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Unlocking the Benefits of Sports and Teamwork: The Transformative Power of Play for Children

Posted by Churchich Content Team Content on December 4, 2023

Youth sports can evoke strong childhood memories of scoring goals, game-saving tackles, and diving catches for some, while others may dwell more on the joy of orange slices at halftime on a hot day and time spent on the practice fields forming bonds with new teammates.

The reality is that engaging in sports and teamwork transcends the thrill of victory – and agony of defeat – and stands as a cornerstone in the holistic development of children.

As childhood obesity becomes an increasing problem and the digital age lures young people away from the pleasures of playing outdoors, the significance of sports and teamwork becomes even more profound.

“In the last two decades, childhood outdoor play has decreased while indoor play has increased. This has taken a toll mentally and physically on today’s youth,” writes Kelsey Weber, licensed social worker, for the nonprofit Youth First. “Spending less time outdoors has contributed to a rise in childhood obesity and the decline of creativity, concentration and social skills.”

Paige Maslen, in her insightful piece for Edutopia, underscores how team sports act as catalysts for the development of competence, confidence, connections, character, and caring, with self-esteem emerging as the focal point.

Promoting Self-Esteem, Tackling Childhood Obesity Through Team Sports

True Sport's report, as cited by Maslen, indicates that children immersed in sports not only enjoy higher social support but also thrive within the natural community formed with teammates, coaches, and family members.

The self-esteem cultivated through enriched social interactions extends its impact far beyond the playing field.

Maslen writes: “In the end, the opportunity to participate in team sports provides athletes with valuable skills that will take them beyond the field, pitch, and court.”

Participation in team sports also emerges as a potent antidote to the escalating childhood obesity crisis in the United States.

Emma Stohl, writing for BYU's Ballard Center Brief, delves into the alarming statistics, revealing that as of 2023, 1 in 5 children in the U.S. grapples with obesity, a threefold increase since the 1970s.

The digital age, compounded by a lifestyle shift during the pandemic, takes a considerable share of the blame.

Stohl's insights underscore the critical role sports play in maintaining a healthy weight, countering the sedentary patterns exacerbated by technology use with 1 in 4 children in the U.S. with an almost entire sedentary lifestyle and just 22 percent of children meeting basic activity level recommendations.

Beyond Physical Fitness: The Holistic Benefits of Sports and Teamwork

While the physical benefits of sports are undeniable, the spectrum of advantages extends far beyond.

Here are additional reasons why encouraging children to join local sports teams is an investment in their well-being:

  • Cognitive Development and Academic Performance: Engaging in team sports has been linked to improved cognitive function. The mental demands of strategizing, decision-making, and adapting to dynamic situations contribute to enhanced cognitive abilities. Research also suggests a positive correlation between regular sports participation and academic performance.

  • Discipline and Time Management: Being part of a team cultivates commitment and discipline. Children learn the importance of regular attendance, adherence to schedules, and efficient time management—lessons that extend positively into academic and personal realms.

  • Emotional Intelligence and Stress Management: Team sports provide a platform for emotional expression and understanding. Children learn to navigate and manage their emotions in both triumph and adversity, fostering emotional intelligence. Additionally, the stress-relieving nature of physical activity contributes to better stress management skills.

  • Leadership and Responsibility: Team sports provide platforms for children to take on leadership roles, instilling lessons in responsibility, decision-making, and accountability. Leading by example fosters qualities applicable in diverse life situations.

  • Motor Skill Development: Team sports demand coordination, agility, and refined motor skills. Activities like dribbling a soccer ball, catching a baseball, or shooting a basketball not only enhance performance in sports but contribute significantly to overall physical development.

  • Resilience and Sportsmanship: Wins and losses in team sports become life lessons. Children learn resilience, coping with setbacks, and the essence of sportsmanship—graceful in defeat, humble in victory.

  • Self-Esteem and Confidence: Success in sports is a potent booster for a child's self-esteem and confidence. Achieving personal and team goals, overcoming challenges, and receiving positive feedback contribute to a robust sense of self-worth, influencing other facets of life.

  • Social Skills and Teamwork: Participation in team sports exposes children to diverse peer groups, imparting valuable lessons in cooperation and teamwork. Effective communication shared responsibilities, and collaborative goal setting foster social skills crucial in various life aspects.


Path to Healthiness and Long-Term Happiness: Teen Years and Beyond

"Team sports not only help you get in shape and stay that way but also are a great way to connect with people from different backgrounds and become part of a larger community," emphasizes Keck Medicine of USC.

The enduring happiness derived from team sports is underscored by the potential for higher GPAs, with one study showing a 97 percent high school graduation rate among students engaged in team sports.

As teenagers navigate the delicate journey of adolescence, engaging in team sports becomes a particularly crucial factor in shaping their physical and mental well-being.

 Numerous studies highlight the following benefits specifically tailored to the teen years:

  • Enhanced Mental Health: A study published in PLOS ONE found that adolescents who participated in team sports experienced lower levels of depression and anxiety.

    “Participation in team sport compared to non-sport participation was associated with 10 percent lower anxious/depressed scores, 19 percent lower withdrawn/depressed scores, 17 percent lower social problems scores, 17 percent lower thought problems scores, and 12 percent lower attention problems scores. Participation in team sport compared to non-sport participation was also associated with 20 percent lower rule-breaking behavior scores for females (compared to males),” cited the study.

    The camaraderie and social support fostered in a team setting contribute significantly to mental well-being during the challenging teenage years.
  • The publication “Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School” says that regular physical activity promotes growth and development and has multiple benefits for physical, mental, and psychosocial health that undoubtedly contribute to learning. Specifically, physical activity reduces the risk for heart disease, diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, obesity, and metabolic syndrome; improves various other aspects of health and fitness, including aerobic capacity, muscle and bone strength, flexibility, insulin sensitivity, and lipid profiles; and reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.

    “Good health is the foundation of learning and academic performance,” summarized the authors. “An extensive literature demonstrates that regular physical activity promotes growth and development and has multiple benefits for physical, mental, cognitive, and psychosocial health that undoubtedly contribute to learning.”
  • And the benefits can extend well beyond childhood as Cornell’s Kevin Kniffin and two other colleagues wrote in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies that “teenagers who played sports developed stronger leadership skills, worked better in teams, and demonstrated more confidence.”

The benefits of team sports and teamwork extend far beyond the playing field for children.

The key for adults is to not only encourage sports and teamwork at early ages but also to provide children with safe spaces to unlock the benefits of the power of play.