How Do Sports Affect a Child's Development?

Updated April 17, 2017

Sports have more effects on a child's development than most realise. Physical exercise is required for a child's healthy growth, and several social, physical and emotional benefits exist as well. Participation in sports helps children form lifelong positive attitudes about goals, sportsmanship, teamwork and exercise. The effects reach outside the ball game and into other parts of their lives.

Physical Development

In addition to eating nutritional foods and getting adequate sleep, children need plenty of exercise to keep their bodies healthy and help develop strong bones and muscles. Physical exercise also strengthens children's developing hearts and lungs. Playing sports improves their motor skills, such as kicking, throwing and running. A child's motor skills development and hand-eye coordination can be stunted if she does not exercise during the critical growth stages. Participating in sports regularly decreases a child's risk of becoming obese and developing obesity-related health problems. It promotes better sleep, which helps children grow mentally and physically. Finally, physical exercise helps develop a child's immune system.

Social and Emotional Development

Participating in sports forces children to play with other kids, which helps them develop good social skills such as communicating, sharing and empathising. Children can often find good friends and develop strong relationships with others on sports teams. Playing family sports provides a time for family members to bond and an opportunity for adults to model healthy exercise habits for children. A child who plays sports learns about teamwork and being a part of something bigger than himself; he learns that he plays a role in the bigger picture in order for the team to succeed.

Emotional Development

Sports help children learn to deal with defeat. Learning this early on prepares a child for bigger defeats later on in life. On the other hand, a child also has the opportunity to experience success based on her efforts. Participation in sports builds up a child's self-confidence, which is an important part of emotional development. Exercise in general helps young children develop a healthy self-image, as they take pride in their physical accomplishments. Sports also teaches children to set goals for themselves and to work toward achieving them.

Practical Considerations

The sports program a child partakes depends on the child's age, physical development and attention span, as a program to complicated and challenging leads to embarrassment, frustration and discouragement that has negative impacts on a child's development. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends a sports session of a maximum of 20 minutes of structured sports activity, followed by 30 minutes of free play.

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About the Author

Lexie Zirkle has been a freelance writer since 2008 and is an author of both fiction and nonfiction. Zirkle is pursuing a B.A. in English and philosophy at Amherst College. She specializes in swimming and life-guarding topics, as well as literary analysis and current events.