Why Children Should Play Sport

By Alpesh Puna, Director of Sport, Shaws Little League

I grew up enjoying sport, and trying as much as I could, simply because it was fun!   I graduated from University with an honours degree, as well as representing New Zealand in hockey.   I was lucky enough to play in the 2002 World Cup. I never set out to play hockey for New Zealand, nor was I the best at sport when I was little.

I started “playing” hockey at the age of 12 – and not very well. Prior to that, I had the opportunity to try a multitude of athletic activities, which gave me skills, confidence and co-ordination. Playing sport also helped me in a number of ways with my schoolwork and working life.

What did I learn from playing sport?

Teamwork – in sport and work, teams are not always “one big happy family” – however I learnt to put aside individual differences to achieve a collective outcome. Looking back, focusing on the outcome made all those differences and personality issues seem very trivial. 

Social Skills - Sport can serve a common interest between two individuals. Two players who are nothing alike could form a bond due to their shared love of sport. Sport can spark friendship as well as help resolve conflicts, which are two very important skills.

Leadership – to me, leadership was not about being the boss but more about taking responsibility for your role, actions and decisions. I learnt that a “captain” or “boss” is really just a label and a well-organised team doesn’t really need “rah-rah” team talks or anything but instead just tangible guidance, feedback and communication.

Time Management – playing sport results in athletes needing to juggle their schedule to train and play, to study/work, to socialize, meet family commitments, and other things. You do have a rather full schedule. Playing sport didn’t make me better at maths, chinese or English, however it forced me to allocate time effectively and efficiently to make sure that my grades didn’t suffer. Just like in work, our day is made up of many projects and tasks, which all require 100% attention.

Discipline and Behaviour – respecting coaches, referees, officials, opponents, and also in how to conduct myself in front of others. Always maintaining an amount of humility, graciousness and gratefulness. 

Responsibility and accountability- we all make mistakes and in sport, sometimes those mistakes can lead to the team losing. Owning up and being honest with yourself in these situations allows you to “get over it” and start again. You also realise that nobody makes mistakes on purpose.

Decision-making, Problem Solving and Creativity – deciding whether to pass or dribble or tackle/cover on defence and trying to outfox the opponent. 

Understanding Risk – not just about conceding or missing goals, but as you know, you can get seriously injured playing sport. Being alert, how you prepare and position yourself all helps to minimize the risk of getting injured.

Learning how to Learn – there really is nothing magical about sport, it’s all about a bloody-minded pursuit of doing things better and continuous learning – always working on developing skills, fitness and game knowledge. In our working careers, as we get promotions or new job opportunities, there is always a need to learn and grow.

Doing Homework and Checking – making sure your equipment and gear is all packed and ready to go, remembering team moves, set ups and running lines. Sounds a bit like school doesn’t it?

Attitude and Commitment to give 100% always

Desire – to get things done regardless of obstacles and setbacks. It is unlikely that everything will be handed to you on a plate or you will feel 100% all the time, sometimes you really just have to “man-up”. 

Confidence and Self-belief – scoring goals, executing skills, pinpoint passes, making tackles all help to build confidence and make you want to do those things over and over again. Sport can give you a massive confidence boost! Having confidence and self-belief is not being arrogant.

Being “in the moment” – not dwelling on the past and not getting too far ahead of myself.

Playing sport taught me to always front up, step up and never ever give up. 

The best of all is that I never knew I was learning. I really was the kid in a candy store.

All the things that I learnt from playing sport did not just happen when I played for New Zealand. The learning’s happened all the way through – even in the backyard with my brother and our friends; playing as a little boy with my Dad as the coach; at school; in our lunch breaks; in our club and provincial teams too.

As I said earlier, I never set out to play for New Zealand and no one ever told me to have that as a goal when I was a child just enjoying playing sport with my mates. Personally the worst thing for young children is to set targets in sport. If they enjoy playing sport – any sport – for long enough and work hard enough then they will become successful. And if not, at least your child had a fun time trying, learning and developing a whole range of life skills along the way. The learning’s from sport far outweigh all the tangible things that I received.

Was it tiring? Yes. Did I get injured? Sometimes. Did I have any doubts? Yes. Do I have any regrets? None. Did I have fun? All the time.

What I learnt from playing sport is what Shaws Little League is all about – More Than Sport.

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