Nature & Sports
Why are sports so important for children development
There’s nothing more important than your health and being active has been proved, beyond doubt, to be one of the best ways of staying healthy. The definition of health is “a complete sense of social, mental and physical well-being”, so it is not just about your body. Sport gives you a boost psychologically and socially. For pupils it has been proven that being active gives an academic boost too. Your body circulates the nutrients it needs more efficiently and concentration levels are improved.
Sports teaches kids they won’t get anywhere on their own in life. Let’s face it. In every career, you need a team. So much of what we do in life requires us to work collaboratively and for everyone to play their part no matter what their size, shape, ethnicity or gender. This is the essence of team sports. Kids learn to get along with others and solve problems together.
Team sports can also provide a sense of identity, a feeling of belonging. At Trinity School, we have regular reunions for ex-pupils. At those, I see how often it’s those who were teammates who have kept in touch with each other. The friendships and memories you make together on the field of play can last a lifetime.
Sportsmanship makes kids better and more decent people. Good things come to those who congratulate others on their effort and victories. I love the fact that when Ronaldo scored his overhead kick against Juventus in the Champions League quarter final this year the Juventus fans took to their feet to applaud him for the skill that he had shown.
When I was younger there was the example of Paulo di Canio who caught a ball that was crossed for him to head into an empty net, rather than score. The goalkeeper had injured himself clearing the ball and was on the floor in agony. (On another occasion he did push a referee over so I guess he shows the two extremes of sportsman-like behaviour!)
In a very close school match recently, one of my rugby players flattened an opponent in the process of scoring a try. The next thing I saw him do was go back to that opponent to check he was ok. Play hard by all means, but play fair, do your best and appreciate that your opponent is doing the same.
This one’s not new and it’s as important in life as it is in sports. We should always treat people the way we would like to be treated, be it our opponents, the referee, or ourselves.
The famous Aussie sledging in cricket is something that really gets to me, especially considering how personal the attacks have become. English players say that if they sledged another player in a school match they would have been removed from the field by their coach; the Aussies say that they would have been removed if they didn’t do it. I think we have the right approach.
Children are influenced by what they see on TV. I see it (or hear it) on the cricket field today as they copy what they have seen and I have even had to stop matches to speak to the fielding team. In football matches the nicest kids can become monsters as they mimic their role models. It is up to us at the grassroots level to make sure that they understand that what they see on TV is not the best approach, but up to the Governing Bodies to sort out the senior game. Treating people with respect is like having good manners, it costs you nothing but can benefit you hugely.
Sport teaches you to play by the rules, to be the best that you can be within the constraints of the game. It fosters self and collective discipline and rewards hard work. There are many examples of young men and women struggling to find their way in life, where sport provided them with an outlet, a structure in which to develop their self-control that in turn helped them to be a better, more employable person.
This is often an overlooked trait but one that’s vital. The New Zealand rugby team are the best exponents of this. No individual is bigger than the team as a whole. They stay in touch with their roots and give something back to their community. Believe it or not, despite being world famous and elite athletes, they still sweep out their own changing room at the end of every match or training session!
Shaking hands with your opponents, the referee and the opposition coach after each game is a simple way of showing some humility. Win or lose players should behave in the same way as they thank their opponents for the game.
Every pupil deserves the opportunity to represent his or her school and to experience the exhilaration of a hard fought victory or the heartbreak of a narrow loss. Considering the age of those that I coach, I feel that it’s often the losing that teaches the best lessons.
Children need to learn that they cannot always come first and how to deal with the emotions surrounding that. We often hear top level coaches saying that they learn more from a loss than a victory. Failure is never final. A mistake or loss is an opportunity to learn and improve. Your child’s ability to bounce back is really important in life as it’s going to be full of knocks. But sport is full of stories about great comebacks, encouraging you to never give up.
When coaching I often make situations that are impossible to overcome or at least are a significant challenge. Success at something is obviously a good motivator but those ‘speed bumps’ help you analyse, pick the best path and get back on the bike when you have fallen off. The phrase that’s often used by people faced with a challenge is 'I can’t do it'. Sport encourages you to add the word 'yet' at the end of that sentence.
Sportsmen and women often have to adapt to rapidly changing situations, to weigh up their options and make a final decision. The benefit for children from developing their problem-solving skills transcends sport. These kinds of problem-solving skills have countless applications beyond sports. They give kids a skill-set they’ll use for the rest of their lives.
In many ways having fun is the most important thing. Through sport everyone can experience exquisite moments of magic that they remember forever. I feel that sometimes we forget to have fun and therefore miss out on the psychological benefits of laughing and smiling. Sport can be kids’ route to those precious endorphins.
You could group this with enjoyment but I think it’s a big enough element to include on its own. We all, no matter how old we are, need a chance to ‘play’. Whether it be as a stress release or as a way of reinforcing bonds with family members. Play takes us back to one of our primary needs. Sport is a fantastic vehicle for this because, particularly with recreational sport, there are few boundaries and countless opportunities."