As a youngster, I wasn’t exactly the most sporty young girl around, however that didn’t stop me from getting involved in sports. No, I wasn’t “team” level, but I didn’t care – it was the taking part that counted for me. The thrill of running to the next base in rounders, the battle of hockey sticks on a freezing cold sports field, the rush of defence in a game of rounders.
I didn’t really think about it at the time, but in hindsight, I think the reason I loved to get stuck in with sport, despite not being hugely talented at it, was probably the psychological benefits of youth sport which I now, as an adult, totally understand and appreciate.
Sadly, a lot of children quit sports just at a time they probably need to harness those psychological benefits the most – for girls, we get all weird about boobs and periods, and for boys…they get obsessed with computer games and girls instead.
At a time when mental health among young people has never looked so bleak, surely there was never a more important time to sing the praises of youth sport and its psychological benefits? And so without further ado, let’s explore some of those now.
Let’s face it. Children these days are more sedentary then they have ever been. And this sedentary existence does absolutely nothing for their mood. But the physical activity that is at the core of youth sports – whatever sport it might be – helps to trigger the chemicals in the brains (serotonin and dopamine a.k.a. the happy hormones) that makes them feel happy and relaxed. Not only that, being active in this way enhances endorphins, natural chemicals that act like morphine, relieving pain and inducing euphoria – and goodness knows could our youth do with a good dose of euphoria with all the troubles they are having to grow up with these days.
In this crazy world we live in, there are just too many distractions and that is something that is felt very keenly and can be very overwhelming for young people. Throw our children’s increasing love affair with technology into the mix well…it’s a miracle they can concentrate on anything at all! Hurrah then, that youth sports helps to improve concentration – especially in a team setting – where the use of critical thinking, judgement and the fundamental learning that is at the root of its all is absolutely central to its very being.
Creates that feeling of belonging
Never underestimate the importance of that feeling of belonging in us humans. And in young people in a world which seems to be becoming increasingly isolated, that feeling of belonging and connectedness has never been more important and has a huge psychological impact. Now frame that within the social setting of youth sports where that sense of participating, that positive connection and that shared purpose comes to the fore as positive outcomes for the young people taking part.
Reduces stress and depression
Picture this: you have one young person who is sat at their computer every free minute of the day playing games, or snap chatting with their friends and trying to be the very best they can be at Instagramming (yes, really – it’s a thing). You could see how this kind of habit could pathe the way for a plethora of daily stressors and potential negative thoughts.
Then on the other hand, you have another young person who frequently engages in youth sports, reaping all the benefits we have discussed so far. And guess what? A publication with the University of Bern has shown that sport and physical activity partially encounter the same neurophysiological changes as antidepressants meaning that it is a natural, chemical way free of helping young people to stay happy and mentally healthy.
Improves self esteem
Youth sports are an incredible way for young people to shrug off any limitations – whether self or otherwise imposed – and provide a platform for them to just be themselves, away from the family unit or expectations of society. In addition, the positive pressure of youth sports helps to build a mental toughness in young people, in a world where they seem to have otherwise become so vulnerable to the forces that seem to have them surrounded.
Well, if that’s not enough to pursuade you of the psychological benefits of youth sport let me share these very fine words from Mara Kaplan of Let Kids Play.
Children can learn to play as a team — and they learn you don’t always win. That’s something, this day and age, that we don’t teach our children very well. We set up school environments and other sports environments so that our children always succeed. But in the real world, they don’t always succeed. Gaming is a good way to teach that.
So what’s next? There are so many fantastic structured programmes out there with the objective of empowering children through sport in these ways – one example being – Ertheo Education and Sports whose mission is to provide children with the perfect experiences they need to grow and thrive, with a focus on international and “sleep away” summer camps based around sports, education and language learning. Programmes like this are an incredible way of empowering children to become strong and independent, whilst giving parents the peace of mind whilst they are at camp.
Do you agree that the psychological benefits of youth sport are important to young people today? What else would you add on the subject? Please do leave a comment below.
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*This post is sponsored by Ertheo however all opinions are my own.
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