The unexpected benefit of children playing sport

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Kids playing organised sport can have many surprising benefits that will last them a lifetime. Not only will children learn new life skills, they will also grow in confidence.

Now it has been found that encouraging children to play sport during childhood, and into their teenage years, will most likely result in them having stronger bones later in life.

Curtin University found that people with a history of consistently participating in sport had stronger and denser bones. 

Lead author Dr Joanne McVeigh, from the School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology at Curtin University, said the development of strong and healthy bones could result in a lower risk of bone fractures later in life.

"Early childhood and adolescent years are critical for bone growth, as almost one-half of the amount of bone laid down during this period will be lost after the age of 50," Dr McVeigh said.

"By participating in sports at a young age, it is expected that our bones will adapt to changes and increases in mechanical loading."

"As the development of maximum bone mass is during young adulthood, our findings recommend that early sports participation can help prevent osteoporosis and age-related fractures," Dr McVeigh said.

Researchers examined data from The Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study, which has tracked 2,900 pregnant women and their children over a period of thirty years.

They considered a range of factors when examining their results.


"Our research aimed to investigate the relationship between physical activity during childhood and adolescence and the impact this had on bone mass in young adulthood, while also taking into account other factors known to influence bone mass including calcium intake and Vitamin D," she said.

"After considering these factors, we found a strong connection between young males and females who participated in organised sport during childhood and stronger bone mass, meaning that those who gain optimal peak bone mass in young adulthood were more likely to have greater long-term benefits."

Sport Star Academy Founder Peter Nikolakopoulos said the research reaffirmed that playing sport had many advantages.

"We know physical exercise at all stages of life offers immense benefits, not just physical, but mental as well," Mr Nikolakopoulos said.

"Getting your children into organised sports – whether that is a team sport or a regular lesson based activity – is important to help create a love of physical exercise."

He said that while there were obvious physical health benefits, sport teaches kids lots of useful life skills.

"Sport can also teach valuable life skills like determination, perseverance, resilience and commitment," he said.

"When you join a team you learn how important it is to play as part of that team and how your actions impact others.

"Sport can build self-confidence and encourage healthy routines around exercise and physical activity."

For some kids, they can learn leadership skills and for others it can be learning how to co-operate with others.

"The benefits of learning to listen to instructions can't be overlooked either," he said.

"And there are lessons in honesty, integrity and sportsmanship that will be useful in all parts of a person's life in the future."

Regardless of the benefits, it can be hard for parents to encourage some kids to take part in sport.

"It's not that easy to do when you think about how sedentary our lives have become and the commonplace use of tablets, iPads and gaming," he said.

"One of the biggest hurdles for kids playing sport is the pressure of competition and the burden of performance anxiety.

"We suggest you find coaching classes or social clubs, rather than competitive teams to join, where children get to play sport in fun, learning environments.

"It's also about simply trying new things and giving a variety of sports a go - it might even uncover some hidden talents."