Healthy Development of Children and Young People through Sport

Physical education and sport have an educational impact. Changes can be seen in (i) motor skills development and performance and (ii) educational potential. This shows the positive relationship between being involved in physical activities and psychosocial development.
Sport and physical education is fundamental to the early development of children and youth and the skills learned during play, physical education and sport contribute to the holistic development of young people. Through participation in sport and physical education, young people learn about the importance of key values such as:
  • honesty,
  • teamwork,
  • fair play,
  • respect for themselves and others, and
  • adherence to rules.
It also provides a forum for young people to learn how to deal with competition and how to cope with both winning and losing. These learning aspects highlight the impact of physical education and sport on a child’s social and moral development in addition to physical skills and abilities.

In terms of physical and health aspects of child and youth development, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that focuses on the (mostly positive) effects of sport and exercise on physical health, growth and development.

Long-term involvement in physical activity

Physical education and sport also build health activity habits that encourage life-long participation in physical activity. This extends the impact of physical education beyond the schoolyard and highlights the potential impact of physical education on public health.

To achieve broader goals in education and development, sports programmes must focus on the development of the individual and not only on the development of technical sports skills.

While the physical benefits of participation in sport are well known and supported by large volumes of empirical evidence, sport and physical activity can also have positive benefits on education.

Sport as a 'hook'

Sport is an attractive activity for young people, and is often used as a draw card to recruit children and young people to health and education programmes. Sport and development projects that focus on educational outcomes use sport as a means to deliver educational messages to participants, and spectators in some cases.

Additionally, some programmes aim to promote and develop other aspects of education such as school attendance and leadership. Sport does not inherently provide positive educational outcomes. Much of the literature emphasises the crucial role of physical education teachers and other providers of physical activity and sport as determinants of educational experiences.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), for example, are using sport and play programmes to encourage young people, particularly girls and young women, to attend school within refugee camps across the world. In addition, UNICEF has a strong focus on using sport to campaign for girls’ education, promoting education through events and awareness campaigns.

Learning performance

Sport-based programmes have been shown to improve the learning performance of children and young people, encouraging school attendance and a desire to succeed academically. Whilst a majority of research into the health and development impacts of sport has been conducted in developed countries, there are studies that support this relationship in developing countries.

For example, a study on sports involvement among children and young people in Namibia has shown that those who participated in sport and physical activity were more likely to pass the Grade 10 examinations. There is further research that suggests this relationship continues in tertiary education.
 

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