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We all know what it’s like to try and motivate ourselves at the end of a long day to go for a run, hit the gym or do an online fitness class. And we all know that at the end of our workout, we will feel better than when we started. The same is true for active kids and teens. Research shows that sport and physical activity can positively impact students’ mental health, academic results, overall wellbeing, and a whole lot more. This week on School Stream, we’re exploring four ways playing sport is beneficial for kids, teens – and educators too!

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Witness the Fitness
Sport. Is there anything it can’t do? It does so much more than keep us healthy – it impacts just about every other aspect of our lives. We’ve scoured the web to bring you this overview of the most recent and newsworthy findings when it comes to the benefits of playing sport.

1.    Sport encourages good civic citizenship (and fights crime!)

  • shows how sport teaches kids and teens tolerance, teamwork, a sense of duty, the value of a good work ethic, persistence, social skills, and how to be gracious in both victory and defeat. It does all this while promoting good social skills, fostering a sense of fair play, nurturing empathy, and creating an attitude of altruism.

2.    Sport supports an inclusive school and community

  • Playing sport can assist young people from challenging socioeconomic backgrounds build ‘social capital’, such as the resources or practical skills that flow on through the connections and peer support provided by a broader network like a sporting club. This can lead to creating meaningful opportunities such as an after-school job or the chance for informal mentoring.
  • In Australia, sports programs are invaluable when it comes to supporting newly arrived communities to integrate into their new home, learn the language and make friends from outside their family network.

3.    Participating in sport supports overall wellbeing and mental health

“I usually stay up and worry about *everything*. But I was so tired after all that running I went straight to sleep. That never happens!”

  • This teenager has just experienced first-hand two of the key benefits when it comes to physical activity: more sleep and less worry. The symbiotic relationship between sleep and exercise has been investigated extensively and the findings are unanimous: if you exercise, you are more likely to sleep well and if you sleep well, you are more likely to exercise. Conversely, we all know that insomnia can worsen anxiety and create a negative cycle.
  • Another surprise when it comes to participating in organised sport is that it creates a protective factorwhen it comes to drug and alcohol use in teenagers, with those engaged in school sport or extra-curricular physical activity are less likely to engage in those kinds of risky behaviours.
  • Kids and teens who get hooked on sport and physical activity when they’re young are more likely to stay fit and healthy throughout their lives. In other words, physically active kids become physically active adults, who enjoy all the subsequent wellbeing benefits, as well as modelling participation to the next generation.

4.    Sport supports good brain development and academic performance

While there are often concerns that sport can take time away from ‘real’ academic activities, studies have found that sport can enhance academic performance.

It’s not only bodies that benefit from a fit and active lifestyle, brains need the support of a moving body to stay in tip-top shape too. Young brains (and the rest of us!) need a strong flow of fuel (glucose, oxygen) and hormones to activate and enhance the brain’s capacity to perform, learn and get rid of waste, all of which come via a moving body. Brains are not fully developed until our thirties, so getting kids and teens involved in sport or physical activity is a sound academic strategy. Don’t just take our word for it:

“In Australia, a study of 757 primary school students across 29 primary schools found fitter children had higher NAPLAN scores. Students with specialist physical education teachers also had higher numeracy and literacy scores.” (From School News)

    • Playing sport fosters a sense of belongingwhich in turn creates an environment where kids and teens can thrive at school. When students feel a sense of belonging at school, they are more likely to feel good about attending classes, as well as feel greater engagement with their peers and community. Each of these factors creates a supportive school environment where learners feel motivated, happy, and confident.
    • Participation in specialist sports programs can help support engagement in school through secondary school for disadvantaged teens. A study of schools offering specialist sports programs in low socioeconomic areas in Perth found it had positive outcomes when it came to attendance and effort. The parent of one participant had this to say:

“There are a lot of kids that the only reason they’re still at school is because of the program – it gives them a reason to go [to school].”

We hope you enjoyed our round-up of the key benefits to playing sport.

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