10 psychological and social benefits of sport for kids

Thursday 24 September 2015
  • Kids playing with friends

Everyone talks about how important sport and exercise is for our kids – including us. 

Of course, with the rising rate of obesity, it’s an undeniable fact that our kids’ health and fitness should be top priority.

Sure, we’re all aware that active children are more likely to become active adults. But sport is much more than just a means to an end in trying to keep kids physically fit. 

Studies suggest that sport can also have a huge impact on a child’s psychological and social well-being. And teach them some extremely valuable life skills too.

Here’s a rundown of sport’s top 10 psychological and social benefits for kids…

1. Camaraderie 

Kids hugging

Joining a sports team gives kids a sense of belonging and the opportunity to make new friends. Some may even become buddies for life!

Getting involved in a sport also gives kids another social circle outside of school. 

With roughly one in four students (27%) reporting being bullied at school, joining a sports team could be a much-needed source of social support.

2. Learning to lose

Broken tennis racquet

And learning to do it graciously. 

Bad sportsmanship is an ugly thing. No one likes a sore loser.

Of course, there’s no harm in being competitive and expressing frustration in a non-aggressive manner. 

However, losing with integrity to a better opponent is a lot more honourable than throwing tantrums as regularly displayed by certain young Australian tennis players.

Which leads us on to the next point quite nicely…

3. Respecting authority 

Tennis coaching

Does your child need the occasional extra dose of discipline? Sign them up for a sport.

Following set rules, taking direction and accepting decisions is a large part of playing competitive sport. And players are often penalised for bad behaviour. 

With regular interaction with coaches, referees and other players, respecting their elders and listening to their peers is an important skill kids can take from the court or pitch.

4. Controlling emotions

Kids playing volleyball

As kids grow up, we expect them to learn to control their emotions. Especially the negative ones.

In sport, emotions can run high and learning to channel them the right way can be tough for youngsters. 

A good coach understands that negative emotional stress hurts performance. However, once this piece of wisdom is ingrained, your child will be better equipped to tackle a whole range of other life challenges.

5. Self-esteem

Kids high-fiving

Many studies suggest that sport and other physical activities can contribute to the development of self-esteem in kids. 

A pat on the back, a high-five from a friend, or a handshake with an opponent at the end of a match (even if they lost), is all character building for your child.

The difficulty however, is to not let their self-esteem be distinguished by winning or losing. But instead, to focus on their effort and enjoyment of the sport.

The supportive relationships of coaches and teammates, plus encouragement from parents, can all positively affect children’s self-esteem.

So next time your child plays a game – of anything – ask “how it did it go?” versus “did you win?”

Or better still, “did you enjoy it?”

6. Patience

Swimming lessons

Unless your child is extremely athletically gifted, then practice will play a large role in whatever sport or activity they’re involved in. 

And if practice makes perfect, then perfect takes patience.

Of course, we shouldn’t encourage our kids to aspire to ‘perfect’ but if the message is: “if you want to get better at something, it’s going to take time.” Then this is certainly a worthwhile lesson for kids to learn. 

7. Dedication

Kids drawing

Similar to patience, the discipline of training and the commitment it takes to pursue a sport is a trait transferrable to many other aspects of life. 

It’s no coincidence that participation in sport is linked to higher academic achievement in school.

If your kids put time and effort into getting better at something, and see the results, maybe – just maybe – they’ll put the same amount of dedication into their studies.

No promises there though…

8. Working together

Team huddle

“There’s no I in team.”

“Teamwork makes the dream work.”

Or whatever other clichéd phrase coaches may tell their team. It means nothing unless the team members buy in too.  

A team can’t succeed without working together. No matter how good the individual players.

Communication is key and learning to be part of a team is synonymous with learning to value the effectiveness of teamwork.

A useful lesson for kids to carry into adulthood and their future careers.

9. Less selfish

Kids sharing

Closely tied to teamwork, sports (particularly team sports) are a great platform to teach kids to be less selfish. 

In sport, kids need to think about what’s best for the team. Not themselves. 

You see it so often in soccer. Players have the opportunity to pass to a teammate, but instead choose to go for glory themselves. Shoot for goal, and then miss.

Egos are not good for team morale or performance. 

Coaching kids to understand that they can achieve more by being less selfish, is one of team sports’ great takeaways.

10. Resilience

Kid giving a thumbs up

The highs. The lows. The wins. And the losses. 

Sport can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

One study found that youngsters who are highly involved in sport are more ‘psychologically resilient’.

This isn’t surprising when sport teaches kids to pick themselves up after a hard tackle, or to hold their head high after losing badly, then get right back out there the next week.

Sport is about bouncing back, and learning from mistakes. The earlier kids can learn these skills, the better. 

Overall, the psychological and social benefits of playing sport can help kids become well-rounded, mature adults.

So whether it’s a team sport or an individual sport like tennis, what your kids can learn goes beyond the physical.

But don’t worry if your child isn’t sporty or interested in a particular sport. 

There are plenty of other activities (i.e. Kids Club), where kids can develop the above skills and attributes. All of which undoubtedly have a positive impact on the adult they become.

Amy Cox

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
AMY COX
Amy is UQ Sport’s resident blogger. She’s a peanut-butter loving Brit, who exercises to eat whatever she wants. You’ll find Amy either in the gym, playing badminton or doing the wrong moves in group fitness classes.