“Point your toes!”, “straighten those legs!”, “stretch those arms!” were some of many comments which were bellowed at me as a child, by my coach over a gymnasium floor. As you may have guessed, I was a gymnast as a boy. It wasn’t easy training eighteen hours per week, five days per week and it certainly wasn’t easy explaining to my peers in secondary school why I wore a leotard in my spare time but the years I spent as a competitor and an athlete were those that I now deeply cherish.
I owe many things to my time in gymnastics. I developed friendships with people whom I still socialise with today, fifteen years after retirement. My first job was teaching gymnastics and, being able to do a somersault is always a great party trick to show off when the need arises!
However, the greatest impact gymnastics had on me was on an emotional and developmental level. Gymnastics helped shape who I was as a person and from that I obtained a sense of identity which, as we know, is fundamental to developing positive self-esteem. Like Batman or Superman, I had a type of alter-ego as a gymnast. I had another string to my bow; another feather in my cap and that was a great feeling to have, but am I alone in this? Is it just me who derived a type pf confidence from participating in sport? Well no, I’m not….
In 2009 researchers, Slutzky and Simpkins, concluded that children who participated in sport were likely to have a much higher self-esteem than their non-athletic counterparts. Supporting this was another study conducted in 1999 (Ferron et al, cited at https://academic.oup.com) which concluded that children who participated in sport were better socially adjusted and less anxious than children who did not participate in sport. In researching this blog I found that the internet is abound with studies from all corners of the world which highlight the association between sport and mental wellbeing.
I wanted to explore my experiences and the above studies because confidence, positive peer relations, identity and self-esteem are features that are often lacking in children who enter care (for reasons which I would encourage those that read this to explore). It is for this reason that, as a Supervising Social Worker, I have always vehemently encouraged foster carers to never overlook or underestimate the reparatory power of competitive sport. It doesn’t matter whether it is gymnastic, football or Ping-Pong, competitive sport- as seen above-can help children develop emotionally, socially, cognitively as well as physically.
To those of you that have tried to introduce a sport or nurture an interest in a child to little avail, I refer to the wise words of my former coach: “You only fail, if you fail to try again”. Keep going, keep encouraging children to participate in groups, clubs and activities and if you are still unsuccessful, why not consider taking up a sport yourselves and lead by example?
Slutzky, C. B. Simpkins, S . D. (2009) The Link Between Children’s Sport Participation and Self Esteem: Exploring the Mediating Role of Sport Self-Concept, Psychology of Sport & Exercise.