How does participation in sports improve focus?

Be it scoring a goal, netting a basketball or hitting a shuttlecock, sporting activities require focus which, in turn, helps boost academic performance

June 07, 2016 04:51 pm | Updated September 16, 2016 11:21 am IST - Chennai

Several studies have proven that being active and playing sports improve a child's academic performance. FILE PHOTO: THE HINDU

Several studies have proven that being active and playing sports improve a child's academic performance. FILE PHOTO: THE HINDU

Focus in layman’s language means better concentration. And all of us have heard parents talk about how increased concentration is directly proportional to better grades at school. What children learn in a classroom can be explained later by friends, teachers, parents and with the advent of the internet era, online tutorials. Hence, students often do not feel the need to focus on what’s being taught in the class. It is like they have a back-up.

Sports, on the other hand, puts the “learning while doing” concept to use. Whether it is scoring a goal in football or shooting a ball in the basketball net, or hitting the shuttle cock at the right time during a game of badminton, all require focus. Sport teaches you how important timing is. It also boosts our observational skills. It makes our brain work faster by making us take decisions about movement, striking, changing direction etc. We try to understand the opponent’s strategy. We try to predict their next move. And all of this requires focus and reminds us of the need to focus in order to win or do well.

Several studies have proven that being active and playing sports improve a child's academic performance. A study conducted among Nebraska students from grade four to grade eight determined that the more aerobically fit a child was, the better his grades were. According to the Institute of Medicine, California, students who did not fall into a “healthy fitness zone” did not score as well academically as students who were fit.

Review of research published in the Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine shows that “there is a significant positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance” – claim the authors led by Amika Singh of the Vrije Universiteit University Medical Center's EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research in Amsterdam.

Regular physical activity is seen to lead to better brain functioning, possibly due to increased flow of blood and oxygen to the brain as well as the release of chemicals like oxytocin that help develop a positive “can do” attitude.

Another paper “Physical education, school physical activity, school sports and academic performance” by François Trudeau and Roy J Shephard published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2008 concludes:

“Given competent providers, physical activity can be added to the school curriculum by taking time from other subjects without risk of hindering student academic achievement. On the other hand, adding time to “academic” or “curricular” subjects by taking time from physical education programmes does not enhance grades in these subjects and may be detrimental to health.”

If you don’t hit the ball with your bat at the right time, you could be declared LBW. Sporting activities teach kids how to remain calm and focused even under immense stress. You know you have to score 10 runs and there are just 6 more balls to go. And then you focus. And learn the value of focus.

Kids know they won’t get a chance again. Once gone, it’s gone forever.

Children are designed to play. Not to sit in classrooms for 8-10 hours. And any system is best used for what it was designed to do. If children play, they will have the energy and focus to study.

One way of judging the value of something is to imagine life without it.

So, here’s a thought experiment: We stop our children from playing. Completely. No play. No sports. Only academics, homework, eat, sleep. Repeat.

Will we then find kids who are academically superior?

Everybody opposes the idea vehemently. All of us just know it is a bad idea.

But still the debate about the importance of sports for academics continues. Strange.

As adults influencing the debate between academics and sports, we need to stop looking at these two as opposing forces.

Footballer Ronaldinho put it aptly when he said “I learned all about life, with a ball at my feet”.

The writer is co-founder and managing director at EduSports

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