Tuesday / 1 / August

Children gain more than confidence when they play sport

Children who lack confidence may find their self-doubt and fear eradicated when they play sports. Sports are a fantastic way for children to boost their confidence over a sustained period of time.

I was always a shy child. At family gatherings, I would always stay with my parents. I wouldn’t usually join in with the group of children who would band together and play games. I found it hard to navigate the sticky web of social interaction without inevitably humiliating myself. And I never really knew what to say or do. But I was always an athletic child. I played T-Ball when I was six, started roller skating the year after, and netball and softball were my school sports of choice, seeing me through both primary and secondary school.

When I played sport, I was comfortable. I knew what to do, what to say, where I fit in. I felt as if I truly belonged catching a fly ball in the outfield, squinting as the sun shone in my eyes; stepping into the centre circle at the start of a match, waiting impatiently for the umpire to blow the whistle; flying around the rink, practicing a new dance, the wind pulling at the skirt of my leotard.

I hold onto these feelings as an adult, because they were moments when nothing else mattered and I didn’t feel awkward. I was focused on what I was doing with such a single-minded intensity that I didn’t analyse whether my actions would embarrass me.

Sports are a fantastic way for children to build self-esteem. They will learn a range of other valuable social and life skills that will also boost their confidence.

Far-reaching benefit

Sports are a wonderful thing that children can participate in throughout their entire lives, and something they can go on to share with their own children. But sports are more than just a hobby – they shape children into well-rounded adolescents and adults.

“Through sport, young athletes learn valuable life skills, such as emotional control, the value of teamwork, and the ability to show initiative, and these skills transfer to academics, family life, and eventually the work environment.”

True Sport: What We Stand to Lose in Our Obsession to Win, the U.S. Anti Doping Agency (USADA)

Self-confidence through teamwork

I think everyone has had experiences with children who don’t know how to share or play nicely. This may be when you were a child Sally didn’t let you play with her toys in the sandbox, or now as an adult when you see children interact at the playground. Children who don’t share, or who bully others, have not learned the important self-confidence-building skill of teamwork. Instead, they seek to boost their own confidence by hurting the confidence of others.

Teamwork is such an important skill to learn at an early age. An easy way to promote this skill in children is for them to participate in team sports. For a team to succeed, all players need to put aside their differences and work together toward a common goal. When a team learns how to work together and achieve their goals, they will not only have confidence in the team, but also in themselves as individual athletes.

Team sports also expose children to a variety of differing ideas. This teaches them that not everyone thinks the way they do, and also how to empathise with others. Learning how to properly and effectively deal with conflict is another great benefit of playing team sports. Being able to compromise is an important lesson all children should learn. They will start understanding that they can’t always have their way, and will learn how to accommodate others.

Notice that the benefits of team sports – teamwork, empathy, the ability to compromise, and conflict resolution – are all skills that apply to the workforce.

Not only am I sure that everyone has had experiences with children who don’t like to share, but I am equally certain that we all have had run-ins with adults who have similarly not learned how to play nicely with others. Teamwork is a valuable transferrable skill all adults should possess. So the earlier children learn how to work well with others, the better they will function in society as they grow.

Building confidence with friendship

While all these life lessons and skills are great, kids who play sports will become more confident in making new friends and start to widen their friendship circle. This will increase their confidence further. Children who play sports already have at least one thing in common with each other, which makes building friendships that much easier. This is especially helpful for shy children, as they automatically have a topic of conversation to fall back on.

In fact, if your child is shy, getting them involved in organised sports can have a very positive benefit to not just their self-confidence, but to their psyche. Dr Brian MacDonald reports how Leanne Findlay and Robert Coplan found in their journal article “Come out and play: Shyness in childhood and the benefits of organized sports participation” that shy children who participated in sports over a year said they experienced a significant decrease in their anxiety about social situations. Although the difficult part might be convincing your shy child to participate in sport to begin with, they will eventually reap the rewards.

The bright future

I still roller skate now, 15 years later. This year will be my seventh competing at a national level in artistic roller skating. I have grown leaps and bounds from that shy child of seven years old, who would burst into tears when her star class instructor asked the class to do something she couldn’t. Now I teach star classes myself, instructing hordes of excited children fresh from school. This is something that the shy seven-year-old would not have thought possible.

I attribute my confidence to my involvement in sport and to my coaches; sport for growing my social skills, and my coaches for instilling in me self-confidence. That shy child still pops up every now and again in the form of self-doubt, hesitation, and fear. But I now have the strength to placate her concern and move forward. Sport greatly helped me improve my confidence, and it can help your child, too.

Header image via: AFLAusKick Instagram