The Social and Academic Benefits of Team Sports
Team sports are about so much more than their physical benefits. This is especially so when group sports activities are incorporated into a young person’s life. Studies have shown a direct correlation between physical activity and academic performance. A University of Kansas study looking at the performance of students in grades 9 to 12 showed that more than 97% of student athletes graduated high school, 10% higher than those students who had never participated in sports. Athletes were also shown to have better G.P.A. outcomes than non-athletes.
This might have to do with the increased cognitive ability that comes from playing sports. Physical activity naturally increases blood flow to the brain and activates endorphins, chemicals that are released when you exercise. Endorphins can impact your mood and work performance, meaning athletes may be more willing and capable of tackling that next big problem.
Team sports can also help with emotional development. Research published by the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute states that exercise can lead to a unique state of short-term relaxation. That relaxation can promote increased concentration, better memory, enhanced creativity, more effective problem solving, and an improved mood — all benefits that will extend into the classroom.
Team athletes are constantly working with a slate of other people, many of whom can become positive role models along the way. Team sports foster mentorship between older players and younger players, coaches and athletes, and more. Coaches in particular can play an important role in a young athlete’s life. Players who have positive sports mentors when they’re young are also more likely to seek effective role models throughout their life.
Soft skills are personal attributes that allow people to build positive social relationships. Team sports are an excellent source of soft skills development, as they allow athletes to grow within a supportive environment. Here are just a few of the soft skills fostered through team sports:
While it might not be as obvious as sitting down and discussing a group project, team sports take a lot of communication — both spoken and unspoken. Communication skills are key in maintaining a functioning sports team, whether it’s listening to locker room pep talk, picking up on nonverbal cues given by other players, or expressing a thought during a post-game debrief.
As Jill Prudden said in her book "Coaching Girl’s Basketball Successfully,” players are expected to express their concerns, hopes, and disappointments to their coaches and their teammates. She also encourages her players to seek feedback from coaches as well as their classroom teachers, as a result fostering communications skills that will help them succeed in their academic endeavors.
Sports plays happen fast, and athletes develop the skills needed to make effective snap decisions. Whether it’s a basketball player deciding to shoot or a soccer player realizing his best move is to pass to a teammate for the assist, athletes learn critical decision-making skills that will benefit them both during and after game time.
Any athlete who has played in a championship game knows the meaning of pressure. Sports create an environment where athletes learn to conquer their natural “fight or flight” instinct to make consistent and difficult decisions under high pressure situations. This ability to function under pressure translates to person who is better at making deadlines and working in stressful situations in the future.
This is an obvious one. Teamwork is all about collaborating with others to reach a common goal. The diverse pairing of personalities and scenarios will help your athlete become adaptable, persistent, and patient. Team sports also teach a sense of group and individual responsibility.
Being on a team with a dozen or more of your peers is an excellent way to recognize the individual talents each person brings to the table. As the Janssen Sports Leadership Center says, working with teammates teaches athletes important life skills such as to respect one another, act in unselfish ways, make good decisions on behalf of the team, and not cut corners.
The time commitment required by athletes can be comparable to that of a full-time job. Think of all the different commitments an athlete needs to juggle: competitions, strength and conditioning, team meetings, sports physiotherapy — and these are just the sports-related obligations!
Necessity demands that athletes learn valuable time management skills, otherwise they would never be able to keep up with academics and sport. Effective time management planning is part of why a recent article published by Fast Company argues employers should consider hiring a former student athlete.
Team athletes know that every second counts, and this value of time will translate to their everyday life. As Shannon Miller, a member of the 1992 and 1996 United States Olympic women’s gymnastics team told Forbes, she kept a schedule that was almost minute by minute when she was an athlete. This careful planning and precision helps athletes focus on reaching their goals sooner than non-athletes.
Build Self-Esteem and a Sense of Community
Team sports are said to bolster the five C’s: competence, confidence, connections, character, and caring. At the heart of this is self-esteem – an increased sense of self as a result of better social interactions, stronger relationships, and higher academic performance.
Team sports provide athletes with a natural community. A report from True Sport says that youth who play sports have higher levels of social support, and that the sense of community created with teammates, coaches, and family members incubates the perfect setting for critical self-esteem development.
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.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.