If your school-going child isn’t participating in sports, he or she may be missing out on opportunities for personal growth.
Not all children are passionate about sports, of course, but parents in Singapore aren’t known for championing sports involvement either. Early last year, former nominated member of parliament Benedict Tan delivered a speech about Singapore’s sports culture, where he shared this observation:
“In my clinic each day, I see lots of students from both our local and international schools, with their parents in tow. At some point during the consultation, the Singaporean parent will ask, ‘Dr Tan, can you write my son an MC [medical certificate] to excuse him from PE [physical education] and sports? At the same time, can you also ask the school to allow him to use the lift?’… Many doctors will tell you that these are common scenarios.
I see students from our international schools as well, such as the United World College and the Singapore American School. No, it’s not the MC that they are after. Rather, they want me to sort out their injuries so that they can continue and finish the baseball season and be fully fit before the swimming season begins! It is very common for students from the international schools to do multiple sports—with full support from their parents.”
Local attitudes towards sports, said Tan, are symptomatic of Singapore’s pragmatic culture, where only the tangible—such as medals and grades—are deemed worthy of pursuit. It’s likely that parental scepticism about sports is predicated on the assumption that children will never be able to make a career out of it. But to think this way disregards the big picture view that sports can help build healthy attitudes and coping mechanisms that will serve children well throughout life, such as:
Recognising the value of commitment. “The ability to commit to something is fundamental to success in every aspect of life, whether sports, school, career, or relationships,” writes sports psychologist Jim Taylor in his article on why kids should play sports. While he concedes that commitment plays an essential role in non-sporting activities as well, he is of the view that the level of commitment required for sports “seems to be higher because of the costs, the travel, and the amount of time spent on the field, court, course, or hill.”
Higher self-esteem. “Over the years that followed my ‘discovery’ of running, my self-confidence grew, and feeding off the accomplishments I achieved in sports—setting new personal bests, winning a little local race, surviving the setbacks of injuries and marathons gone wrong—I discovered a capacity within myself that I never knew I had,” writes Mina Samuels in her book Run Like A Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives. “I wasn’t just physically stronger than I expected, I thought of myself as a different person, as someone with more potential, broader horizons, bigger possibilities. I saw that I could push myself and take risks, not just in sports, but elsewhere, too.”
This article mentions Samuels’ book, as well as provides links to several studies that show a positive association between sports participation and self-esteem. However it also cautioned that sports is no panacea; the fact remains that some children experience exclusion during sports, and may benefit more from non-competitive physical activity instead.
Resilience. This article on sport’s lessons in resilience, based on a report about Olympic gold medallists and how they cope under pressure, highlights the following—the ability to deal with setbacks, thought control, openness and optimism, and a focus on performance (not the medal)—as factors that help keep elite athletes in top form when it comes to mental and emotional strength. These are skills that can be gained from involvement in any competitive sport, even at the school or club level.
A sense of empowerment. In a study measuring attitudes and feelings of teenagers participating in an intense two-week wrestling camp, Michigan State University researcher Andy Driska and his colleagues found that the brief experience at wrestling camp appeared to produce lasting effects in their study subjects. One participant reported trying to “get 1% better every day,” while another was said to be incorporating more routine into studying as a result of prioritisation and time management skills gained from the camp. A third study participant who sustained an injury after the camp told his mother, “If I can get through that [camp], I can get through anything.”
Lessons in defeat. This essay by a sports mother drives home the point that the best life lessons from competitive sports are learned in defeat, such as “There is always someone better than you,” “Outcomes cannot be controlled, only processes and effort,” and perhaps the most important lesson of all, “Failing to win is not failing.”