We always talk about the importance of exercise and sports for our children. With the rapidly increasing rate of obesity, it is therefore integral that we pay more attention to the fitness, health and physical activity of children. Yet, physical health is not the only benefit of sport for our children. There is now increasing awareness and understanding of mental health issues in society. Sport can undoubtedly help to support pupils to develop and regulate their health in various contexts.
The first, physical health, is clear. If pupils achieve the standardised target of one hour of activity each day, then they will be leading more active and healthy lives. The second two are often overshadowed in the media by the first. I was pleased to come across lots of research on the matter. But do you as a parent or teacher really ever interact with these ideas? Or are you more aware of the benefit to physical health as promoted by the government and in the media?
So, what are some of the mental and emotional benefits?
Children will learn to effectively control their emotions
As children grow we expect them to learn to control their emotions and behave more maturely, but how do we do this? Through sport children can learn to channel their emotions and understand how to control negative emotions. Our coaches all love sport and have no doubt had experiences where their emotions have impacted their performance when they may have lost the ball or not landed a flip. They are therefore well equipped to support and guide children to learn how to deal with these feelings, as we are all continuing to do each day. Physical exercise is also associated with the release of endorphins, if we can encourage pupils to actively participate then they will be able to feel the benefit of these mental boosters.
Development of self-esteem and patience
A child's experience of sport at school can significantly influence their self-esteem throughout life. If a child struggles to perfect hitting the ball in tennis or struggles to score that goal in football it is easy to become disheartened. Many children become disillusioned by sport and are often reluctant to join in. This is why our ethos of putting 'you' first is paramount. Every young person in every session should feel a sense of achievement. We celebrate the success of every pupil, to make the experience enjoyable and rewarding for all. If we emphasise the joy of sport, rather than just the joy of winning, everyone can find their own success through physical activity. That is why a good coach will always ask children if they enjoyed the game instead of asking if they won. It is important to celebrate success, but it is also important to emphasise the patience that is required to achieve this. Everyone is always learning and it is often easy to forget this and to become frustrated when we do not succeed straight away. Sport is a great way to address this as there is always another achievement to reach, perhaps jumping a little bit further or running a little bit quicker.