Importance of sport to child's development
â€‹Let's take an imaginary example; your nine-year-old son is struggling at school. Disillusioned with lessons in which he struggles and frustrated that he's too young to do the things he wishes, his anger sometimes gets the better of him. You've tried talking to him in various different ways but it doesn't work.
So one night, in frustration you decide to do something a little radical. You drop him off at the gym with a few pounds, and ask a boxing instructor to see if he can help. He returns home later a little quieter, a little chastened, but with a spring in his step. The coach told him he had natural ability and no little skill. You don't have to ask him to return two days later.
This example is not some perfect, utopian vision of how we can fix society, but it is real. Sport history is replete with troubled youths who have found their feet, almost literally, on the sports field, in the gym, or on the running track. Many have gone on to become world champions. You could have easily taken your youth to a martial arts instructor, or a rugby or tennis coach, and seen exactly the same glee in their face.
Sports teach discipline and mental strength, and concentration. When one sees a team such as Barcelona or Real Madrid, perhaps through the kind of sporting tour you can find here, you'll know that many of these world-class sportsmen have spent most of their years benefitting from the team sports environment.
It encourages the growth of social skills and humour, while also rewarding individual effort and flair. A young person can gain friends from a different social network than the classroom or their neighbourhood, and self-respect. Indeed, this report from the Telegraph suggests that the competitive element of team sport is of secondary importance to meeting up with friends - 64% don't even care if the â€˜winning' is removed from the sport. Whether this is good or not is open to debate, because even if a child doesn't win and feels deflated, the process will enrich their development.
The application and will-to-excel needed to improve in a sport calls upon the same mental fortitude that helps one progress in academia and arts, so the benefits can be felt in the classroom as well as the arena.
There's also evidence that participation in regular exercise decreases depression, and physical exercise is excellent for people with disabilities or learning difficulties.
And then there are the fitness benefits. We live in a society of fat people; according to the Global Burden of Disease study reported in the Guardian last year 67% of men and 57% of women in the UK are either overweight or obese. This is an epidemic that the world has never faced before, but unlike most other health concerns this is one we can actually do something about without the intervention of a health professional.
Overweight children are more likely to have high blood pressure and liver problems, and girls may also reach puberty sooner. They're also, unsurprisingly, more likely to be overweight adults. The better we look the better we feel, the better our clothes fit, and the better our overall health.
The message is clear; teaching a child to like sporting activity early in life â€“ whether that comprises a tough game of football or netball against stern local rivals or a gentle run around the garden a few times â€“ will stand them in good stead.
Louise Wood is a freelance writer who is an experienced journalist and blogger with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for writing.
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