The health benefits of exercise and physical activity for young people is well documented. Involvement in sports activities provides a wide range of health benefits. The psychological benefits — improved self-esteem and sense of accomplishment — are well documented, too. While the physical and psychological benefits are validation enough to encourage young people to participate in sports, there is now an increasing body of evidence that sports play a pivotal role in improving the academic performance of young people.
Physical activity gets the heart pumping and that increased blood flow supplies the brain with extra oxygen. Additionally, exercise encourages brain plasticity by stimulating the growth of new connections between brain cells. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that regular exercise appears to increase the size of the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. It’s not surprising that young people who participate in sports tend to exhibit more creativity, better working memory, and multi-tasking skills — all key attributes for strong academic performance
The increased blood flow and endorphin release from even short bursts of physical activity can improve the strength and duration of a young person’s concentration. A 2013 study of 5000 children in the United Kingdom found that increasing physical activity by a mere 12 minutes for girls and 17 minutes for boys significantly improved academic performance. A University of Kansas study found that young people who participate in sports are more likely to have higher GPAs than their non-athlete peers, and are more likely to graduate from high school.
The soft skills that sports teach young people — teamwork, communication, and time management — are central proficiencies for strong scholastic achievement. The young athlete is able to work as part of a group, communicate and receive feedback, and understands the pressure of having to make quick decisions under high-stress circumstances. The ability to perform under pressure translates to students who can function in stressful situations, like taking a test and meeting academic deadlines.
Key scholastic skills like creativity, memorization, and multi-tasking all receive a helping hand from involvement in sports. Sports participation also teaches young people invaluable soft skills that they can utilize in learning environments. Encouraging young people to participate in sports will not only benefit them physically and psychologically but help their academic careers as well.