Sport can get a bad press at times – particularly when a famous footballer is sent off in a high-profile match or a world-class athlete misses a drugs test and faces a lengthy suspension. However, the occasional negative story or headline shouldn’t detract from the overwhelming good sport can achieve. The lessons that can be learnt by children when playing a range of sports can last for life, helping to build good character and form strong habits.
Firstly, being competitive shouldn’t be considered a dirty word. While it’s never pleasant to see healthy rivalry spilling over into upset and tears – and that win-at-all-costs scenario should always be frowned upon – there’s nothing wrong in developing a competitive instinct and edge. As children grow into adults and enter a grown-up world, competition is commonplace and particularly when it comes to job hunting and career progression. A competitive nature need not be to the detriment of anyone else; it can manifest itself as an individual just pushing themselves to be the very best they can be.
At the same time, the process of winning and losing is important for children to experience and understand. Kids can find it difficult to handle defeat in their younger years – recall the hot fury of losing something that might seem relatively unimportant, like a party game – and it’s a tough emotion to manage. By frequently playing sport it becomes easier to adjust to winning and losing; sportsmanship is learnt, as is grace in defeat and humility in victory.
In line with sportsmanship comes respect – for opponents, teammates and also officials, those who referee or umpire games. Playing sports swiftly dictates a code of conduct for participants. Children understand that they must shake hands with those they are playing against, that they must abide by the rules and the spirit of the game, and that ultimately the referee’s decision is final and should be accepted.
Sport teaches perfectly the importance and effectiveness of teamwork too. Any team usually has a range of abilities, from children who are the ‘star’ performers to those less gifted, but there is a role for everyone, and the better everyone works together the more effective the team as a unit. Criticism is disruptive; offering encouragement, support, help and understanding goes a long way.
Working as part of a team invariably improves social skills, bonding, communication, confidence and self-esteem. The previously shy and introverted child can thrive in the right team environment, finding a place for his or her skills. Friendships can be made and established through sport, and maintained for life.
There are other strong skills and characteristics sport can encourage. Hard work, sacrifice and discipline are among these, particularly as children become teenagers and choose to specialise in a specific sport and endeavour to play it at a high standard. To improve, children need to work hard and practice, practice, practice – which almost certainly means giving up other things; hanging out with friends in order to attend training sessions, for example.
Regardless of whether sport becomes a central part in life the lessons it imparts on children can hold them in good stead as they grow into adulthood.