by Jenny Spires
As we emerge from the pandemic, the focus in schools is very much on providing children with as many opportunities to play the sports they have missed out on and rekindle social skills and friendships that may have waned during lockdown.
Sounds fun, right? Well, yes, but it’s so much more than that – encouraging pupils to participate in sport is now known to play a crucial role in building a child’s confidence and emboldening them to be risk-takers, which underpins all that they do now and in later life.
Many studies have shown solid links between sport participation and the development of strong self-esteem and self-belief. An analysis in The Sport Journal, a peer-reviewed title published by the US Sports Academy, showed that taking part in sport before university was directly related to higher self-esteem and these findings are echoed across the world in various research projects that show a relationship between sport and better wellbeing, happiness and lower anxiety levels.
So, let’s break that down. What is it about participation in both individual and team sports that fosters this personal development?
No one gets good at a skill or sport without making a lot of mistakes along the way. A child quickly learns that mis-steps and hurdles are a vital part of their journey to becoming a better footballer, tennis player, swimmer, runner, cyclist or anything else – and realises that nothing terrible happens when they make those mistakes. This flowering of a resilient attitude and an acceptance that mistakes don’t equal failure is a hugely important life skill which leads to bolder risk-taking (and potentially greater rewards) in life. Making mistakes and having the self-esteem to know that those mistakes are not a reflection on your ability but simply a necessary experience on your journey is a priceless attribute.
Dealing with stress Children have faced more stress than we could have ever imagined in the last year or so and have had to find ways of coping with it. We know that the demands of playing for a team or striving for personal success in an individual sport require channeling all your thoughts and energies into the moment which frees the mind temporarily from ongoing stress. To develop the ability to switch off daily concerns and focus on your sport teaches the mind that this is possible, that you can control your stress levels and put them aside.
Understanding the link between practise and success
Children sometimes need reminding that success is, of course, related to effort and sports and skill-building are constant reminders of this. As children continue to commit to turning up for team practice, going out in the rain to try and beat their PB or heading off down the skatepark again to perfect that ollie, the realisation solidifies that they and they alone control their chances of success. When they see improvement, they know it was brought about by their own hard work. That knowledge brings confidence in their own ability every time they turn out to play.
This applies to the rest of their lives outside of sport. When you have self-confidence based on hard work, even when you don’t succeed, you can keep morale high. You understand the causal link between your ability to put work in and improve.
Unlike a child’s handpicked friendships group, a sports team is made up of all sorts of different characters who your child may not have naturally befriended. Yet, sharing a common goal (to get better and win) unites those children and social skills are forged. This ability to rub along with everyone is a wonderful confidence builder (“if I can do it in sport, I can do it everywhere else in my life too.”)
Winning and losing and a healthy mindset
Great sportsmen and women have learnt how to avoid their self-esteem being dented by losing. It isn’t easy to do this as often confidence takes a knock after below-par performances. But being surrounded by like-minded players and coaches who offer continued support and encouragement really helps and drives players of all ages to improve and keep trying. They learn that losing is only a driver to keep going and strive for better – and what better life lesson could any child learn?
For more information, visit www.brightongirls.gdst.net