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Developing life skills through sports

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Organised sport has many physical, developmental, psychological and social benefits for children.
  • Playing sport helps children learn to control their emotions and channel negative feelings in a positive way.
  • Playing sport helps children build resilience and feel better about themselves.
  • Parents play a key role in developing a child's life skills through participating in sport.
  • To keep your child interested and enjoying sport, make it a positive experience for them. Keep the focus on having fun and being active, rather than on winning.

Organised sport has many psychological and social benefits for children – even more than the physical activity during play. Researchers think this is because children benefit from the social side of being in a team, and from the involvement of other children and adults.

What life skills are associated with sport?

Sport isn't just a good way to keep children's bodies healthy, but it also has psychological benefits and teaches them important life skills too.

Organised sport has many psychological and social benefits for children – even more than the physical activity during play. Researchers think this is because children benefit from the social aspects of being in a team, and from the involvement of other children and adults.

How will my child's development benefit from sport?

The benefits of participating in sport go beyond learning new physical skills. Sport helps children develop better ways to cope with the highs and lows of life. When they're playing sport, sometimes they will win, while at other times they will lose. Being a good loser takes maturity and practice. Losing teaches children to overcome disappointment, cope with unpleasant experiences and is an important part of becoming resilient.

Playing sport helps children learn to control their emotions and channel negative feelings in a healthy way. It also helps children develop patience and understand that it can take a lot of practice to improve their skills. Children can then apply skills like perseverance and resilience in other areas of their life, including in the classroom at school and with other non-sporting hobbies.

What are the social benefits of participating in team sports?

Playing in a team helps children develop many of the social skills they will need throughout life. It teaches them to cooperate, be less selfish, and to listen to other children.

It also gives children a sense of belonging. It helps them make new friends and builds their social circle outside school.

An important part of playing in a team is accepting discipline. Playing sport means children are expected to follow rules, accept decisions and understand that they could be penalised for bad behaviour. It teaches them to take directions from the coach, referees and other adults. Sport also teaches them about teamwork.

Are there other benefits to participating in sport?

Physical activity has been shown to stimulate brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) that make you feel better. Playing sport regularly improves children's overall emotional wellbeing.

Research shows a link between playing sport and self-esteem in children. The support of the team, a kind word from a coach, or achieving their personal best will all help children feel more confident.

What role do parents play in children's sports?

To keep your child interested and enjoying sport, try to make it a positive experience for them. Focus on having fun, giving it a try and being active, rather than winning or losing.

You can help your child develop a positive sporting attitude by praising the team's or other children's efforts, even if they don't win. Point out to your child how important it is to try and do their best.

Make sure comments from the sidelines are positive, and don't criticise children who make mistakes. Never abuse a team, umpire or other player.

Visit the Play by the Rules website for tips for parents on creating a positive sporting environment for your child.

Resources and support

The Play by the Rules website also has many resources to promote awareness of poor sideline behaviour. These resources are part of Let Kids be Kids, a national campaign that addresses poor sideline behaviour in junior sport.

You can also visit the Raising Children Network website to learn more about children and sports in Australia.

Developmental benefits

Development from sport goes beyond learning new physical skills. Sport helps children develop better ways to cope with the highs and lows of life.

When they’re playing sport, children learn to lose. Being a good loser takes maturity and practice. Losing teaches children to bounce back from disappointment, cope with unpleasant experiences and is an important part of becoming resilient.

Playing sport helps children learn to control their emotions and channel negative feelings in a positive way. It also helps children to develop patience and understand that it can take a lot of practice to improve both their physical skills and what they do in school.

Emotional benefits

Physical activity has been shown to stimulate chemicals in the brain that make you feel better. So playing sport regularly improves children’s overall emotional wellbeing.

Research shows there’s a link between playing sport and self-esteem in children. The support of the team, a kind word from a coach, or achieving their personal best will all help children to feel better about themselves.

Social benefits

Playing in a team helps children to develop many of the social skills they will need for life. It teaches them to cooperate, to be less selfish, and to listen to other children.

It also gives children a sense of belonging. It helps them make new friends and builds their social circle outside school.

An important part of playing in a team is accepting discipline. Playing sport means children are expected to follow rules, accept decisions and understand that they could be penalised for bad behaviour. It teaches them to take directions from the coach, referees and other adults. Sport also teaches them about team work.

Parents play an important role in sports

To keep your child interested and enjoying sport, make it a positive experience for them. Focus on having fun, having a go and being active, rather than winning or losing.

You can help your child develop a positive sporting attitude by praising the team’s or other children’s efforts, even if they don’t win. Point out to your child how important it is to try and do their best.

Make sure your comments from the sidelines are positive, and don’t criticise children who make mistakes. Never abuse a team, umpire or other player.

Visit the Play by the Rules website for tips on creating a positive sporting environment for your child.

More information

The Play by the Rules website also has a suite of resources to promote awareness of poor sideline behaviour. These resources are part of Let Kids be Kids, a national campaign that addresses poor sideline behaviour in junior sport.

You can also visit the Raising Children Network website to learn more about children and sports in Australia.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022


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