and as peer leaders, when they are involved in sports. Interestingly, girls are sometimes seen to have these attributes and sometime not.

Team sports appear to have a particular quality to them. While the end result in a team competition can, on occasion, be attributed to one person alone, typically the reasons for a win or loss are diverse and implicate a number of individuals. Thus, the credit for a good or poor result is typically diffuse and shared amongst many. While at first glace this may suggest that self-esteem is not as directly impacted, a recent 2009 study conducted by Elsevier suggests that this is not the case. This study found that children who spent more time in team sports reported higher self-concept and self-esteem than those who engaged in individual sports. One possible explanation for this is that team sports connect a child to a larger community and entity. Being one part of this larger whole may be a more powerful and transcendent experience.

Join us tomorrow for Part 2 of our series on kids and sports.

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