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Why Sports?

Pulsars Gymnastics Club
Pulsars Gymnastics Club

The benefit of sports on the mind and body of their practitioners is invaluable. Countless scientific studies have concluded that people who are physically active are *in general* healthier than those who neglect exercising. Of course, the logical contention about the detriment of high-impact games should always be considered - in terms of potential injury - it is true that there are always risks (to the anatomical structure of the body that is engaged) in playing football, doing gymnastics, practising martial arts or even ballet. However, we can say that there is potential for injury in any activity that includes motion: walking, showering, and even combing our hair. The more important part of contemplating this argument is that the benefits of sport vastly outnumber its detriments.

Before proceeding I would like to preface the following content by stating my respect and admiration for all forms and levels of skill development required in all types of sports. Having mentioned this, it should be evident that my use of the term “sports” is in no way exclusive to those disciplines in which I have been involved; neither is my analysis of the content I have sourced this write up with exhaustive of the benefits of sports and exercise. For a more comprehensive and complete understanding of the benefits of physical activity the reader may want to refer to the sources provided in the bibliography and foot notes I have provided.

Having been competitively involved in the sports of Gymnastics, tumbling, and martial arts from a young age I can appreciate both sides of the above argument. I have seen many injuries, both on myself and teammates. I have also understood the psychological turmoil that failure can cause. I have witnessed sports change lives. I have seen amazing adaptations that at the time made great differences in the possible futures of those who underwent them. This is to say that of all the things for which I am grateful, having seen sports save lives is an experience that will never leave me.

I can spend hours, and by reason many pages, sharing the instances when involvement in organized play has made an impressive difference to me and others around me, and I might in a different post. However, respectful of my opening statement, I want to look at a small part of what science has to say about the value of playing sports for personal improvement.

Scientific research is in and of itself a relatively new concept in the areas of human development. Academic research about the benefit of sports on the human body has only become prominent in the last two decades, with a large movement towards it in the late nineteen-eighties and through the nineteen-nineties. This research has, according to, produced an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence on the positive effects of physical games as part of a healthy lifestyle. They maintain that the positive, direct effects of engaging in regular activity are particularly apparent in the prevention of several chronic diseases, including: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, depression and osteoporosis. [1]

Sports are also considered an important tool in the treatment and therapy of mental illness. However, despite of all the positive data we have resulting from responsible scientific research we still see declining registration numbers in athletic programs. A phenomenon that begs several questions: 1) if the information we currently have points to the immense benefit of sport, how can we ensure that the general public is more receptive to it? 2) Is there a different, more complex dimension to the issue of physical inactivity in our societies? These questions are better answered from the perspective of the social sciences. Psychology and socioeconomic factors have been shown to be responsible for much of the inactivity we currently experience. They also show the inherent need to provide better and more current public scientific education on the subject. I will attempt to answer these questions and address the issues to which they point in a later write-up.

For now let's look at the idea that the environment in which we carry out any activity is often a determining factor on our performance. This environment is often reduced to the physical location; its state of cleanliness and its integrity; and the integrity of the equipment used to play the sport of our choosing. However, environmental components often include other factors the practitioner may not have full control over like the people with whom an activity is performed. Observers, teammates, and most importantly our instructors or coaches, who will ultimately determine the way in which we play and enjoy our sports and games.

This is good indication that the social consequences of sport can also be far-reaching. In their investigation of antisocial and prosocial behaviour in adolescent athletes, Rutten et al found that “coaches who maintain good relationships with their athletes reduce antisocial behaviour and, that exposure to relatively high levels of sociomoral reasoning within the immediate context of sporting activities promotes prosocial behaviour.” (p. 263) [2]

Of course, inquiries into what makes a good coach have also been the topic of study in the last decade, and have carried over to other areas of human development, communication, and business.

Globally, sport is seen seen as a unifying force that transcends human social constructs, and as a pragmatic solution to many of the sociopolitical issues we currently face. Last year, the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace concluded with the recommendation, among others, to establish an International Day of Sport with the aim to mainstream sport in policy-making at all levels as a contribution to education, human development, healthy lifestyles and a peaceful world. In addition, a concrete call for action was made for governments to ensure the following: adequate financial resources for quality education; increase in investment for infrastructure development; provision of safe and accessible public spaces for physical activity and sport; increased contextualised and adapted sport-based initiatives for peace-building and violence prevention; inclusion of social development legacies as part of planning and implementation of all sports events; and the development and strengthening of monitoring and evaluation tools on the social and economic impact of sport; and finally more interdisciplinary research to provide scientific evidence and best practices of sport-based interventions. [3]

“Sport can be a powerful handmaiden for peace and reconciliation. It can bring us closer through shared celebration of achievements of universal appeal and attraction.”
-Vuk Jeremić, President of the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly

The small amount of data I have given you here provides a good basis for looking at sport as an engine for self-improvement (and development). It shows, albeit in a limited scope, the physical, mental and social implications of playing together. It is neither easy nor is it imperative to decide on a specific activity in which to become involved; however, it is of great importance to take on the responsibility to give sports a good try, with the intention of discovering what we enjoy doing. It is recommended that children be exposed to as many activities as possible while being allowed to observe their responsibility of commitment. In other words, children should try all activities they have access to, but should always be allowed and expected to complete a given period of [time] involvement before stopping. The ramifications of “quitting” or “giving up” at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons can be of detrimental consequence to the child’s mental and social development. Echoing a point I made earlier about the importance of finding a good coach, I would like to emphasise that understanding the consequences of non-commitment and communicating them to the athlete are the direct responsibility of the coach and the caregiver/parent.

There are many more direct result of playing sports. I encourage the reader to learn more about sport science and consequently of psychology and other social sciences. I would like to conclude by reiterating two of the main points I have attempted to explain here. First, involvement in sports has the potential to be of great physical and mental benefit to the practitioner as it offers a viable framework for self-enhancement. Second, that sport, as a result of enhancing the individual will positively affect the state of society. It would be easy, and many would be tempted to philosophise about these conclusions, yet, the essence of the message is better received in its simplicity: Why sports? Because it is good for us, and those around us.

By Coach Jose (A.K.A: Peyton Dracco), for Pulsars Gymnastics




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