Q and A with Cynthia Adams Harrison, Ed. D., LICSW Sport Psychologist

From your experience, what are the benefits of children participating in physical activities?

Children benefit from physical activities in many ways and it is most important for their overall growth and development. It has many benefits for their mind and body and overall health and mood. We see reduced risks of certain diseases, for example, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, it is easier to maintain a healthy weight and can play a role in serotonin uptake which affects our mood and has been associated as a treatment strategy to lift depression.

Exercise creates the process of breathing in more oxygen into the body which then circulates through the blood and nourishes our muscles. It also feeds our brain cells which has immediate benefits to brain function and focus.

During these challenging days of Covid-19, physical activity becomes even more important to healthy growth and development for children.

What do sports do for children psychologically?

Children gain self-esteem and social benefits from exercise and participating in sports. We know that exercise stimulates positive chemical activity in the brain which affects mood. Children also benefit from sport as they learn new skills and feel a sense of accomplishment, this has a direct affect on their sense of self-esteem. Team sport and activities allow children to appreciate their contributions to the overall task and goals of the team. They learn crucial elements of cooperation, discipline, listening skills, patience and self-less-ness, among many others. Sport creates structure, in terms of practice and game situations. It is a wonderful way for children to learn to navigate their efforts and enjoy their teammates. Sport and activities are fun and children need this more than ever today.

For kids that have not had a lot of interaction since March, how does this effect their overall emotional well-being?

Children benefit from peer interactions greatly, supervised sport and physical activity allow children to gather and “play” which gives them reason to feel good about themselves. Mood is affected and so are the social aspects of learning interactive skills which are truly life skills; negotiating relationships, effort, winning and losing all create skill sets that bolster resiliency. One of the most unfortunate outcomes of Covid-19 has been the isolation that kids are feeling. It is imperative for their growth and development that social engagement and physical activity be encouraged as safety precautions permit.

What is the long-term impact for kids who have missed at least one season of sports activities?

The answer to this is going to be difficult to measure. However, the most crucial element from what I am hearing from children is the lack of a schedule that seasonal sport provides. Focusing on what we have control over is important. Evaluating our skill sets, what we need to improve upon in any sport and creating practice opportunities on a schedule can help. Kids may not be getting game and formal practice time with teammates but they can create a schedule of activities that enhance certain skill sets. It takes creativity to replace what formal practice and game situations provided. At the end of the day, everyone is in this together and has been affected by the dramatic shift in formalized sport participation. Whoever is continuing to grow and build upon their skill sets will benefit greatly as routine sport participation accelerates and we get back to “normal.”

If there are not athletic opportunities available, how do you meet the needs for kids to have the interaction they get through sports?

Any type of physical activity that creates interaction can be a positive experience for kids. Game playing that creates problem solving and the need to interact to reach a desired outcome will help. Organized physical activity which promotes “team” play will benefit children as they learn how to achieve their goals. Dodge/kick ball, trust/team building activities, whiffle ball, etc. can be examples that support positive interactions for kids. Children learn and practice empathy and develop comradery when they are engaged in focused physical activity.

How do sports help build self esteem?

We can define self-esteem as feelings of happiness, competence and self-worth. I also see sport as cultivating feelings of achievement. When we get better at a task, we feel better about ourselves for achieving it or noticing improvement. Sport and physical activity are wonderful activities to organize our efforts and as we organize our efforts we see improvement. What we were not able to do 2 weeks ago, today we are seeing changes and shifts toward mastering that task or skill and that makes us feel good. When you participate in sport or physical activities, you are constantly in motion, you are adapting and learning new techniques and movement. You are figuring out what works and what doesn’t, what is effective and what is not. As we get better at adapting we feel better about who we are and what we are accomplishing.

How do athletics help with behavioral development?

Sport and/or physical activity typically have goals or anticipated outcomes. In order to achieve our desired outcomes we look to scheduling practices on a routine basis to reach our goals. Rules or structured elements, drills of practice help us appreciate what is necessary to achieve our goals. Our behaviors/effort directly affect the effectiveness of our practices. Our behavior will dictate how successful we are at achieving our goals. In sport, rules and expectations of behavior are part of game play. You quickly learn when you commit a foul, that a different behavior is required so you don’t put your team or yourself at a disadvantage going forward. Athletics provide a wonderful opportunity to learn discipline, patience, maturity, self-control and goal setting to enhance behavioral development in children.

For more information, contact:

Cynthia Adams Harrison, Ed. D., LICSW
Adams Harrison Performance Consulting
300 at Main Street, Suite #5
Wenham, Massachusetts 01984
978.468.0076  Office
617-347-4947  Mobile