Psychology Of Sports In Children : What Girls Learn From Athletics

Psychology of sports in children. Athletics is important for women and girls because, like math and science, develops skills they need to learn to excel.

If you were asked to draw a classroom, most people would sketch a room with four walls and a variety of desk configurations. Few would sketch a swimming pool, tennis court, ball field, ice arena, ski slope or basketball court. Yet, the lessons learned in these unconventional classrooms are rarely taught anywhere else.

Why is women's and girls' participation in athletics educationally important? For the same reasons more traditional academic subjects like science and math are important. Athletics, like math and science, develops skills and opportunities young people need to learn to excel. Here are some specific outcomes from women's and girls' participation in athletics.

* Female athletes have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than females who do not play sports. A Ms. Foundation study found that not only do girls who participate in sports have higher levels of self-esteem, they also have lower levels of depression.

* A report from the Feminist Majority Foundation's Task Force on Women and Girls in Sports cited a study showing that women who exercise regularly significantly reduce their risk of contracting premenopausal breast cancer""by as much as 50 percent. That study parallels findings of a 1981 study conducted by Dr. Rose Frisch at Harvard's Graduate School of Public Health, which showed that young women who participated in college sports, or who exercised regularly in college, were significantly less likely to contract breast cancer and other reproductive cancers.

* Other physical benefits of athletic participation, documented by a large body of research, include increased cardiovascular endurance and strength, which decreases the chances of heart attacks, strokes, back problems, osteoporosis, and other health problems.

* The Institute for Athletics and Education reports that high school girls who play sports are 80 percent less likely to be involved in an unwanted pregnancy, 92 percent are less likely to be involved with drugs, and three times more likely to graduate from high school.

* A study by Melpomene Institute, a women's health and fitness research organization, found that girls derived positive self-esteem from sports through challenge, achievement, risk-taking and skill development.

* A campus survey at St. Mary's College in Winona, Minnesota, showed that the grade point average of their student athletes was 10 percent higher than that of the average non-athlete. High school girls who participate in sports also have higher grades than non-athletes.

Athletic participation helps girls learn about goal-setting, pursuing excellence in performance and other achievement-oriented behaviors""all critical skills needed for success in later life. Deb Erickson, a personal development trainer who has worked with women's athletic teams says that, in her experience, she's found that girls and women who participate in athletics have a more highly developed sense of personal power, freedom and autonomy.

"In sports, there is an explosion of energy that gives women and girls a chance to experience voice and power and position," Erickson said. "Girls can perform in band or choir and learn about cooperation and teamwork, but they don't get the physical release and bonding that comes from sports.

"Sports help women reclaim their own personal sense of power and control in their lives. Athletes have confidence and inner strength and are in tune with their own energy and power."

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