How sport helps children be better prepared for the future

Rathbones has long supported programmes encouraging girls and young women to play sport, in particular lacrosse. But it’s not just about the physical benefits; sport offers so much more to the next generation. 

Most of us intuitively agree that playing sports is good for children. But more and more evidence is emerging as to how good it really is for their development, and in how many different ways.

Mental gymnastics

Many studies have found that any kind of exercise reduces the likelihood of obesity and other negative effects of inactivity, while protecting against a range of harmful diseases. A British Journal of Medicine study in 2013, for example, found that exercise can prevent chronic diseases as effectively as medication. But we can also attest to the cognitive benefits of playing sports.

A study by the universities of Strathclyde and Dundee found that children who exercised regularly did better in exams at ages 11, 13 and 16. Results can be fast, too: children showed improved mathematics skills even with just a 13-week exercise programme, reported the journal Health Psychology in 2011.

And the science that links exercise to improved academic results? Researchers at the University of Illinois believe that physically fit children demonstrate better memory and brain efficiency due to enhanced brain structures which are associated with learning in children. 

The characteristics of success

Sport can be character building too. Here are some of the benefits:

It develops resilience. A key area of our development – and a well recognised factor in all kinds of success – is the ability to bounce back when things go against us or when we feel we are making no progress.  Exposure to difficulties, setbacks and perceived unfairness common in sport are not things to be avoided, but essential to developing resilience.

It develops self-control. Negative emotions can affect us at many points of our lives. In sport, emotions can run high and learning to channel these at an early stage helps us to better deal with a range of experiences in future.

It fosters teamwork. Achieving anything in life is unlikely to be a solo effort. Understanding how to interact with others and work together to achieve a common goal provides a terrific grounding for future pursuits.  

It teaches respect and empathy. Respect is an essential quality for shaping adjusted behaviour, but having respect for coaches and opponents also increases empathy and a general understanding of fairness that can be carried right through life.

The benefits of playing sports extends to the workplace, too. An EY survey in 2014 of 400 female corporate executives found 94% played a sport with 61% saying this contributed to their career success.

Former England Rugby World Cup winning captain Gill Burns agrees, “Children can use the skills that they’ve learned in sports in many ways. They can be part of a team, they can lead a team… sometimes things go well and sometimes things don’t go well. You learn to win and lose in sport; you win well and you lose well. And this should be the same as you go out into the business community and basically life in general.”

Rathbones is proud to have been a leading supporter of lacrosse in the UK since 2011. As the FIL Rathbones Women’s Lacrosse World Cup approaches we have commissioned a set of videos with Kate Richardson Walsh, Charlotte Edwards and Gill Burns to reinforce the benefits of taking part in any sport – and to highlight what they think leads to success.

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