The Importance of Sport in Child Development
Sports has become a way of life for the today’s society and it is a predominant avenue for children to spend their leisure time. Many schools are enhancing the sports they offer by hiring professional trainers and coaches, and investigating significant financial resources into improving sporting facilities. Despite the increased attention on sports, research by the National Alliance for Sports shows that over 70% of children drop out of organized sports by the age of 13(Miner, 2016). Another study by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA)found that in 2015, inactivity among children was at 37.1%, a 17.1% increase from the 2014 figure. Children are thus playing fewer sports and at the same time, the rate of sports injuries has increased with more than 3.5 million children under the age of 14 requiring treatment annually.
The decrease in sporting activity among children is accompanied by an increase in the rate of obesity and depression among children. According to the Center for Diseases Control (CDC), obesity affects about 12.7 million children and adolescents and by the time they reach the age of 35, 57% of today’s children will be obese. The Department of Health and Human Services also asserts that over three million adolescents aged between 12-17 experiences a depressive episode every year while over 2 million experience severe depression. The prevalence of depression has increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.5% in 2014 representing a 35% increase (Schrobsdorff, 2016). Various researchers have linked the increase in depression and obesity to the reduced participation in sports. This paper aims to assess the impacts that participating in sports has on a child’s overall development and the parental influences that have led to decreased sports participation.
Negative Parental Involvement in Sports
One of the reasons many children give for their reduced participation in sports is that there is too much pressure from parents discouraging them against sports as a form of leisure. Sports has come to be considered as an investment by many parents who believe that it could one day lead to a college scholarship despite the fact that only 2 percent of kids end up receiving the scholarships. According to the SFIA, 67 percent of parents spend more than $100 on sports fees for their children while 28.5 percent spend more than $200 (Rosenwald, 2015). Many parents have high hopes for their children and often misperceive their talents leading to additional pressure and increased parental involvement. Research shows that many parents push their kids into sports as toddlers and jockey to get them into professional sports with some even spending small fortunes on private coaching and expensive equipment. It is recommended that a child should be 6 years of age before participating in organized sport and further, an assessment of the child’s sports readiness and talents should be done. Pushing kids into sports at a very early age, therefore, hinders their positive physical, psychological, and cognitive development
Chircop, et al., (2013) found a positive correlation between increased parental emphasis on sports and fast food consumption in that due to the time constraints of organized sports, many families eat fewer meals at home. Parents also restrict their children from engaging in more than one sport and will be seen at tournaments yelling at their children to do better. The over participation and conditions on which sports can be played have a negative influence on sports participation. For instance, children become afraid to make mistakes even though research shows that great sportsmen develop in an environment where they are encouraged to make mistakes and learn from them. Research also shows that playing multiple sports enables kids to develop all-around athleticism and avoid overuse injuries and burnout. While parental support is necessary for sports development in kids, over participation leaves the kids feeling that sports mean more to their parents than it does to them, hence leading to attrition.
Taking part in sports activities activates the brain to release the mood-boosting hormones called endorphins that generate a sense of calmness and buoyant feelings. The hormone is also called a “runners high” since it is often found in running activities but it is also felt among participants of different. Physical activity also stimulates the body to reduce the levels of the stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline leading to a reduction in anxiety. Research also points to the reduction of hyperactivity and jittery behavior after participating in a sporting activity due to improvement in blood flow and cardiovascular fitness. Sports participation also relieves the tension and anxiety that causes sleep disturbances leading to improved nightly bedtime routines that create a virtuous cycle which improves the overall health of the child (Schindly, 2017).
Pressure reduction also arises as a result of improvement in perseverance and patience. Children who participate in sports learn from an early age that failure is a way of life and develop coping mechanisms. Sports activities place children in high-pressure situations especially during game days and these children have to learn how to persevere and perform optimally in the midst of the pressure. Sports activities also promote healthy competition in children and teach them how to remain focused on a task which enables them to relieve stress by drawing their attention to the activity at hand and away from the stressful responsibilities. Engaging in sports also improves the social interactions and peer support available to the children which provides them an avenue for venting out their frustrations to understanding colleagues. Children also learn to avoid unhealthy behaviors and conditions such as obesity that impacts on self-image and leads to increased stress. The discipline developed when engaging in sports also enables children to effectively manage their tasks and responsibilities and avoid piling up of responsibilities which are associated with increased pressure (Harvard Men’s Health Watch, 2011). The chief cause of stress is emotional imbalance. Thus, by learning to control their emotional outbursts during sports, children will be able to deal with stressful situations in other facets of their lives as well.
Benefits of Body Condition
Participating in sporting activities has numerous benefits for the development of a child’s motor skills and body development. Sports enables children to fulfill the recommended physical activity requirements of 60 minutes a day for 5 days a week needed for successful acquisition of motor skills. These motor skills develop through the preservation of bone mass and the strengthening of muscles. Increased physical activity causes new bone tissue to form and also strengthens the muscles which improve support to the joints and bones. Sports also lubricates the joints leading to greater flexibility, increased muscle strength, and an overall improvement in body balance.
Engaging in sports activities strengthens the heart muscles resulting in better blood flow which leads to improvement in overall health. Participating in sports also improves the lung capacity and strengthens the respiratory muscles leading to increased cardiovascular endurance. Besides, engaging in sports leads to increased perspiration which aids in the excretion of waste through the surface of the skin leading to body detoxification and a more radiant skin (Bailey, 2006).Various researchers also opine that engaging in sports activities from an early age helps to improve sexual performance and libido in adulthood although excess indulgence in sports may suppress libido. Another benefit of exercising to body formation is the promotion of sensory processing where the child is able to accurately register, interpret, and respond to sensory stimulation within the environment and in one’s body.
The participation of children in sports also reduces and prevents illness by promoting a healthy lifestyle and building immunity and resilience. The successful acquisition of motor skills at a young age is a precursor to improved physical activity in adulthood which helps avoid adult obesity as well. The Centers for Diseases Control has also found a positive correlation between increased physical activity in children and reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity (Ullrich-French, McDonough, & Smith, 2012). Another study done on young girls who participate in sports found that participation reduces the risk for the development of osteoporosis and breast cancer (Staurowsky, et al., 2009). The risk of colorectal cancer is also reduced since the movement of food through the bowels is sped up due to having stronger muscles. Engaging in sporting activities from a young age is also said to prevent ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and over 40% of the other types of cancer. Moderate exercise also boosts the immune system leading to the prevention of common diseases and infections including flu.
In addition to improving motor skills and reducing weight loss, sports improves metabolism and enables children to develop healthy eating habits. Tomlin, Clarke, Day, McKay, & Naylor, (2013) conducted a study of 1421 school-aged children and found that, despite children involved in organized sports consuming more fats and calories than children who were not involved in sports, these children were more physically active and had lower BMI than children not involved in sports. The same study found that teenagers who participate in sports are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking and illicit drug-taking and they also tend to eat more fruits and vegetables than non-athletes. The reduction of mental stress as a result of engaging in sports also prevents the development of depression or anxiety disorder with one study concluding that engaging in regular vigorous decreases the likelihood of developing depression and anxiety by 25% over the next five years.
Research shows that sports participation has a positive impact on a child’s working memory. According to Chaddock, et al., (2010), the physical activity arising from sports triggers the brain to release the brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that helps to support the survival of existing brain neurons and boosts growth and differentiation of synapses and new neurons leading to improvement in long-term memory. Physical activity also stimulates the growth and development of nerves and increases blood flow to the brain cortex. The brain’s resistance to injury is also increased as a result of physical activity while plasma non-adrenaline which is a vasoconstrictor is also reduced. A study thatwas done on mentally retarded children also shows an improvement in psychological development after the commencement of physical fitness training through sports (Sime & Folkins, 2011).Physical activity, therefore, has a direct positive influence on brain development and function.
Sports participation also improves cognitive development through enhanced cognitive flexibility and reduced distractions. Many researchers opine that students can participate in rigorous sports activities and reduce the amount of time spent in class without affecting their grades since they develop prowess in multitasking. Involvement in multiple sports activities is especially advantageous since children learn to remain committed to multiple activities and also avoid unnecessary distractions. The social and peer support that children get from participating in sports activities also enables them to learn how to manage stress and other psychological inhibitors of healthy brain functioning. Children participation in sports, thus, improves the ability of children to learn and retain new information and has been linked to improvement in school performance.
Sports activities promote the independence of children by teaching them vital social skills, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. Sports activities encourage children to work in teams where they have to compete for places in the team in addition to developing strategies for winning and this boosts their interpersonal and communication skills enabling them to relate better with others without the support of parents and elder people. Children also learn to be less selfish since they have to work closely with others for them to win and this tames their egos. Emotional control is enhanced since conflicts always arise in teams and they have to be channeled positively. Sports activities also require children to learn the vital skill of remaining committed to a course for them to achieve team success or be drafted into the team.
Participating in team sports also requires children to learn the virtues of patience and resilience. The rollercoaster nature of team sports teaches children how to embrace failure and have patience since success takes time to be achieved. Sporting activities are also governed by a range of stringent rules and regulations that the children have to learn to obey without parental supervision. Thus, through sports, children learn to follow rules and respect authority at an early age. Overall, sports teach children to understand their own abilities and shortcomings and the necessity of hard work in achieving success. Parental support in sporting activities is also reduced since, besides paying sports fees, buying sporting equipment, and cheering the children during games, success in sporting activities will involve the independent efforts of the child.
Participation in sports also elicits numerous behavior changes that have a positive impact on the child’s physical and cognitive development. According to a study by Harrison and Narayan (2003), children who participate in sports demonstrate improved skills in setting goals, managing their time and cooperating with other people. Organized sports highly demands of a child’s time and they have to remain committed to participating if they are to be successful in their sport. Many children enjoy sports activities and thus they tend to develop schedules with the help of their parents and coaches to achieve their goals, and thus, they increasingly spend time away from social media. The outcomes of sports participation are also more readily visible and rewarding to children than academic prowess which increases the engagement and commitment of children. These children are also more cognizant of what they require to succeed in sports and are thus less likely to take health risks and get involved in snacking.
Sports participation also provides children with an avenue to master special skills and learn from their peers and coaches. The social interactions that children develop when participating in sports enable them to become more cooperative and comfortable in social situations. The perceived peer support in sports activities also makes children become more trusting of others which increases their social participationand self-efficacy. Engaging in sports also enables children to test the boundaries of their abilities which improves self-exploration and the management of expectations since handling failure and competition is learned at an early age. Sports participation in children has been linked to increased physical activity even in adulthood and a decrease in teenage pregnancy, drug use, smoking, and unprotected sexual intercourse implying that it has a significant influence on behavior. Another study also found that even after controlling for demographics, counties whose schools offered more sports had lower rates of juvenile arrest and student absentee levels (Eitle, Turner, & Eitle, 2003).
Various researchers have found a positive relationship between sports participation and self-esteem. Data from the Center for Diseases Control shows that frequent vigorous physical activity in both girls and boys reduces feelings of hopelessness and suicidal tendencies. One of the reasons for the phenomenon is that increased physical activity reduces obesity which is shown to be a precursor to a diminished quality of life, decreased self-confidence, and social discrimination. Physically activity increases cardiovascular fitness and reduces body fatness leading to reduces social discrimination. Other studies have found that independent of objective measures of cardiovascular fitness and body fatness, sports participation also has an indirect, positive relation with physical self-concept (Dishman, et al., 2006). From the foregoing, it is expected that sports participation will elicit positive self-esteem whether or not body fatness and obesity are considered. The influence of friendship and peer connections cannot be underestimated in the psychosocial development of children and sports participation provides an essential channel for the formation of these relationships.
Other scholars argue that the very fact of belonging to a team has positive correlations for self-esteem. Team sports provide a strong social support system as well as feelings of acceptance that reduces feelings of hopelessness and suicidal tendencies in children and youth (Taliaferro, Rienzo, Miller, Pigg, & Dodd, 2008).Children also develop strong social and communication skills that enable them to fit in better to social circumstances and this improves their self-confidence and ability to cope with stressful situations. Sports participation is also deemed to be an avenue for releasing psychosocial tensions and frustrations hence children who participate in sports demonstrate more psychosocial benefits than non-athletes.
Therefore, participating in sports relieves stress in children and boosts their coping mechanisms. Engaging in sports also leads to a healthy and boosts the body’s immune system leading to the prevention of illnesses including obesity and depression. It also boosts brain functioning and cognitive development in children in addition to enhancing proper behavior formation. Children who participate in sports are also more independent than non-athletes and lastly, engaging in sports activities improves their self-esteem. However, parents have to reassess whether their actions are impacting negatively on their child’s sports participation for them to build conducive environment for their children’s growth in sports.