Why sports activities strengthen a child's development

02 January 2023 dot 4-minute read
Healthy Body Parenting Fitness and exercise Feature Sports Move Well
Team sports activities are the perfect setting for kids to make new friends and learn about teamwork. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Many studies emphasise the benefits of sports activities on a child's health and physical development. Playing sports builds their strength, boosts their immune system and improves cardiovascular health.  
However, sports' benefits also extend to cognitive health and emotional and mental wellbeing. A 2019 UNICEF report shows how sports improve learning and life skills. Playing any team or individual sport helps children with self-regulation or the ability to control and manage emotions.
Here are five more reasons to get kids off the couch and on the court. 

1. Sports activities improve student engagement

Playing a sport ensures a child engages in regular physical activity. (Credit: Shutterstock)
The UNICEF study, which analysed 300 sport-for-development programmes in 100 countries, explains how participating in physical activities increases student engagement, including among those most at risk of leaving school. It inspires involvement, focus, curiosity, optimism and passion.
According to the report, sports also introduce and enhance empowerment, leadership and self-esteem – all crucial aspects of growth. Children also form better relationships with adults, such as their parents or teachers, when they play sports.
Sports also gives them motivation to excel in school. Data from a review published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal reveal students who join athletics experience a positive effect on their academic performance. The study also notes that school-based sports programmes were more beneficial than those occurring outside school hours.

2. Sports promote health and physical development

Regularly participating in moderate to vigorous exercise tones muscles, reduces body fat, promotes cardiovascular and bone health and alleviates anxiety and depression.
Being physically active helps kids develop motor skills and improve balance and rhythm. Ensuring your child's health through sports also lowers the risk factor of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart disease in the future.

3. Sports promote emotional growth

Joining sports activities is not only fun but also helps kids develop physically, mentally, and emotionally. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Sports cultivate emotional intelligence. Healthy competition and physical activity let kids learn to manage their emotions and behaviour. They gain confidence, discipline and the ability to cope with big feelings that come with winning and losing.
Multiple studies confirm that children involved in sports and clubs have higher social skill scores than those who do not participate in extracurricular activities. Kids learn to make new friends, foster teamwork and cooperation and have positive relationships with coaches.

4. Athletics strengthens mental health

A comparison of multiple studies published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity reveals the many psychological benefits of joining team sports, which include better self-respect and improved social interaction.
In 2018, The Sport Journal published a study where teens who participated in sports before college reported higher self-esteem and happiness, supporting previous research on the effects of early sport participation on all age groups, including a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health (JAH).
The JAH research found that teens who consistently participated in sports reported fewer depressive symptoms and stress over the next five years when researchers studied them.

5. Sports supports cognitive functions

Kids in sports activities can learn necessary qualities such as leadership, cooperation and empathy. (Credit: Shutterstock)
A study in Children, an international, peer-reviewed journal of paediatrics, states that kids in team sports had better executive functions, which are the mental skills needed to process information, focus on tasks and control impulses, among others.
Apart from helping cognitive functions and motor skills, team sports also teach kids how to make decisions, solve problems, prioritise tasks and focus on achieving a common goal, all while having fun and playing together.
Kids who sign up for organised youth sports at an early age and continue through adolescence are more likely to lead an active lifestyle when they grow up. The social, cognitive and life skills they learn in sports activities can also hugely impact adulthood. As a result, kids get the advantage of better physical, mental and emotional health.
Sports activities increase a child's potential to become a bright, engaged learner with a high emotional quotient – any parent's dream ingredients for success. Make sure to protect that promise and your family's overall well-being with a medical protection plan.
UNICEF. 2019. Participation in Sport Can Improve Children's Learning and Skills Development. [online]  [Accessed on 30 August 2022]
PLOS ONE. 2016. Sports and Child Development. [online] [Accessed on 30 August 2022]
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2018. Sports and Children. [online] [Accessed on 30 August 2022]
The Aspen Institute's Project Play. 2020. Youth Sports Facts: Why Play Matters. [online] [Accessed on 9 September 2022]
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2022. Participation and Academic Performance in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. [online] [Accessed on 9 September 2022]
The Sport Journal. 2018. Effects of Early Sport Participation on Self-esteem and Happiness. [online] [Accessed on 9 September 2022]
Journal of Adolescent Health. 2014. School sport participation during adolescence and mental health in early adulthood. [online] [Accessed on 9 September 2022]

This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

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