How Sport Can Benefit Our Children … even the not so sporty ones !

Debbie Tipton a mother of two, now adult, boys and a teacher by profession, shares her years of experience with an exclusive guest post for mum2sons.

I have been involved with a local youth football team for over twenty years, as a parent, supporter, coach, and finally committee member.  As a child I was not considered ‘sporty’ and certainly did not excel at any sport, however I had a passionate interest in football.  I played it in the street; I played it in the garden and later, as I grew older, in the park.  However, I was not allowed to play it in school, when I asked if I could, I was told football was a boy’s game, girl’s played hockey or netball and as a result I passionately hated both!

However, since the early seventies the world has changed, equality and diversity have become buzz words but so have stress, mental health, anxiety, obesity, self-esteem, body image, technology and the need to succeed at all costs. As a teacher, child mentor and community worker I see the effects, daily, that all of the above have on children and teenagers of today.  Whether we blame the increase in technology, change in attitudes and lifestyle, these problems are real.

Using sports as a tool for life lessons

Children and teenagers of today need to be given tools to help them navigate their way through life, Sport is one of these tools and a most powerful one, it breaks down barriers, helps us feel good about ourselves both physically and mentally. It gives us a foundation for positive values and helps us develop physical and emotional skills such as fair play, team spirit and camaraderie. It improves our fitness and enhances our physical and mental development.

In a recent Medical Journal of Sports Medicine, produced by a panel of twenty-four specialists, it was proved that one session of a sporting activity, which raised a child’s heart rate, had a positive effect on their brain and ultimately their learning. Time taken away from academic lessons in favour of physical activity did not decrease the scholastic performance of children, but it did increase their mastery of fundamental motor skills which are beneficial to cognition and academic performance. Children who participate in a sport learn to apply the same principles of dedication learnt through participation to their learning.

Physical and social benefits of exercise for your child

Physical activity can also make children more aware of the benefits of exercise and, along with healthy eating (also encouraged by sports coaches), can help the prevention of chronic diseases, such as diabetes or coronary artery disease, in adulthood. In addition, being involved in a sport as a child makes you more likely to carry this form of exercise on into adulthood.

Participation in a team sport helps children develop social skills that will benefit them throughout their entire lives. They learn to interact, not only with other children of their age, but also with older individuals such as coaches and sports officials. They learn leadership, communication and team-building skills that will help them in school, their future career and personal relationships.

Involvement in sport can also have a huge positive impact on a child’s self-esteem. Children who partake in sporting activities get pleasure in receiving praise and encouragement from coaches and parents, helping to build their self-confidence. They also learn to trust in their own abilities and push themselves. Constructive criticism is also a major part of participation, and young sportsmen learn to accept such criticism and use it to their benefit.  Parental involvement helps to ensure that children get the most out of their chosen sport and allows parents to assess if the activity is beneficial to their child or whether they would be better participating in another with a different skill set.

I frequently tell the story of how I got involved in youth football.  My eldest son was seven years old and attended a trial at a local club.  At the end of the session I was told by the coach that he did not feel he was good enough to join the team, they were looking for bigger boys to play in defence, his preferred position.  I was horrified that children as young as seven could be deemed as ‘not good enough’.  And so I found another Club, a Club who did not hold trials but trained anyone who wished to attend and have been involved with that Club for over 20 years, ensuring that the ethos remains the same.  My son, ended up playing for Watford FC Advanced Training Centre for over six years, not bad for a boy who could have given up football at seven.

Protecting your child against rejection

As a parent we want our child to be good at everything, we do not want to see our child hurt, but no one escapes going through life unhurt, emotionally or physically. Our children will move on in life and get rejections when they apply for colleges or university, when they ask someone for a date, when they fail to get a job they want.  We all have to taste failure and disappointment on multiple fronts. As parents we need to learn that our children cannot be good at everything, children need to learn that too, so they become positive, well rounded adults. If our children are continually subjected to the ‘everybody-gets-a prize’ mentality as adults they will experience many bitter disappointments.

What if your child is not good at sports?

I believe no young child should be told bluntly ‘you are not good enough’. Sporting coaches are trained to ensure children are given the every chance to succeed, and every child should be encouraged to bring out the best in themselves. Children often have more of an understanding of

their own abilities and limitations than their parents and sometimes, as children get older, coaches do have to make difficult decisions. Not all children have the stamina or the ability to play a full team game, and their self esteem can take a pounding if they feel their playing time is less than others. But as discussed previously life is full of disappointment.

Children are well aware of that long before being involved in sport – presumably, as a parent we’ve all said no to our child repeatedly – by high school they know, and you know, where their strengths and weaknesses lie. If children try as many activities as possible, they can figure out, with support, which they like and, if it is important to them, where they are most likely to succeed. They may, however, choose to participate in an activity in which they don’t shine in but enjoy anyway. In this instance valuable lessons have to be learnt to temper their expectations (and yours as a parent).

What sport did for me and my children

I loved playing football, but I was never good at it, and yet being part of the world of football has given me immense pleasure and satisfaction. Children who were part of the Club twenty years ago are returning with their own children or to coach themselves.  I have seen children scared of their own shadow develop BIG personalities, make friends and become part of a network that gives them ‘ a way in’ where ever they go or travel.  I have seen my own sons go to college, meet up with someone they once played a match against, creating an instant rapport or on their first day at University chatting to complete strangers about sport and making friends for life.

We cannot always see the benefits of being part of any sporting community and are often blinded by the need for our children to succeed educationally; we must stop, take stock and think about what we really want for them.  I guarantee that almost all of us will say we want them to be happy, well adjusted, confident and to turn into a well-rounded adult, sport, whether they are good or bad at whatever they chose, offers them the opportunity to learn life skills that will help them achieve all that we wish for them.

Debbie Tipton









About the Author: 

Debbie Tipton has been involved in child care for most of her adult life in a working and voluntary environment. Whilst at college she helped at an after-school club in a community centre helping vulnerable children and then went onto volunteer as a Beaver leader forming the first group in the North West of London over thirty-five years ago.  She is still leading a local group and am a firm believer that Scouting provides children with opportunities, such as developing life skills, that are missing from their education and life today.

She has been involved with Pinnstars Club for over twenty-two years as both Coach, Manager and a Committee member.  Football has been her passion for many years and she is a firm believer that all children benefit in some way from being part of a team or Club, whether football or any other group activity.

She is a teacher by profession, and over the course of her teaching career she have worn many hats in addition to teaching a class, ranging from teaching special needs, behavioural support, helping vulnerable children and now specialising in the well-being and mental health of young people, having recently trained as a child/adolescent counsellor.