A guide to the psychological and social benefits of playing sports - PART 1

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

A growing body of research literature finds that in addition to improved physical health, sport plays a primarily positive role in youth development, including improved academic achievement, higher self-esteem, fewer behavioral problems, and better psychosocial.


This article is from the authors at Truesport.org. The content is an excerpt from the Truesport report.

Before you look at the hard facts of the benefits of sports and exercise. I want you to take a brief look at TheLifeHabit FREEDOM principles. As you read through this article, you will see the great benefits of sport for you and your children. It is then so important to make playing sport a part of your daily or weekly routine.

F. Focus on one aspect at a time

R. Regular, repeated activities are essential. R also stands for Rest.  While it is important to take action, it is just as important to take a break every now and then.  Give the body and mind a chance to recover.

E. Easy does it.  It must be very easy to start, so that the habit can be ingrained without any perceived pain.

E. Extend yourself slightly each time.  If you start off this week running 10 meters, next week make it 11.  After a couple of weeks, you'll be running 20m easily.

D. Diversify.  Let's face it.  If it's boring, we won't keep at it.  have fun and change the routine often.

O. Observe yourself and your response, and make changes as you go along.  If you don't measure your progress in some way, how do you know what you've achieved.

M. Multiply.  By making lots of little changes, you'll start to see huge benefits.  It's the power of compounding.  Add a bit each week and watch yourself grow.

Many studies focus on the effects of sport on the five “C’s”—competence, confidence, connections, character, and caring—which are considered critical components of positive youth development.

It has long been thought that the many facets of playing sport—the discipline of training, learning teamwork, following the leadership of coaches and captains, learning to lose—provide lifelong skills for athletes.   

Sports do not build character. They reveal it. John Wooden, Legendary UCLA Basketball Coach

The literature on youth sport stresses the positive effects of participation in learning the important life skills of goal setting and time management combined with enjoyment; the development of a strong sense of morality; and the development of an appreciation of diversity.

Longitudinal studies have shown that children and youth participating in sport, when compared to peers who do not play sport, exhibit:

• higher grades, expectations, and attainment;34

• greater personal confidence and self-esteem;

• greater connections with school— that is, greater attachment and support from adults;

• stronger peer relationships;

• more academically oriented friends;

• greater family attachment and more frequent interactions with parents;

• more restraint in avoiding risky behavior; and

• greater involvement in volunteer work (see Linver et al. for a summary)

These outcomes are thought to be related to the contribution of sport to learning values and skills associated with initiative, social cohesion, self-control, persistence, and responsibility.

Theories of positive youth development stress the importance of sport in acquiring skills that are beneficial in other domains (e.g., school, family, work) that lead to better adaptive skills.

People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society. Vince Lombardi, American Football Coach

Sport provides opportunities for children and youth to engage in valuable and positive relationships with adults, which is especially important when such benefits are not available at home. Thus, it is a missed opportunity for children who are “gated”—or not included in sport—during early stages of childhood because they are less well behaved than other children. These children are being prevented from participating in the very thing that could help them learn to control and regulate their behavior. Sport provides an opportunity for children to safely navigate and negotiate between right and wrong as they learn to interact with peers and adults. Research by Taliaferro et al. suggests that playing sport can even protect against suicide risk in youth. Compared to nonathletes, male athletes exhibit lower levels of hopelessness and suicidal ideation. Young males involved in multiple sports seem to garner even more protection in this regard. Similar results were found for girls. Research on the role of exercise in adults confirms that it improves mood and alleviates many forms of depression. Bartko and Eccles found that youth who are highly involved in sport are more “psychologically resilient,” that is, better able to recover from problems. Eccles et al. found that sport participation protects young athletes against social isolation.Taliaferro et al. propose that youth who play sport have higher levels of social support, which provides higher levels of resilience.

Becoming a member of a community that includes teammates, coaches, family, and the greater community provides “fertile ground for adolescent self-esteem development because teams provide opportunities for youth to engage with adults and peers to achieve collective goals”

In addition, physical activity enhances one’s self-perceptions of body, competence, and self-worth. The assumed association between playing sport and improved psychological and behavioral outcomes (or character) is at times challenged, despite the overwhelming directionality of the positive associations. Skeptics also say that many studies have failed to examine whether athletes had specific character traits before playing sport. Moreover, many studies do not account for variations in sport participation by level of competition, type of sport played, and other contextual factors.

Linver et al. caution that participating in other types of nonsport activities also can produce many of these benefits— for example, the performing arts, school clubs, and other prosocial activities. However, sport participation stands out over other activities as a confidence builder, showing a consistent advantage in building self-esteem and improved psychological functioning. This is particularly true during the later adolescent years (around 11th grade). Hansen et al.found that youth who play sport reported higher rates of self-knowledge, managing emotions, and physical skills compared to peers in academic and leadership activities.

Playing sport leads to improved academic performance   

I figure practice puts your brains in your muscles. Sam Snead, Professional Golfer

Numerous studies have demonstrated the positive effects of playing sport on academic achievement, in large part because of the positive influence of identity formation and emotional development. So, to flip Sam Snead’s perspective, practice figuratively puts muscles in your brain.

Data show that high school students who play sport are less likely to drop out. Participation in sport also has been associated with completing more years of education and consistently higher grades in school.

Research has shown that physical movement can affect the brain’s physiology by increasing cerebral capillary growth, blood flow, oxygenation, production of neurotrophins, growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus, neurotransmitter levels, development of nerve connections, density of neural network, and brain tissue volume. These changes may be associated with improved attention; improved information processing, storage, and retrieval; enhanced coping; enhanced positive affect; and reduced sensations of cravings and pain.

Linder’s research suggests that increased energy levels and time outside of the classroom—both byproducts of playing sport—may give relief from boredom, resulting in higher attention levels during classroom time. Research by the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute has shown that physical exercise causes short-term relaxation, accompanied by improved concentration, enhanced creativity and memory, improved mood, and enhanced problem-solving abilities.   

Believe me, the reward is not so great without the struggle. Wilma Rudolph, Track and Field Olympic Gold Medalist

All references can be found in the original article, to view the full original article click here.

10 Things you MUST do if you want to lose weight

Subscribe and download a high quality infographic, "10 things you MUST do if you want to lose weight" 10 things you must do if you want to lose weight - infographic
Here at TheLifeHabit we strive to provide our readers and community members with only the freshest content across all age groups and content categories. This content needs to be of high quality and relevance so that we can make a real difference in people's lives. We feel that the best way to do this is to have numerous authors creating unique content for TheLifeHabit on a regular basis.

If you would be interested in contributing
to TheLifeHabit then please get in touch with us
or leave your e-mail address
  1. Invalid Input
  2. Invalid Input