The curtains have dropped on yet another memorable Olympics and the sporting fever has seen many of us on the edge our seats, no matter what our preferred sport. The diversity of the range of sports included in this year’s spectacular games has offered a vast number of athletes from many countries an opportunity to represent their country and a shot at a place in the history books. Alongside those who continued to impress and deliver, break records, set new ones and defy expectations; are also those who may not have made a remarkable impression just yet. However, the fact that they made it to the Olympics is a dream come true; a feat thousands of athletes unfortunately never realise.
The dedication, hard work and determination required to reach such a pinnacle in a sporting career often passes unseen to the masses. When you consider how much effort it takes to make your school team then onto regional and international levels, before making it all the way to the top to compete against the best of the best and to stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s greatest athletes, it can become clearer the kind of devoted individuals who get there.
Whether a young child begins with dreams of an Olympic medal, representing their country or making the school team, involvement in sports from an early age can have immense positive outcomes.
The effect of sports on children has many benefits, including character development, leadership skills, good sporting behaviour and achievement orientation. Whether a child participates at school level, outside school or higher, the reasons for participation range from having fun, improving skills, keeping fit, being part of a team and the challenge and excitement of competition. The environment in which a child experiences sport participation and the types of adults and peers involved will help determine continued participation and strength of commitment.
Involvement in both team and individual sport enhances self-esteem, builds friendships, and encourages interactions which develop pro-social behaviours. Also it, encourages loyalty, requires commitment, provides emotional support, and develops skills in conflict and resolution. Both can enrich feelings of inclusion in either a team or within a family.
If children continue and participate at a higher competitive standard, they require a certain level of discipline, determination, sportsmanship, and respect for peers in sport; more useful qualities for a healthier and more fulfilling childhood that they will carry with them later in life.
Unfortunately, between the ages of twelve and thirteen, research shows sports participation declines as young people tend to focus on other things. This can be a result of a number of factors including; lack of motivation, wanting to spend time elsewhere, perceived failures or conflicting relationships with sports providers. This is actually a crucial time in their lives and being encouraged (not forced) to continue, even if not competitively, can give them a valuable focus. Regrettably, it is often children with low perceptions of their abilities who would benefit greatly from the positive outcomes of sports that drop out.
Whilst at an age when children are most vulnerable in environments where there is very little on offer in the way of recreation, and fewer opportunities to become involved in something that has positive effects on both physical and mental wellbeing and development, sport can offer a real way forward. With the untold challenges facing our young people today, this is a lifeline that can be utilised to provide many different avenues to success.
While sports can be an invaluable tool for children who are not academically gifted, it is not a substitute for academic work, but can actually be used to support involvement in academic improvement by ways of encouraging engagement at school. By developing skills needed to increase academic performance, such as discipline, realising that hard work pays off and the ability to perform under pressure, sport participation can provide a building block of character qualities and the enhancement of self-esteem, allowing them to be applied to other areas of a child’s life.
Where possible, provide your child with the opportunity to experience a range of sports and support their involvement in any way you can. As a country we should continue to encourage youth involvement in sport and strive to widen the opportunities for further participation. The healthy mind and healthy body philosophy has great merit, couple this with the physical and mental skill development sport provides, and we are a step closer to offering our young people a better start in life.