Hurrah it’s November!
With its perfect blue skies and mercury mid-20s, it wouldn’t be wrong to say; right now the weather’s nothing short of perfect!
In response, the UAE’s relieved parents begin the annual tussle of trying to remove iPads and TV remotes from clammy little hands - in the hope that sports and outdoor activities will once again take precedence over screen-time and indoor life.
And, although we all know the many health benefits that regular participation in sports can offer; everything from staving off obesity and developing muscle tone, to reducing depression and improving cardiovascular fitness, how many people have really considered the emotional and psychological benefits that regular sport gives to our children?
We talk to David Craig managing director of GCC Training about the lesser known ‘mental’ benefits that taking part in sport can give to a child, both today and well into their future.
"Team sports require soft skills," David says. “The art of slotting into a team in a certain way, pulling your weight and helping your team-mates, is something that school and university just don’t teach you… as is the ability to have courage, like when ‘backs are against the wall.’ It’s what drives you to think, I can win this, I can still do this!” He says.
“Then there’s the teamwork and determination, even just being able to say, ‘I’m a winner,’ and really not everyone can say that… There’s being able to succeed, and ultimately having the courage and respect, learning to play against people and whatever the outcome- behaving well,” he says.
Fundamentally it’s the concept of learning to ‘play the game,’ just like in school and university, and of course as in any individual in life, you need to ‘play the game’ too,” he says.
Individual Sports, Mental Strengths
Interestingly David says those who play individual sports are required to be mentally and emotionally stronger in mind as there’s no team member to rely on or to help, “how someone performs in an individual sport is completely a result of their own doing, whether that’s good or bad,” he says.
“You're more reliant on your emotions in solo sports, while playing a team sport such as football, you could be the best player or the worst and yet, whether you win or lose the result is shared, but as an individual you take entire responsibility for a performance and whether it’s been good or bad, you experience ALL of the emotions which come with it,” he says.
He believes this also applies in later life, such as in the adult work environment: “You can be very reliant on people in junior positions, however, the higher up the management ladder you travel the more you must rely on yourself.”
It’s having the ability to focus, keeping your eyes on the prize, knowing exactly what you want and how to set about getting it.”
Basically it’s about saying to yourself, “this is the outcome I want, and this is what I’m going to do to get it, much like sitting and passing a successful exam.”
Resilience and the Art of Losing
As the saying goes, ‘no-one likes a sore loser,’ and it’s true, whether that’s in a junior soccer match or in the office, therefore surely it’s better to teach the art of losing ‘gracefully’ while they’re young, rather than becoming ‘that’ colleague when they’re an adult?
David says, “losing is a strong word, it suggest that you have not completed, are not good enough or not able to, which it shouldn’t be viewed as at all…it’s not losing if you still gain the experience and knowledge from the particular game/match.”
“Good sportspeople think - ‘I don’t want to go back to that situation again,’ how can I harness the knowledge learned from this experience to improve my next game.”
Learning Patience, Practice and Hard Work
As we all know, nothing worth having comes easily, and becoming accomplished in a sport or activity is exactly the same.
Practice is essential if they hope to succeed, while patience is required to learn new skills and it all requires hard work. “Put simply, sport teaches hard work… the act of practicing and practicing leads to more success,” says David.
David’s take home message for sporting success
If you need to give feedback after a game or match make it constructive. David advocates the bathtub effect: Start with positive then drop down to the negatives but always finish up once again with a positive. "This gives purpose,” he says.
“Don’t let kids be too hard on themselves, tomorrow is another day. Remember, school is a learning environment, and is the ideal time to make mistakes and learn from them.
"Education is about getting things wrong just as much as getting it right, that’s why we have all these experts around our children, for them to ask, to fail to learn and to develop.”
In situations where a child feels they have ‘lost’ apply "do, review and apply". Whether it’s a sporting event or an exam, remember to review the performance and decide where the failures were made, then apply the knowledge to improve their next performance.
This winter try to encourage your child to get involved in at least one team and one individual sport, this way they will get not only the health benefits from both activities, but the psychological too!
David Craig is managing director of GCC Training and an Ex-Military Physical Training Instructor with the RAF. He is an instructor in rehabilitation exercise and was a professional footballer in Scotland and Cyprus.