Never say never. It’s one of those annoying things your mum says when you’re growing up, and think you know absolutely everything about the world, and about who you are and your place in it. Then you grow up a little and realise she was right. One of those moments for me was standing on the side of a football pitch, excitedly cheering my nine-year old on in her first ever football tournament. “I’m never going to be a football-mum.” Famous last words.
It goes back even further, to finding myself one Friday night after a long week at work, huddled up at the edge of the training pitch with the backs of my legs drenched in the rainwater dripping down my soaked coat. The thing is, I don’t ‘do’ cold. Or rain. Or standing on the edge of sports fields – except of course, when I do, brimming with pride and excitement for my little girl. I can absolutely see now why people get caught up in the thrill of their favourite teams, be it Spurs fixtures, German league or the local school teams!
It got me to thinking of the benefits of sports:
I don’t really even need to mention the physical benefits of team sports, because we all know that exercise is important to a healthy life. If you think of it, our children spend much more time indoors, much more time at screens and much more time stationary than we did as children, so perhaps the physical health benefits are worth mentioning, because more than just ‘exercise’, we can break the value down even further – core strength, dexterity, balance and fine motor skills to name a few. The body is a holistic whole. Improving one part of it, often has knock on effects to other parts of it, for example, improving fine motor skills improves handwriting, which can improve self-esteem.
Which leads me to another benefit of team sports: emotional development, such as self-esteem and building perseverence. Less tangible, but no less important, is the promotion of soft-skills, such as learning to gracefully accept defeat, learning that sometimes the other team was just better, and what you can do to change that. Practicing out in the cold, the wet and the heat, all weathers, all temperatures builds resilience and teaches children about dedication, loyalty and that not only sunny days are good days.
In my work I come across a lot of children who have never learned – because they’ve never been taught – how to channel their emotions in positive or constructive ways. Sports gives them an outlet to do so, channeling what can turn into a destructive behaviour into a positive one. For many children, sport provides the escape they need and the motivaiton to challenge their own experiences and expectations.
And this is also where sports, and especially team sports, can help children grow socially. Team sports require working together, strategising, tactical thinking, they help natural leaders emerge, and can cause those who tend to shy away in life, come to life on the field.
Finally, it can also be the thing that a child gets to share with his or her parents that’s ‘just’ theirs. I have so much in common with one of my daughters – we can share and do things together for days. My youngest is different – our interests are different, and so I’ve had to choose to *see* her in her own world and on her own terms. And so I stand at the side of the football pitch every week, cheering – asking my partner about the rules as we go – and supporting my daughter, not because of my love of the game, but because of hers.