The importance of sports for young people

Eoin Harte

Playing sports is an integral part of growing up for physical and mental wellbeing.

While the physical health benefits of sport are obvious, the potential mental benefits and character-building aspects are not discussed as frequently in the public sphere.

There are many crucial lessons sports can provide for young people that school and parents will find difficult to teach their children. Sport provides a pressurised environment which forces people to either back themselves or work with their teammates to succeed.

Group exercises and assignments in school and university never truly showed me the value of co-operation whereas in sport, its importance was abundantly clear. Whether in individual sports or team sports, you have to rely on the people around you to get the best out of both yourself and the team.

There are moments when you become frustrated with a teammate, either because you feel they are not trying hard enough or are just not talented enough, but that in itself is a valuable life lesson. You learn to deal with this frustration and learn how to process it properly in a fun environment.

Sport teaches you how to win, but more importantly how to win with grace. I’ll never forget a rugby match I was playing in where we were winning comprehensively and a player that showboated when scoring was immediately taken off. The substituted player who was baffled at first as he had just scored and believed that he had done everything right, but he and others on the team learnt that day that showing your opponent respect is more important than winning easily.

Learning how to win is obviously a vital lesson in life, but arguably more important is learning how to lose. Even the best can’t win all the time and when you do lose, no matter how crushing the defeat, you have to be able to take positives from it and learn how to improve next time.

I’d imagine there are very few people who played competitive sport who have not heard the phrase: “forget what happened in the first half, we’ll beat them in the second.” While it’s the last thing every sports person wants to hear at half time, it can act as an energiser for the team. It teaches you that sometimes you have to just forget what happened in the past and keep going.

If the second half also goes against you, it’s important to claim whatever small victories you can. Focus on the good pass or good tackle that you made and try not to take every score they get with ease too personally. If absolutely everything goes wrong and not one silver lining can be taken out of you or your team’s performance, then just laugh and move on because some days aren’t worth stressing over.

While sport can bring out the worst in people, with violence commonplace at some sporting events, it does teach you how to respect your opponent most of the time. No matter what happens during a match, it’s important to shake the hand of your opponent after the whistle is blown.

Your opponent isn’t your enemy, which is important to remember in both sport and most aspects of life too. They’re just fellow competitors and while they’re attempting to succeed at your expense you’re trying to do the same, so don’t take it to heart.

Eoin Harte

Image credit: Wikipedia