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The benefits of playing sports on a child's development.

I can still remember my reaction the first time I witnessed a 'non-competitive' school sports day. It was one of confusion and also some frustration. It was essentially a huge organised 'play time' where all participants received a certificate at the end for taking part and there were no winners or losers. This was for primary school age children but as they moved up to high school, things didn't really change all that much. Admittedly there were some more conventional competition in the sporting areas but children still receive 'awards' for being polite, regularly wearing the correct uniform or not missing a day of school for an entire term. Maybe I'm old fashioned but I don't see these as things to aspire to. Surely they should be expected as a bare minimum?

Anyway, back to the point of the post.

Playing sport in general has very obvious benefits for adults and children alike. Just being regularly active increases fitness levels and leads to better all round health. Research has shown that it can improve concentration levels and the quality of sleep. It can help ward off depression. It can also improve self esteem and confidence as you see your stamina and skill levels improve.

But have you considered the specific benefits for children that play team sports?

Take football, for example. While the child is enjoying the thrill and excitement of trying to get the ball in the net, there is so much more going on. The importance of team work. Players operating together to achieve a single aim. To score the goal. Certain players taking responsibility for defending their own goal and learning to take pride in doing that effectively, rather than strive for the glory of scoring for the team. Ensuring that all members feel an important part of the team through mutual encouragement and congratulation. Leading by example and trying to develop other team members to raise their standards. Sharing the wins and the losses as a group and experiencing that sense of pride, belonging and worth.

How about something that is more of an individual sport? Like tennis.

School age children may be part of a tennis club at school or be selected to represent them against another local school. So the best from each school may play each other. Each child attends, proudly sporting the colours of their own school. They want others to know who they are and who they represent. For the duration of the match they are battling, not just for themselves, but also for their friends at school. If they lose they will learn the valuable lesson of how to do so gracefully. To admit that on the day the opponent was better but to recognise what they need to do to raise their game and, hopefully, surpass those levels next time. To be determined. To have that drive and self belief that they can get better.

But, if they win.....

A whole different level of emotion. The elation of being victorious followed by learning to be humble in that victory when acknowledging your opponent. Feeling proud to have shown the best of you while knowing that some of that pride will be transferred back to your school and the appreciation and congratulation you will receive as a result. Witnessing the joy you bring to others who feel lifted in some way, just because they know you and heard what you did. The realisation that you cannot just settle for beating one opponent and that there will be more in the future so you want to keep getting better and better through dedication and discipline when you practice. Try to imagine the positive effect on a child's self esteem if the opponent they beat is one they had previously lost to.

I fail to see how these qualities will not benefit the child as they get older and venture off into the real world to forge a successful life.

It's tough out there and children need to be equipped with all the skills, both physically and psychologically, otherwise it's going to come as a severe shock to find out that you don't get jobs, promotions and pay rises just for turning up, wearing smart clothes and saying please and thank you.

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