Sports participation helps athletes score points beyond the field
Tuesday, August 04, 2015
We've all been made aware of the benefits that participating in sports — or even simply exercising — can bring for our short- and long-term health.
But does involvement in athletics result in success that extends beyond health?
"Sports have the potential to develop many of the personality characteristics valued in life: determination, perseverance, strong work ethic, cooperation, teamwork, fair play, honesty, and much more," said SHAPE America President Steve Jefferies of Central Washington University.
"However, whether or not these result from participation depends greatly on the leadership young people experience when they participate."
Part of that might come from learning how to interact with others. Another study, from Penn State University, followed kindergartners into adulthood. It found that development of social skills could be used to determine whether the children were successful as adults. Many other traits can carry over from sports into adult and professional life.
"Leading a fit and active life not only adds years to your life, but life to your years. Active people have more energy in the workplace, show up more often and bring vitality to the office environment," said Jon Lugbill, a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic team, a five-time individual champion in whitewater canoeing and executive director of the Sports Backers. "I also firmly believe people who are active during the work day have more creativity and are more innovative."
That payoff starts early in life, long before people reach the workforce. According to a Canadian study that appeared in the American Journal of Health Promotion, children who participate in sports fare better in school. Researchers found that students were more engaged in the classroom and were able stay more focused if they had played sports from kindergarten into the fourth grade.
That appears to carry on into adulthood and the workforce. Not only has research shown that high school student-athletes as a group go on to earn between 5 and 15 percent than nonathletes, they develop into better leaders. That is attributed to higher self-confidence and self-respect, according to a study published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies.
"People seem to activate a certain set of expectations with people who've played high-school sports," said lead researcher Kevin Kniffin, a professor at Cornell University.
Brainpower doesn’t stop there. Those who continue to exercise into middle age have shown that it helps cognitive function, according to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin.
A prevailing element in sports — the scoreboard — is relevant in school and the professional world. From test scores to class rankings to competition among businesses, results are measured and quantified.
"The wins and losses of the sports world teach you what is like to be successful and how to be humble, as well as what it is like to fail and have to get back up and prepare for your next endeavor," said Lugbill, whose Richmond, Virginia-based firm produces sporting events and programs. "Being a competitive athlete also makes you want to keep score. I inherently like to measure our results and have scorecards to evaluate our success."
Businesses in Finland have long subscribed to the connection between a healthy, physically active workforce and a healthy company bottom line. The country views sports as a social right, and the government subsidizes gyms while some private companies include sports as part of the workweek.
Physical health improves the body, which in turn spills over to other aspects of life.
A recent poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health surveyed 2,500 American adults about participation in sports, in the past and currently. More than half of the respondents indicated that they participated in sports to reduce stress and improve their physical and mental health.
"Research is clear that everyone can enjoy significant health benefits if they integrate physical activity into their daily lives," said Jefferies, whose Reston, Virginia-based organization practices and promotes health- and physical activity-related research. "And of course being healthy is the foundation for leading a happy and productive life. Without good health, nothing much matters."
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