Photo courtesy of CNN
As younger children, students are encouraged (or even forced) to get outside and try every activity possible. After the bell rings, the third graders pile into the gymnasium for “after school gym,” or rush to the fields for a game of travel soccer with their friends. Even during school, a recess built into the daily schedule gives the opportunity for everyone to have a breath of fresh air and get some exercise in. However, as soon as these students enter middle school, everything changes. Recess is replaced with study halls, where students are usually hunched over books in the library. Then, once school is out, they go home to their piles of homework and study, and perhaps leave an hour or two for clubs or community service. Of course, there are still many students who are on the teams at their schools, but usually this is not a top priority. Many students completely stop playing sports, whether on purpose or for a sheer lack of time. One of my best friends, who is an incredible basketball player, quit this year because she did not feel like she had enough time to practice and study. Trust me, as a competitive tennis player, I have experienced the occasional cramming session at 2 a.m. Nevertheless, the pros of sports participation outweigh the cons.
This added benefit of playing sports is pretty obvious, and it is advertised pretty well both by schools and the media. Teens should be getting at least one hour of exercise per day, but according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only 21.6 percent of students exercise for an hour or more at least five days per week. However, the exercise is more than just about watching one’s weight. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind.
2: Stress relief
According to a study done by the American Psychological Association, 53% of teens reported feeling good about themselves after exercise, 40 percent reported being in a good mood and 32 percent reported feeling less stressed. Although these numbers could be larger, I can attest to the fact that, just by running a little sweat or by smashing all of your anger out on a ball, it is definitely a stress reliever to go outside and take a break from schoolwork. It is ironic, because many students stop playing sports because they feel it will make them more stressed because of a lack of time. However, for optimal studying and working habits, it is recommended to take breaks. And what better breaks to take than getting some exercise and fresh air?
By playing sports, you meet countless other students who share your passions and interests. It is easy to make close, lasting friendships through athletics; a hit or kick of the ball means the same thing to everyone, no matter where they are from. Many of my closest friends I have met through tennis, and because we share such a large part of our lives, it is easy to bond and stay close.
4: Mental stamina
This can be extended to many different activities, but student athletes certainly have to reach a degree of discipline and mental stamina to succeed. Firstly, athletes must learn to manage their time, sometimes resorting to eating their dinners in the car or skipping out on that meetup with friends. In order to play any sport, athletes must dedicate a pretty large chunk of their time, and students must figure out how to organize and keep themselves mentally focused. Additionally, with every sport, athletes must deal with cheating, unfair judges and referees, rude opponents or even scary student athlete parents (trust me, they exist). However, although much of this is unfortunate and unfair, this allows students to have a better grasp and judgement of how to handle similar situations in their future.
Of course, there are many other examples as to why sports, and exercise in general, are essential to the growth and development of students. However, because of the incredible amount of work and pressure that school and the mystery of our future puts on us teens, it can be difficult to find time in our day to really get out and break a sweat. It is important for schools, families and individuals to address this issue and try to find solutions that can allow students to be healthy and happy.