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Develop your child's brain through sports

Lise Eliot
Mine has become a soccer family. I have spent more Saturday afternoons than I could count watching our three kids play games in pouring rain, muggy heat, biting cold, and occasionally, perfectly gorgeous weather. I’m happy to say that the more years they’ve stuck with it, the better our kids have gotten, so that by high school, the games have become downright exciting.

Like many parents today, we encouraged our kids in sports with the goal of strengthening their bodies and developing their physical skills like speed and agility. Of course, we also hoped the sports would be fun, allow them to bond with their teammates and teach them how to win and lose with equal amounts of grace.

But there’s one more important reason to get your kids involved in sports -to benefit their brains. In recent year research on both humans and animals has shown that physical exercise improves blood flow to the brain. It also enhances the formation of new neurons, strengthens the brain’s white matter, and can improve cognitive abilities like memory and attention in children and adults alike. All of this new science is telling us that in addition to building strong bodies and maintaining healthy weight, exercise is a key ingredient to the optimal development of children’s minds.

This is why schools have playgrounds, physical education, extracurricular sports and hopefully lots of recess opportunities during the day. In some countries, school children are given a break for ten minutes of every hour to engage in good physical activity. They do things like dance and calisthenics, which wakes them up and keeps their heads primed for learning.

Here are some other tips you can do at home to ensure your child gets plenty of physical play:

‧ Create time and space for physical activity at home. If you have a yard, set up a basketball hoop, badminton net, or soccer goals to encourage kids to get outside with friends and play. For indoor spaces add a tumbling or yoga mat so young ones can practice their sommersaults and headstands
‧ Sign your child up for team sports, in moderation. The goal for preschool and elementary-aged children should be play and fun, not drills and competition. A certain amount of discipline is good, but for the most part children are better off getting exercise on their own initiative rather than from an overbearing coach.
‧ Look for coed sports opportunities. Boys and girls enjoy playing with each other but often don’t have the chance. Coed sports like soccer, basketball, and volleyball can be great training for both boys and girls. They also enhance participation among kids who don’t necessarily thrive on competition.
‧ Set a good example by prioritizing your own exercise and family activities like bike rides, hikes and afternoons together at the community pool.
Meet our Expert Advisory Panel
Deborah Sharp Libby
Early Childhood Language and Reading Expert
Lise Eliot
Early Childhood Mental Development Expert
Helen Boehm
Psychologist, Author, and Parenting Resource Expert
Carla C. Johnson
Science and STEM Expert
Susan Bartell
Child Psychology Expert
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