How team sports bring out the best in boys
Everyone is always talking about how sport and exercise is important for our kids, and as a PE teacher and a sports coach, I can be particularly vocal on the topic.
The rising rate of childhood obesity (the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports 25% of children in Australia are overweight or obese), and the fact that active children are more likely to become active adults are just two reasons why kids’ health and fitness needs to be top priority.
However, sport is so much more than just a means to keep kids fit.
In 2013, the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity published findings that sport has a huge impact on a child’s psychological and social wellbeing. The article also outlined how sport and can also teach kids some valuable life skills.
The study painted a picture of what, through years of teaching and coaching, I already knew: team sport has benefits for boys that go way beyond physical fitness.
Here are of few of the social and emotional benefits your son will gain through playing team sports.
Playing a team sport gives boys a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves, and, with good coaching, the ability to support peers, develop new friendships and test current ones. It develops communication (a critical skill for boys) and helps them to be more selfless.
- Learning to lose
We all want to win, but the truth is we learn far more about ourselves and others from losing than we do from winning. Learning to be gracious and developing strong levels of sportsmanship are life lessons. There’s nothing wrong with boys being competitive, but in sport they can learn to express frustrations in a non-aggressive way.
Rules, taking direction and accepting decisions are all part of playing competitive sport. Having to listen to a coach, referee and other players teaches boys to be respectful in all relationships. At the end of a game, your son is expected to shake hands and accept with integrity that the opponent is sometimes better on the day.
- Controlling emotions
Boys should not suppress emotions, but they do need to learn how to react in an appropriate way, particularly when feeling stressed, angry or frustrated. A good coach can spot negative stress or unchecked anger and can help a boy take control of his emotions.
Being a better sportsperson doesn’t make you a better person – it simply means you have a talent in a particular field. For the boys I have coached over the years, the biggest growth in self-esteem hasn’t come through winning every game, rather through knowing that they are valued as part of a team.
Very few sportsman are gifted. As Malcom Gladwell said in Outliers, it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. Practice will play a large role in whatever sport or activity your son is involved with. So, if practice makes perfect, then perfect practice takes patience. If your son wants to truly get better at something, it’s going to take time.
- Dedication and discipline
As well as requiring patience, training and playing team sport requires and develops discipline, which is a highly transferrable skill. I don’t believe that it’s a coincidence that participation in sport is linked to higher academic achievement1 – my personal experience as a coach supports this. Does playing a team sport promise a higher ATAR? No promises there… but life skills such as dedication and discipline will surely help your son achieve long-term success in any field.
Of course, some of the benefits I have listed here are applicable to all sport, but all of the lessons are applicable to playing as part of a team. To be successful in life we all need to learn to work with others. Whether that ‘team’ is his family, his school, his workplace or his community, by learning to be a good team player, your son will become a man who is always at the top of his game.
- Singh A, Uijtdewilligen L, Twisk JWR, van Mechelen W, Chinapaw MJM. Physical Activity and Performance at SchoolA Systematic Review of the Literature Including a Methodological Quality Assessment. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(1):49-55. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.716
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