Not only do sports help children’s physical health, sports participation also improves their emotional, behavioral and cognitive wellbeing, researchers from Tel Aviv University, Israel reported.

Pd.D. University student, Keren Shahar, gathered data on 649 children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. They all took part in different types of sports programs. She found that not only did sports improve their general health, but also their behavior, emotional health and discipline. Keren Shahar worked under the supervision of Prof. Tammie Ronen and Prof. Michael Rosenbaum.

Shahar’s findings were presented at TAU’s Renata Adler Memorial Research Center for Child Welfare and Protection Conference.

Shahar explained:

“We set out to determine whether sports training would have a positive impact on these children by lowering aggression, and how this result can be achieved.”

Verbal therapy, although helpful in developing self-control, does not reduce negative emotions, the authors explained, while sports training appears to do so, resulting in less aggressive behaviors.

Shahar and team analyzed a 6-month after-school sports program in 25 schools throughout Israel. Half of them were placed into a control group (no sports instructions), while the rest took part in a variety of sports activity five times weekly. Two weekly sessions consisted of martial arts, while the other three were team sports, such as soccer or basketball. Children ranged in age from grades 3 to 6.

At the end of the six months the researchers compared two sets of evaluations and questionnaires – those at the beginning and the end of the course; the tests were identical.

They found that such traits as self-control – self-observations, problem solving skills, and delayed gratifications – improved significantly. There were definitely fewer incidences of aggression. It was clear, Shahar explained, that those who exhibited higher levels of self-control experienced greater declines in aggressions.

The boys responded much more strongly to the sports program than their female classmates, the study revealed. In fact, among the girls there was no statistically significant change. The researchers believe that girls do not tend to have the same aggression issues as boys do, and are less likely to be passionate about sports.

The secret is finding something the children love doing, in which they have a clear interest, the investigators believe. They need to have something that motivates them. Children are less likely to “act out” their behavioral problems if they have an activity that gives them a sense of purpose.

Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Written by Christian Nordqvist